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For years now, Georgia has become a haven for filmmakers. Countless shows, movies, short films and web series have brought actors and crew in and around the limits of Atlanta. Streets are blocked off for shooting. Entire college campuses are taken over and made to resemble Google’s offices. Even homes in the suburbs are transformed to look like a house from the fourth movie of a franchise. Passersby get a chance to snap pics of pre-wrecked cars that are just sitting – unmanned -- behind a thin line of police tape. Almost anybody can say this is all pretty exciting. 
It’s beginning to look a lot like New York around here. Or Los Angeles; pick either.
But film studios aren’t the only ones taking notice of the prime real estate. Video game developers have migrated to Atlanta – not in droves exactly but they’re making themselves known. At least ten companies are based here from the unknowns like Persuasive Games to behemoths like Blue Mammoth Games (creators of the substantial Brawlhalla) and Hi-Rez Studios (SMITE, Paladins). No matter what, though, each company has seen some form of success.
Game creators aren’t averse to working in cities that don’t look like they’d be quite known for their gaming output. 38 Studios (Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning) was stationed in Rhode Island before it went belly up. A number of studios are located in Redmond, Washington such as 343 Industries (Halo 5) and Microsoft Studios (Zoo Tycoon). Seattle is one of the biggest hubs as it houses Amazon Game Studios, PopCap Games and Runic Games. Development can take place anywhere at any time. Heck, many of these companies got their start working out of their garages.
By the grace of the Gods
You and a team of four others ride into battle appearing as literal Gods, each from a different culture. There’s well known characters like Zeus (a mage in game) who uses his mighty lightning bolt to strike down those who get in his way. Or Guan Yu, a Chinese Saint of War who takes the form of a warrior. And what about Mayan Goddess of the Moon Awilix who is a skilled assassin for the player’s sake? You’re playing a simple match of Conquest, trying to kill the opposing team’s Titan. As you run down one of the few lanes, you see an enemy Cupid floating in your direction. He hits you with his basic Lovestruck move that doesn’t take much damage but the first volley is soon followed by several more. As you ready your retaliation, one of Cupid’s teammates – a Thor – runs up to help his buddy. You send out a mighty Chain Lightening that hits both. You’re soon joined by two people from your team who manage to take down both Cupid and Thor. The three of you join your other two mates at the enemy Titan and start hammering away at its health. That, in a nutshell, is a typical match of the premiere mode of Smite. Of course, there are several more match ups between characters but a simplified description also gives a good picture of the game.  
Hi-Rez Studios – the developer behind the ultra-popular Smite – has been ruling the free-to-play space for some time. They pride themselves with the moniker “Free to Play games that our fans Want to Play,” displayed proudly on their website. Their consumer first; molding gameplay around what the players want. New elements are introduced in stages. Characters, move sets, balances to gameplay and more are given to the world every few months as smaller tweaks are made to bolster the overall feel of the game. Their happy with their fans and vice versa. Hi-Rez and Smite have created a community. 
Hi-Rez Studios COO and Co-founder Todd Harris wasn’t available for comment. This article will be updated if he chooses to do so.
You, a ship captain, appear on a stage with lots of green foliage. Wielding two pistols that shoot cannon balls, you aim them towards a woman from Valhalla dressed in shiny armor. She’s trying to attack you too and suddenly you’re in a battle for your life. But you two aren’t alone. A wolf man and elf lady join the fray. Now the four of you are going at it. It’s crazy! It’s madness! It’s Brawlhalla. 
Taking the label of independent game studio, Blue Mammoth started with some of the finest minds of Hi-Rez Studios and Cryptic Studios. Lincoln Hamilton and Matt Woomer would lead the development of two distinct games, Dungeon Blitz and Brawlhalla, to cement their names in gaming history. 
“‘Finest minds’ is one way to put it” Mr. Woomer joked on the description. 
Blue Mammoth began work on their first project, Dungeon Blitz, as soon as possible. The game took about two years to finish with a team of five.
“[My partner and I] came from the massively multiplayer game City of Heroes. We both worked at Cryptic Studios. The idea for Dungeon Blitz was...let's make a game that’s not City of Heroes or World of Warcraft in terms of complexity and servers. But on the front end is this super lightweight, side-scrolling, fun game” Mr. Woomer recalled.
