Over the years, Arizona has gained more and more recognition for being a good place for the burgeoning technology industry. With its proximity to powerhouse Silicon Valley yet affordable cost of living, the state has attracted increasing numbers of tech companies.
While Uber’s move from California to Arizona may come to mind, or the growth of downtown Phoenix’s Warehouse District, most people probably wouldn’t consider the Valley a place for video game developers. Yet according to the Entertainment Software Association, Arizona houses at least 75 video game companies, 16 video game college programs and over 26,000 video game industry advocates.
The state is also home to Game CoLab, a video game incubator founded by Ben Reichert. The lab began as a co-working space in 2013 and became an incubator in 2014 after being awarded a grant from the city of Phoenix.
The organization helps video game companies network with developers and designers, form marketing and PR strategies, create trailers and gameplay videos, hire the people they need to develop their vision and find mentorship, clients and funding. The lab’s website also offers branded merchandise and a store full of games developed locally for people to purchase, download, and play.
Game CoLab’s developer directory lists over 70 developers and companies from the Valley and Tucson, including some that also have offices in other states and countries. But while many game developers are connected to Game CoLab, there are even more out there.
Take Digital Storm Creations, a Phoenix startup created by four people passionate about gaming. All of them have full-time jobs unrelated to gaming, but co-founder and iOS developer AJ Beltran said they wanted to challenge themselves further.
The group met after work and on weekends to create a mobile game called Sidewalk Assassins that they launched in April. It takes the real-life game “assassin,” in which usually high-schoolers are assigned targets and must sneakily “take them out” with squirt guns, and adds a high-tech augmented reality twist. The developers used Apple’s newly released ARKit to integrate features like allowing players to pick up “dropped” armor and weaponry.
Not only do the AR visuals make the game enticing, but the app’s ability to keep track of assigned targets and those that have fallen keeps games organized, while many real-life versions with large groups of people fizzle out.
“We wanted to be ahead of the game on some of the AR stuff and wanted to build a game modeled after what some students already do,” Beltran said. “There’s sometimes where no matter what you do it’s so hard to organize [regular assassin games] and people don’t follow the rules and things like that and it doesn’t really work out.”
Sidewalk Assassins is currently the only game Digital Storm Creations is working on, but they have ideas for increasing its more than 1,500 downloads and 500 to 600 active users. They’re also working on monetizing the game—right now they rely on in-game purchases.
“It’s extremely hard to get your name out there,” Beltran said. “There’s so many people and so many names in the App Store. It can go really fast if you haven’t properly prepared with enough money and things of that nature that kind of weather the first storm of trying to get everybody to start playing.”
The group is planning to gather a test group of players to gain feedback on this and future games. They’re also looking to partner with businesses to create “Safe Houses,” where players can hide from each other and plan their next attack.