Industry Experts Talk Future of Video Games to Mark Opening of CITE’s Game Innovation Lab

Will video games endure or are they just a passing fancy? What role will New York City carve out in the video game industry?

A panel of experts explored these and other topics related to the $32 billion global video games industry — a driver of technology and innovation and a growing economic sector for New York — before an audience of 150 leaders of business, government, academia and students to mark the opening of the Polytechnic Institute of NYU’s new Center of Innovation for Technology and Entertainment (CITE) on March 11.

Funded by a $2 million state grant, CITE showcases NYU-Poly’s invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship, or i2e, approach to research and learning. The centerpiece of CITE, designed by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners, is the Game Innovation Lab. The lab’s core activities are grounded in computer science, engineering, and user experience, with participation from researchers and educators from allied disciplines and video game industry partners.

Katherine Isbister, associate professor with a joint appointment in the Digital Media (Humanities and Social Sciences) and Computer Science and Engineering departments and research director of NYU-Poly’s new Game Innovation Lab, moderated the panel discussion which highlighted collaboration between academia and the digital gaming industry — the very kind that CITE will foster — particularly toward growing the industry in New York.

Panelists included: Chris Cross, a lead designer at Kaos Studios and a 20-year veteran of the video game industry; Frank Lantz, director of the NYU Game Center and creative director of Zynga New York; and journalist Evan Narcisse, who writes about video games, comic books and popular culture for Essence, AOL, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and Crispy Gamer.

New York State is home to a thriving game design and development community that includes Kaos Studios, Take-Two Interactive Software, Atari, Large Animal Games, Zynga and a chapter of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), among others. According to a recent report from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the industry employs 5,474 people either directly or indirectly in the state; it contributed nearly $270 million to the state economy in 2009, and the sector has grown at an annual rate of about 5 percent since 2005.

Lantz described the potential of New York City’s burgeoning game development community to become a world capital for gaming much as it has for other cultural forms, like theater, film, and fashion. “Video games need a little bit more intellectualism, a little bit more pretension, a little bit more experimentation, and a little bit more innovation. That’s what New York City does best,” he said.

Whatever the future of video games, the panelists agreed that the Game Innovation Lab has an important role to play in advancing the industry.

“From an economic standpoint, most game innovations are slow to take place in the commercial realm, because you’re usually shooting for the lowest common denominator, the heaviest adoption, or things that people are familiar with,” said Cross. “Having the lab here provides a great, safe place for students to think in an explorative way, and then those students will move on into the industry, bringing their ideas with them.”

Narcisse added, “Video games need New York City; they need what New York City represents. Hopefully, the Game Innovation Lab will allow talented people to start here, stay here and represent New York City in virtual form.”