Austin leads Texas video game industry, research shows

Annie L. Zhang

Austin, often lauded with various titles such as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” may be earning another — the “video game capital of Texas.”

More than 270 gaming companies are in Texas, and over half are located in Austin, according to new research from Chicago-based investment firm JJL.

Mindy Chi, computer science junior and president of the Electronic Game Developer Society, said she’s seen the influence of Austin’s video-game industry firsthand.

“Austin has historically been a game development hub,” Chi said. “Our club had a talk once about how Austin and city pride is imbued in a lot of games. Just this semester, we had a prominent figure in the Chinese indie game community fly over and visit UT, because he had long loved games that came out of Austin.”

The popular Nintendo games Metroid Prime and Donkey Kong Country were developed by Retro Studios, headquartered in Austin.

Paul Toprac, associate director for game development and associate professor of instruction, said UT’s presence has been a huge factor in the birth and growth of the game industry in Austin.

“UT and the state of Texas were the main employers before high tech,” Toprac said. “As UT spun off technologies and talented individuals who were open, creative and dynamic, the city transformed itself into a high technology center that naturally lent itself to the game industry.”

One of these talented individuals is former UT student Richard Garriott, Toprac said. Garriott founded Origin Systems, a popular video game developing company that helped to place Austin on the map of major game companies as a center of creativity, Toprac said.

Since then, UT has established the Game and Mobile Media Applications program, an interdisciplinary program that gives students the opportunity to apply both computing and creativity toward the production of apps and games that are useful and entertaining.

Toprac, associate director for the program, said it helps to ensure that UT would continue to help contribute to Austin’s growing video game industry.

“There are legions of employees in game companies around Austin who studied at UT,” Toprac said. “Since 2012, the GAMMA program has dramatically increased the quality and quantity of graduates who are ready to work in game studios in Austin, as well as anywhere else.”

According to Toprac, Austin’s growing creative atmosphere is another reason the city is Texas’ preferred home for gaming companies and studios.

“Austin’s open, creative and dynamic environment fosters innovation and opportunity,” Toprac said. “Because of this environment, it is easy to recruit talented creatives and programmers across the country to come here.”

The steady growth of the video-game industry is seen nationwide. According to CNBC, the industry could be worth nearly $138 billion by the end of the year.

Still, Toprac believes that Austin will remain at the top of the video game industry, not only in Texas, but nationwide.

“When new hardware and software affords new opportunities, Austin is typically on the forefront,” Toprac said. “In Austin, we are open to the possibilities, have creative problem-solving skills and are willing to change rapidly.”