But Dungeon Blitz proved to be more of a project than profitable. At one point, there were over 7 million players and 8,000 active users but the company was never able to capitalize monetarily off the game. 
“One thing I would say is I’d put Dungeon Blitz up against any game in the world as having the most players and making the least money of any game” Mr. Woomer jests before laughing.
The game is “Free to Play,” a term meaning users can start and finish the entire game for free however nonessential items like costumes would cost real world money. The free to play style of gaming at the time was still not as robust as it is today. Still, Mr. Woomer and his team were “bound and determined” to figure out the model to avoid leaving a sour taste that other companies may leave in gamer’s mouths.
“When we start development, we’re going to figure out what the free to play model is. We’re going to plan beforehand what that model is like and we’re going to go with it” said Mr. Woomer.
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Dungeon Blitz was created in a home while Brawlhalla was developed in their Alpharetta office. Growth has been steady.
“We’re up here in Alpharetta. And we’ve been in business since 2009. We started in my basement, myself and [Lincoln Hamilton]. It’s been a slow growth up to...we’re now 21 people” Mr. Woomer chimed. “I started [game development] at Hi-Rez back in 2006 when they were working on Global Agenda. They were maybe 35 people then. Now they’re a 400 person company probably. That’s amazing.”
Mr. Woomer believes Blue Mammoth could grow larger this year. In fact, they’re bringing on four new people by the end of the month. Finding talent isn’t too difficult for the studio. Like any company, Blue Mammoth scours anywhere they can to bring someone on board.
“Basically, if we can hire someone straight out of school and we have the time to train them up, [we bring them aboard]. That’s something that’s really worked well for us” said Mr. Woomer. “We do a lot of community stuff. We do a lot of things to make sure we’re known about in the community.”
But if a potential team member is out of state, persuading them to come to the south can be a tough negotiation.
“The problem comes when you need to get a senior person. You need to convince them to come to Atlanta. If they do come to Atlanta, they will be very happy because Atlanta is fantastic. But you have to convince them!” joked Mr. Woomer. 
Blue Mammoth tries their best to get top tier talent in a city filled with colleges dedicated to arts and technology. Attending in-city events like Siegecon and Momocon (84,000 visitors this year) or competitions like Combo Breaker in Chicago (almost 1,300 in attendance) and EVO in Las Vegas (15,000 in attendance) have proved fruitful as well. They might not have the title of other big name companies like Turner (more on that below) but they do have their own style.
“A lot of it is making sure we are known to people coming out of school so that they know to look for us. And that they know we’re somebody who they might be interested in” Mr. Woomer stated. “Another trick is you need to know the faculty in places. Have a contact at SCAD who you know and you chat with and they know you’re hiring. They can send people your way.”
With internal growth and continually supporting a game, Blue Mammoth looks to esports as another way to gain notoriety. Esports – “electronic sports” – are video games played at a competitive level either by a team or a single person. The genre consists of fighting, first person shooters (FPS), real-time strategy (RTS) and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games. Games like League of Legends, a MOBA, and Mortal Kombat X, a fighter, are mainstays. Just like regular sports, esports is played for money and recognition. Blue Mammoth’s Brawlhalla, a fighting game, has managed to make a foothold into the esports world.
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Last year, the studio held a world tournament at the Cobb Galleria. Hundreds of players from around the world made their way to the site. The prize pool totaled $50,000. This year’s championship will double that number.
As with figuring out free to play, Mr. Woomer and Blue Mammoth aren’t afraid of the amount of work that goes into esports. “That is a fascinating problem and something we think about every day. We have an esports team. The world of Brawlhalla esports is something we work on all the time.”
Brawlhalla gets regularly scheduled updates every Wednesday. The team is good at listening to the community as they balance and tweak aspects of the product. Doing so ensures the games’ longevity.
“New content, [rotating] characters. Balance patch. Esport games need updates and balances to keep things fun” Mr. Woomer acknowledged. 
To infinity and beyond infinity and beyond to infinity
You’re flying your space ship through an asteroid belt. The destination is New Eden, where you’ll trade your inventory at the market. The market works a lot like the real world. It’s a player-driven area of EVE that can be an easy way of earning money. Trading, buying and selling to earn ISK (the game’s currency) takes patience and an ability to read the charts. Becoming a salvager has also interested you. A twinge of envy comes across your person every time you saw one of those ships come back from a battlefield with a lacerated hull. Or you consider going to war yourself, killing pirates as a ratter. 
