Rarely has recruiting a new company with a $6 million yearly payroll created such a buzz in Baton Rouge, but it’s the kind of jobs and the potential for keeping young people excited about staying in Louisiana that animated Wednesday’s announcement of a video game testing center coming to LSU.
Electronic Arts Inc.’s center at LSU’s South Campus on GSRI Avenue eventually will hire 220 people, 200 of whom will form a part-time platoon of students doing the heavy lifting on games like EA’s 20-year-old Madden NFL franchise, its Tiger Woods PGA Tour game and its NCAA Football series to make sure they’re consumer-ready.
Over the next decade, Gov. Bobby Jindal and economic development Secretary Stephen Moret envision EA’s Baton Rouge presence growing to higher-paying jobs for professionals who actually develop the video games, something that now takes place for EA largely in Orlando, Fla., and Vancouver, British Columbia.
If Baton Rouge reaches that zenith, construction of a digital research complex for kindred companies could result on LSU’s 200-acre South Campus area, Moret said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, with EA Sports this place definitely is more cool today than it was yesterday,” Adam Knapp, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Generation X chief executive, told a Capitol audience at Wednesday’s announcement. “We have some investors (at the chamber) who believe and dream that the Baton Rouge area can be cool — and it is.”
Among the noteworthy Baton Rouge credentials cited by EA leaders in their location decision is this stunner: Not only is Louisiana’s obsession with LSU football and other sports not a negative as is often assumed by critics of the state’s higher education priorities, but the sports obsession is a huge plus, because the testers need to be savvy about the games they play for a living at EA.
“Is it fun? Does it have the right feel? Is it too hard? Is it too easy” are among the questions EA employees will answer at LSU, where Southern University and Baton Rouge Community College students are expected to fill the testing ranks as well, said Dave Steele, EA’s senior director of quality assurance.
“Because of the sports knowledge here, people can look at a football game and have the skills needed to test functions,” he said. “They still have to have a feel for the game. You’re down by less than a touchdown with less than two minutes to go on fourth down — what do you do? That’s really one of the reasons we wanted to come to Baton Rouge.”
The company also benefits from Louisiana’s offer of a 20 percent tax credit against state income tax liability, credits that can be claimed by the company or sold to a third-party for a cash advance.
All told, EA’s incentives for bringing the testing center to Baton Rouge will be worth about $14 million in the next decade, including payroll tax credits through the state’s Quality Jobs program.
Jindal said EA’s recruitment is invaluable for what it will mean to building the digital industry in the state, but it’s a good deal on the bottom line alone for this project.
“The state Department of Economic Development really looks at a 10-year return on investment as a good deal,” the governor said. “Within five years, we will get our return on investment. We look at this as the first step toward a much larger and bigger relationship with EA Sports.”
Simon Carless, publisher of Game Developer magazine, agreed that EA’s site selection represents a coup for Louisiana that could generate many more digital media gains.
It’s unusual for a global video game software company to open a testing-only center, which leads to the conclusion that actual video-game development business from EA could be within Baton Rouge’s reach, he said.
“I think what states struggle to do is get large-name publishers to set up offices in their area,” Carless said. “Electronic Arts is the world’s largest publisher, so I think it’s important if you can get someone like that. I think it’s definitely a positive introductory step, but it’s also important for individual area to reach a critical mass of game production or development before you can really get an ecosystem there, if you will.”
So far, three significant game developers have emerged in Baton Rouge: Founded by Southern University engineering graduate and former Motorola executive Jacqueline Beauchamp, Nerjyzed Entertainment LLC has published “Black College Football: The Experience”; Yatec LLC will publish its third major game, “Say N Play,” with voice recognition software late this year; and a Resurgent Entertainment LLC unit publishes the “Enigma: Rising Tide” war game.
“The industry will not develop overnight in Louisiana,” Redman said by e-mail Wednesday. “We said that back in 2005, but a couple of small companies every few months add up, and the synergy with Louisiana’s film industry will only become more apparent. … With EA, Louisiana has an enormous win to hold up and show to the world.”
Excellent news coming out of LSU! That's exactly the kind of thing we needed here! Not to mention... What a kick-ass job that would be!!!