NEW ORLEANS -- Video games are nothing new to New Orleans, just ask any gamer who's mastered "Left for Dead 2" or "Assassin's Creed 3." The city has now gone from being a backdrop to a producer of digital media.
“So now it's flipped the script a little bit and it's now well we're making the games here. I think that's really cool,” said Jameson Quave.
Programmer Jameson Quave and his partner Neel Sus are now developing games and mobile apps for their New Orleans start up touch studios.
While small in comparison to developers Gameloft and EA, which now have hundreds of employees in Louisiana, touch is thriving in part thanks to the same tax break that lured the big names to the state.
“Being an entrepreneur there's always risk. But, it's nice to know, at least on the labor side that you know somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of that risk is mitigated,” said Sus.
Like Louisiana's highly successful film incentive program the digital media tax credit program allows companies to double down on their tax breaks. They get up to 25 percent tax credit for support activity such as the lease on a building, plus up to 35 percent for all Louisiana labor costs.
Sus says the program accelerates innovation and fosters growth in the industry.”I think it motivates entrepreneurs to cross that chasm and do it or motivate already established to make that next product that maybe it wouldn't have already made.”
New Orleans native Kenneth Purcell is using the digital media tax credit to build his e-commerce development firm iSeatz.
“In our case, we're using the tax credits to actually incentivize our customers to do business with us because we're able to offer lower prices,” said Purcell.
Some of the largest companies in the travel industry are taking notice and keeping iSeatz’s 70 employees busy.
“We just launched the new American Express travel website in partnership with American Express and Orbitz which is a full service travel website. Everything from booking your flights to hotels, rental cars, vacation packages, etc,” said Purcell.
One thing could slow the momentum in this fast growing sector of the local economy. Louisiana colleges and universities are only averaging about 600 graduates in computer science a year. Professor Robert Racine says UNO hopes to change that with an aggressive new emphasis on film and digital media.
“We are overflowing with students who are trying to get into our program, to get classes. We have lots of students who are in the pipeline right now,” said Racine.
Grad students Evenie Chao and Daniel Ward hope to take advantage of the high tech boom.
“I'm probably one of the few people in this country right now that is really looking forward to the next couple of years. I have a whole lot of hope,” said Chao.
“It's a good thing for student to look forward to having a job, especially in a time when most students when they graduate, they don't have any really prospects of jobs,” said Ward.
At Touch studios, programmers say digital media is quickly becoming another form of artistic expression coming out of New Orleans.
“We get something different out of our artists here than you get in any other city. There's a lot of imagination about this city,” said Quave.