E3 2008: Texas governor corrals game appeal

Rick Perry's keynote draws remarkably small crowd to hear a pitch for the Lone Star State's development community.

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When Texas Governor Rick Perry was named the keynote speaker for the 2008 E3 Media & Business Summit, the organizing Entertainment Software Association stated that the match was "especially timely given the high concentration of entertainment software developers and publishers in Texas as well as the state's long-standing support of our industry."

Perry address the
Perry address the "crowd."

Judging from the attendance at the E3 keynote address, event-goers may not have agreed wholeheartedly with the choice of Perry. In a ballroom with seating for more than 1,000, audience members numbered in the single digits just 15 minutes before the session's scheduled 9:15 a.m. commencement. When the appointed time arrived, there were just over two dozen attendees spread thinly throughout the room.

The dearth of listeners to hear Perry talk may have been partly due to Activision Blizzard's unofficial E3 press event the night before, a marathon affair that featured a fair bit of sponsored revelry. Another factor might have been a statement from the governor that ran on the San Antonio Express-News' Web site the day before. In that missive, Perry laid out what he would say in his keynote to the movers and shakers of the gaming industry (a couple dozen of them, anyway).

"The answer is simple," Perry wrote. "I want those leaders to hear about everything Texas has to offer their companies."

Entertainment Software Association president Michael Gallagher warmed the crowd up with a bit of biographical background on Perry, then introduced a video clip featuring some of the biggest names in Texas' game development community: Junction Point Studios head Warren Spector, BioWare's Gordon Walton and Rich Vogel, and NCsoft's Starr Long. The four developers talked about the reasons to make games in Texas, from the talent pool to the cost of living and lack of income tax.

"I think they need to know that Texas rocks," Walton explained. "Texas is a great place to make games."

Long finished the clip by introducing Perry, who first thanked the organizers for inviting him and said it was a pleasure to be around so many people who "get it."

A quick snap of the audience, midspeech, from the front-center of the room.
A quick snap of the audience, midspeech, from the front-center of the room.

One of the things gamers instinctively understand, according to Perry, is the benefit of competition, whether it's battling the Covenant in Halo or smoking your friends at Mario Kart. Competition makes society stronger, he said, and even when people come out on the losing end, they pick themselves up and try again. That mentality is familiar to gamers, he said, who can just respawn after falling short of their goals.

Perry also said gamers get the concept of a global economy, that there are opportunities in that. Whether it's competing in games against players from other countries, keeping games secret to avoid other companies stealing ideas, or pulling all-nighters at the office during crunch time, Perry said gamers and game creators do these things because they're inherently competitive. That spirit has thrived in the Texas development community, he said, from Origin Systems to BioWare to NCsoft to Junction Point.

The key bottom line is that competition leads to job creation, Perry said, adding that jobs that come from competition are more stable than those created by social programs. He noted that Texas is the third-biggest game-producing state, "but I'm gunning to be number one."

While he noted that Texas has some incentives for game developers who spend money in-state, Perry said he'll push legislators to sweeten those in the next year. He added that he wants to expand on the educational system for game development in the state, pointing specifically to the Guild Hall at SMU.

Perry touted a judicial system that keeps employers and doctors working instead of defending frivolous lawsuits, and emphasized the cost of living that allowed workers to get by on less. He also talked about a regulatory atmosphere that allowed companies to go about their business.

Pointing to the home loan crisis and skyrocketing oil prices, Perry said some of the answers can be found in the competitiveness of the game industry. The game industry is built on shared interests, Perry said, and manages to create jobs faster than just about any other field.

Taking a page straight from the ESA's fast facts book, Perry talked about the expanding game audiences, from children to parents. He mentioned that wounded soldiers in a San Antonio hospital are using Guitar Hero and other games to help get their dexterity back.

"There are fascinating things going on in your industry that not enough Americans--that not enough people around the world--know about that," Perry said.

He added the industry is in a constant state of evolution, "and yes, for all you bloggers out there, I used the 'E'-word."

Perry then laid down a challenge to the audience and the industry, asking what they could do to use the power of the medium to make the world a better place to live or make a difference. He asked if the next game to be made would save a life, prepare soldiers for the challenges of a peacekeeping role, teach an abusive parent about proper disciplinary options, or teach the next generation.

The game industry represents a work ethic, a business model, and an embracing of new ideas that would fit well in Texas, Perry said. He closed out his presentation by inviting the crowd one more time to come to Texas. But instead of recapping the economic incentives, cost of living, and other business benefits, he instead appealed to simpler enticements, namely the state's BBQ, weather, and music.

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