This is the world of EVE Online. CCP Games, located in Decatur, created the popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Like Brawlhalla, EVE Online is free to play with several ways to invest in the world monetarily. It’s a bit more intensive than the former, though, with a vast and dedicated fanbase and difficult learning curve. As that game has become popular over the course of its 14 year history, CCP Games has dived deeper into the lore and created three more games: EVE Gunjack, EVE Gunjack 2 and – their most recent -- EVE Valkyrie, a the studio’s first foray into virtual reality (VR) gaming.
Adam Kahn, Senior Director of Communications at CCP Games, recalls the initial conversation surrounding the development of Valkyrie. 
“[Developers in our Reykjavik, Iceland headquarters] first heard about the Oculus Rift Kickstarter. We were one of the first backers of the Kickstarter recreationally. People were just really excited about VR” Mr. Kahn recalled.
Some of CCP Games’s designers were toying with EVE Online assets. They introduced a build of Valkyrie at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2013. Production essentially started for the game later that year and ended when the final version of the Oculus shipped.
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When asked how the team in Atlanta works in tandem with the Iceland group, Mr. Kahn noted that email and video chats proved useful tools. Although, they don’t do it often. Teams work on their own, separate products.
“They don’t collaborate in real time on development” Mr. Kahn interjected. “The game we’re working on here in Atlanta, it’s entirely developed here. Every single bit of code is developed here in Atlanta for it.”
To that end, Atlanta’s CCP Games crew isn’t as big as other developers.
“We’re at about 19 people on the team. Maybe less because we have about 20 in the office. For the longest time, it was only 9 people for most of [the game’s] development time” said Mr. Kahn.
But the city is still a good destination for the studio.
“There’s some history here. Atlanta was the home of White Wolf Games, which was acquired by CCP in 2006. They were a tabletop RPG book company. That went through several iterations. They started up a game to make a massively online multiplayer game for one of the properties that White Wolf had. That development ended in 2014, which led to the creation for this studio for VR games” Mr. Kahn described.
Just like Blue Mammoth, CCP Games rummages through as many channels as possible to find new team members.
“It’s not easy to recruit anyone. We follow every avenue. Everything from taking resumes through our website [to other paths]” Mr. Kahn admits. “We’re following multiple paths to get new talent. Recruiters, local companies, headhunters, local universities. It really depends on the position.”
With EVE Online being free to play and EVE Valkyrie casting the typical $60, CCP Games has its hands in both pots. Developing games in this fashion has proven to be lucrative. Mr. Kahn is happy to be working in free to play though. He suggests VR can find the same love too.
“I’m really glad they all exist. I think this is a really great time. I’ve been in gaming for 20 years. I hope people appreciate the breadth of offerings available. Free to play games offer really great experiences at low barrier entry. Retail offerings quality are higher quality ever,” said Mr. Kahn. “VR is a new thing that’s finding its place and is offering an experience you just can’t get any other way. I think they all work pretty well for the people who like them. I just love the opportunities are there for us to play in and for the rest of the industry to play in.”
With that poise, CCP Games has a continued interest in esports. Their next project will be their first official foray into the arena along with being a VR game.
“It’s definitely a focus. When you look at [our latest game], Sparc, there's definitely an esports angle. We’re calling it ‘V-sport’ -- the first virtual sport,” Mr. Kahn declared. “The team here is definitely thinking about live streaming as they develop the game. How to integrate Twitch streaming; how to have esports functionality and features or ways to make it easier...It’s definitely entering into the development process early on now.”
Sparc’s development is going over well. This summer, CCP Games plans on bringing in a few outside game testers to try out a build of the game. Fans shouldn’t get their hopes up about an open beta test soon though.
“It’s still TBD on an online beta. Because it’s virtual reality, there’s a huge number of people; a huge market to test it in” insisted Mr. Kahn.
Turn up the development
For what seems like decades, Turner has been creating games in house themselves. Anyone who ventured to the Cartoon Network and Adult Swim websites can attest to that. The former was packed with memorable games with its show’s characters. Dexter’s Laboratory, Dragon Ball Z, and Cow & Chicken were among the fracas. To this day, both websites have endured even as their gaming catalogue changes. 
The sites run on the ancient technology of flash which makes it easier to develop games. Pages of colorful characters jump out at the player. Homages to older games are prevalent (Dee Dee’s Moon Squad is a childhood favorite and a nod to the 1982 arcade game Moon Patrol; similarly The Powerpuff Girls game All Monsters Attack is reminiscent of every Power Rangers episode ever). It’s almost as if nothing changed in the past 17 years. 
Turner proves to evolve with the times as younger eyes move toward handheld screens. iPhones, iPads and the odd iPod Touch (maybe kids don’t like Android) would rather Snapchat a selfie than play a game. How times have changed. Turner’s next move was then to import some of their web based games to mobile devices. 
Now the App Store and Play Store are home to 21 Adult Swim apps and 34 Cartoon Network apps with a lot of crossovers between shows. It’s both astonishing and a gross appropriation of properties. But they’re a business and they want to make money. Apps are free but ask for money for some items – or free to play as we’ve discussed before.
VR: It’s what you do
Game development could prove very important to Georgia’s future as a multitalented media powerhouse but another, expanded world could be just as fruitful. Virtual reality (VR) is on the rise. In the past two years, three major competitors in the market have released their headsets. HTC’s Vive, the Oculus Rift, and Playstation VR landed with a simultaneous bang and whimper. All three headsets are bulky, cable laden visors that cut off the user from the outside world. Your eyes sit just a few inches from in-headset screens that have the power to take you to other worlds. 
CCP Games is a proponent of VR. But Mr. Kahn notes the prices are atrocious, noting that the medium is for enthusiasts at the moment.
“I really think that has everything to do with price right now,” said Mr. Kahn. “For what you get, we’ve got a great price right now for what the experience is. But $599 for an Oculus Rift; higher for a Vive; a little bit less for a Playstation VR, it’s still a lot to swallow for an average player. We’re really hoping the manufacturer can get the price down quickly.”
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Atlanta is lucky in that not one but two different VRcades (pronounced “vee-are-cade”) are starting the businesses in distinct areas of the city. iSimu VR and Revery: VR Bar -- located in Duluth and Midtown respectively and should make a killing with groups.
“There’s a lot of support from the community,” said Clayton Feustal of iSimu VR.
“I believe half the fun is watching your friends play,” Revery: VR Bar co-owner Vincent Wynn chimed. “Your shy friend may have some secret matrix moves when you get them playing a first-person shooter.”
VR is strikingly extensive. I’ve already written on the topic in this substantial piece (which I urge you to read) that covers the game development, companies working in the tech, and everything else related to VR and Atlanta.
Check(point) please
With the introduction of several production studios in the state – along with the subsequent, blossoming television and movie production (not to mention the tax incentives) – Georgia has become the number one state for film production. It’d be hard not to what with the amount of movies shooting in people’s backyards. Fate of the Furious, Baywatch, and Baby Driver are just a few releasing this year. Filming will begin for a number of others including Pitch Perfect 3, Avengers: Infinity War and Rampage soon. 
With movie production being such a big deal, wouldn’t it be possible for game studios to also prosper? After all, there are cities around the globe one wouldn’t normally categorize as a production hub for games. Redmond, Washington; Warsaw, Poland; London, Ontario. There’s no limit to the amount of oddly named cities housing gaming developers.
Mr. Woomer is excited for the newfound glory.
“For sure. Atlanta has a lot of good schools. That’s one of the things it has going for it,” Mr. Woomer agreed. “It’s got the Art Institute of Atlanta, it’s got SCAD, it’s got some people out of Georgia Tech, Georgia, and a lot of the local schools.”
Mr. Kahn also accepts the ranking and hopes to see his area of work grow within the city too.
“I think more and more. That’s very possible. You’ve got a number of successful studios here. We’re here. Hi-Rez has been super successful. Georgia Tech is a really great feeder school. There’s a very active VR professional group. There’s definitely a growing scene I would say,” said Mr. Kahn. “In addition to that, Atlanta -- when you compare it to San Francisco for example where there are a lot of gaming companies -- cost of living [isn’t] even in the same world. From my point of view, that makes [our city] really attractive.”
Atlanta is slowly becoming one of the premiere cities in the nation. Iconic landmarks, distinguishing food, music stars, film production, and expensive sports stadiums are just the start. We’re New York and LA with hospitality. And there’s plenty of real estate to spare.

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