I like to think about things for a while before posting about them. This Gamasutra article about Canada helping game designers reminded me of an opinion about our own debate about tax incentives for computer games. This post is basically a rewrite of a comment Caroline’s post on the Fire Hose Games website. Give it a read and leave a comment with your opinion. Also it would be great to catch up with the current state of this debate, so if you know of any locations where it’s being talked about online, link them in the comments section.
Robert D’Andrea recently wrote about 38 Studios moving to RI. It has been in the news lately that RI will allow Game Design Companies access to the Flim Credit tax incentives. Ma does not currently allow this. The argument about Tax incentives usually boils down to paying money to attracted outside companies to establish offices inside the state. For example this Boston.com Op Ed states: “SO NOW it’s the video game industry that wants to be bribed to do business in Massachusetts.” an continues with an unfair statement that a tax incentive for game development studios has to equate to “doling out lucrative tax breaks to privileged businesses”. He compares it with Hollywood block busters, an industry fully outside of Massachusetts. Why is this unfair? Because Ma already has it’s share of small start ups trying to make it in the world of games. Those are the companies we should be helping, not the established companies. So in a way I agree. The big companies don’t need the money. The small start up companies need help.
We in the game industry need to turn this argument on its head. The argument should not be about Ma attracting the big guys into the state. It’s about the state becoming a big player by growing the businesses that are already here. It’s about capturing some of the incredibly smart graduates from our colleges and keeping them in the state before they move to Silicon Valley or Toronto, to make games by making it attractive for them to start companies here. The argument should be about the state investing resources into it’s own small businesses and growing them into a large industry.
I agree that “Targeting tax credits to politically wired special pleaders is terrible public policy. ” It is a bad idea to throw money at ‘special interest’. But the Independant game community in Boston, which is very capable of making great games, is not a giant special interest. It’s small business owners from your own state, learning the ropes of business as best they can. Even the proponents of offering a tax incentive to the video game industry don’t really understand the difference between gaining jobs by growing a local small business.
There are a host of companies, individuals, and organizations already supporting the community of small companies designing games in Ma. Microsoft regularly hosts Game development nights at the Microsoft NERD Center. MIT has the GAMBIT Lab, which had a discussion last night well attended by MIT students and Game Designers a like. Boston Post Mortem and Boston Indies are thriving game communities. Sure we have some very large companies too, like Zynga, Harmonix, Warner Brothers (Turbine) all have huge offices in the state. But its the countless other small companies that actually need help. The big guys don’t need any incentive to be here, they are already here.
Let’s not bother spending money stealing jobs that already exist in other states, or lining the pockets of large companies. That would be an incredibly inefficient thing to do with our money. Instead spend the money to help grow companies that we already have in the state into industry leaders. Check Boston Post Mortem to see a complete list of Independent game companies (computer and otherwise) in Boston. Most of those are tiny companies making great games. There is so much potential for those companies to grow larger.
We have a lot of great small companies in this state. Why not make them larger? Targeting tax incentives to help grow small business in the state, small business which happen to make games, would costs less. Stealing jobs from other states by pouring money at large companies is not a productive thing to do.