Game on! African Americans get a shot at $17.9 billion video game industry

Game on! African Americans get a shot at $17.9 billion video game industry

Carolyn M. Brown


ECONOMIC WOES CAUSED BY A WEAKENING JOB MARKET, mortgage crisis, and rising fuel prices may have stopped consumers from buying new clothes, cars, homes, and other goods. But it has not stopped them from buying the hottest video games and hardware.

In April, video game sales were up about 35% from a year ago. Last year, video games (including portable, console hardware, software, and accessories) sold more than ever, generating a record $17.9 billion in revenues–about 43% higher than 2006’s $12.5 billion–according to New York-based market research firm The NPD Group Inc.

The success of the console game system Wii is helping drive the video gaming industry, followed by Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 as top revenue generators. Gaming is a mass-market hobby, with people of all ages picking up controllers and portables. The NPD Group reports that 63% of the U.S. population is playing games, about 30% more in 2007 than 2006.

So, how can African American developers capitalize on this boom? According to Marcus Matthews, CEO and co-founder of Atlanta-based Blue Heat Games, they should look to the mobile gaming space.

Since 2001, Blue Heat has shipped 34 games for handheld consoles and cell phones, making it one of the largest independent mobile game studios in the U.S. Popular tires are Snoop Dogg Boxing (a licensed mobile game done in conjunction with Sony Pictures) and MLB 2008.

The high cost of development is one reason Matthews turned to this fast-growing niche, which required around $200,000; you could sell a million units and still garner royalties, he explains, compared to budgets of $5 million or more for console games, where you need to sell a million-plus units just to recoup costs.

The market is wide open for game developers, of which African Americans represent a mere 2% and Latinos roughly 2.5%, says Joseph Saulter, chairman of the International Game Developers Diversity Advisory Board. In the corporate arena, he notes top African American players such as Nichol Bradford, global director of growth for Vivendi Games, and Jonathan Eubanks, executive producer at Brash Entertainment. In the forefront of black-owned studios is Jacqueline Beauchamp, president and CEO of Nerjyzed Entertainment Inc.

“You are talking about a $60 billion industry by 2011 fueled by next-generation gaming consoles, broadband, and wireless technologies,” says Asante Bradford, digital entertainment liaison for the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. He says there are many opportunities for African American developers. For starters, he says there is a void in content targeting African American consumers, who are a big part of the buying population.

While not the size of industries in California or Washington, “Georgia is becoming a gaming hub,” adds Bradford, whose job is to broker business relationships (including identifying financial resources) to help prospective clients benefit from the Georgia Entertainment Industry Incentives Act, which provides base tax credits to local digital entertainment companies.

Matthews says people trying to break into the video game business could benefit from creating their own video game and posting it on the Internet to build visibility, momentum, buzz, and ratings–taking cues from independent filmmakers who create movie shorts. “It may be something that people can download for free and then you use that as a stepping stone to attract [financial backers],” he adds, noting Microsoft’s free XNA Game Studio 3.0 tool kit, due out later this year, will let the online community develop homegrown video games. And, if the games are good enough, they can be sold for Xbox 360 players on Xbox Live.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning