PA is Taking Video Game Development to the Next Level
Video games first hit the mainstream in 1972 with the success of Pong. Since then, their conception and development has attracted those who enjoy using their talent and creativity to entertain millions across the world. Whether they have engaging gameplay, immersive storytelling, intricate strategy, show-stopping visuals, or just plain entertainment at their core, video games have become a way to share specific ideas, critical problem-solving, historic time periods, and new technologies. All of this also means that video games can be effective educational tools, and many development studios in Pennsylvania have chosen this as their focus. Several of our video game studios see games as a means to educate players and encourage philanthropy and social change, in addition to providing interactive and high-quality entertainment for all ages.
In 2015, Fortune magazine named Pennsylvania one of the top 10 most successful states for video game development, with an industry that contributes $83.1 million to the state’s economy.
Video game development in Pennsylvania has been a significant part of our larger tech industry growth over the last decade. From 2009 to 2012, the video game industry grew by nearly 26 percent in Pennsylvania. In 2015, Fortune magazine named Pennsylvania one of the top 10 most successful states for video game development, with an industry that contributes $83.1 million to the state’s economy.
So just how did the industry find a foothold in Pennsylvania? The answer is through our colleges and universities, and the development communities that grew up around them. Realizing the demand for this skillset, several schools across the state now offer specialized programs that are turning out top-tier talent ready to realize their visions. Our colleges and universities range from offering associate’s degrees — such as Lehigh Carbon Community College’s A.A. Computer Game and Simulation Development — to bachelor’s degrees including Drexel’s B.S. in Game Development & Production, or Harrisburg University’s B.S. in Interactive Media Design. And world-renowned institutions like Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center and the University of Pennsylvania offer master’s degrees in computer graphics and game technology.
Curious about which video game developers have come out of Pennsylvania schools and are now working smart and living happy — and helping others to do the same? Check out some of the state’s standout alumni and video game studios below.
If there’s one gaming company that’s Pennsylvania born and bred, it’s Simcoach Games. Founder and Pittsburgh native Jessica Trybus received her master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), where she now serves as faculty educating some of the top game designers in the world.
Trybus wanted to create games dedicated to workforce development and training in order to change lives. Her success came through the company’s mobile game platform, The Simcoach Skill Arcade, which uses free games to teach job skills while connecting users to local career opportunities.
The Simcoach Skill Arcade’s most downloaded game, JobPro: Get Hired, was created with Pittsburgh’s Partner4Work. The game helps users learn and practice key behaviors in a job interview and has nearly 60,000 downloads — all occurring without any marketing for the game. Another of the company’s favorite games is Booeys: A Ghost’s Code, which assesses and encourages players with core technical aptitudes to consider a technical career.
Before starting the largest game development company in Pennsylvania, Jesse Schell built up quite the reputation in the gaming community, working seven years as Creative Director of the Disney Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio. Schell eventually moved on to teach at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), but stayed on as a consultant with Disney. The projects kept growing, and so did Schell Games — it now employs more than 100.
As Jesse continues to teach at the ETC, Schell Games continues to experience success — and live happy — in Pittsburgh, with its affordable prices, burgeoning tech scene, and diverse arts and culture. Schell Games’ employees are, in turn, creating engaging experiences — like their current project, SuperChem VR, a virtual reality chemistry lab game which is set for release within the next two years. Schell Games recently received Phase II funding from the Institute of Education Sciences and the Small Business Innovation Research program for SuperChem, and anticipate it being popular in both the home and educational markets.
The trio behind Skyless Games Studios may hail from the United Kingdom, India, and Ukraine, but Philadelphia is where they’ve put down roots. Chris Bennett, Arad Malhotra, and Oleks Levtchenko met while attending Drexel University. After graduation, they brainstormed possible business ventures that would involve their passions — games and philanthropy. With expert advice and guidance from Drexel’s Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship, Skyless Games Studios was born. Its goal?: helping social causes effect change through video games.
Skyless Games Studios has worked on several games to generate social change, including Follow the Money — a training game for law enforcement that teaches skills and techniques for investigating financial crimes and recovering assets. The sky clearly isn’t the limit for Skyless Games, and their future is looking bright: they were named one of Philadelphia Magazine’s 10 Philly startups to watch this year by major tech leaders!
Pennsylvania’s gaming companies have shown how well-designed video games can both entertain and educate, and help those who use them. As Pennsylvania’s video game development industry continues to grow and mature, we look forward to welcoming more companies and video game development studios to the state.
Secretary Dennis Davin
Dennis M. Davin was appointed to serve as Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development in January 2015 by Governor Tom Wolf. Prior to his appointment, Secretary Davin served for more than a decade as Director of the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development (ACED), where he was responsible for establishing and executing the economic development strategy for Allegheny County.