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NEW COLUMNIST: A major video-game publisher is coming to Las Vegas

<p>Chris Ainsworth</p>

Chris Ainsworth

A major video-game publisher is coming to Las Vegas, and this time it isn’t simply to plant a booth at a convention, drink too much, sleep too little and fly home three days later with a massive hangover.

Thanks to nearly a million dollars in incentives from the Nevada Office of Economic Development and the City of Las Vegas, Take-Two Interactive will be relocating its Northridge, Calif., QA Testing studio to downtown Las Vegas, where it will take over two floors of the newly renovated 1960s structure at 302 E Carson (bit.ly/V0bQsL), just one block south of the Fremont Street Experience.

Until now, Las Vegas has been pretty much off the radar of the major game publishers. We have studios that have done work with and for the big guys, but they are all independent, and aside from Petroglyph’s team of roughly a hundred, relatively small in size. A publisher the size of Take-Two deciding to uproot and build a studio here in Las Vegas is significant news.

A minor caveat: it’ll be a quality-assurance studio. This means that the bulk of the facility’s work will revolve around testing games created by the other studios under the Take-Two umbrella, rather than developing its own.

QA is traditionally seen as the more tedious side of game development. It’s a relatively easy way to shove one’s foot in the game industry door, and while there are opportunities for growth within QA itself, many do it with the intention of moving on to other disciplines as quickly as possible. The downside of the ease of entry is that it’s also generally one of the lowest paying and hardest working positions in the industry, with an average salary of $35,000-$40,000.

As a dedicated QA facility, Take-Two’s Las Vegas studio may not have the level of growth opportunities typically found within a full-service studio, as separation from the rest of the development teams may hamper the co-mingling, process familiarity and networking that is required to move up within the industry. Still, it will allow for passionate local industry newcomers and veterans to connect with and learn from each other, and who knows what will happen once those connections are made.

Again, this development is significant.

To understand why, see the story of Westwood Studios, started by locals Brett Sperry and Louis Castle, creators of the venerable Command & Conquer franchise. Local team, very successful, eventually purchased by Electronic Arts and folded into their mothership in 2003.

That’s not the important part. The important part is that as a result of Westwood and its success, Las Vegas was now home to a large cadre of skilled game developers who, even after the buyout and eventual closure, still wanted to make games in Las Vegas. As a result, nearly every active game development studio based in Las Vegas can trace its roots back to that original Westwood team.

With a plan to hire more than 150 developers, Take-Two’s new facility will become the largest studio in town. Thanks to a welcoming business climate, the proximity to Switch (one of the largest data centers in the country) and the growth of Downtown as a tech magnet, other studios will follow.

The game industry as a whole, not unlike Vegas, is very transient, and whether due to personal growth or layoffs, developers tend to move around. As new studios open, as alternative workplaces become available, the risk for these developers will lessen, and Las Vegas will become an even more inviting place for relocation.

The more industry talent that finds its way to Las Vegas, the more industry talent that is grown locally, the more we’ll see local studios continue to spawn. Las Vegas is the capital of casino gaming — with luck, traditional video games won’t be far behind.

Chris Ainsworth is a native Las Vegan and tech dilettante. Find him on Twitter (@driph) or at driph.com.