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April 5, 2012, 7:56 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston/Cambridge, Mass.) - For little start up companies like Tap Labs, it’s like having the world’s biggest stage show up at your back door: the Pax East computer and digital gaming convention and trade show, which kicks off Friday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston and is expected to draw 60,000 to 80,000 or more.

Tap City is a smart phone-based game that’s sort of like playing Monopoly with your favorite real-world locations, checking in and putting up the equivalent of houses and hotels and collecting rent – and what’s maybe astonishing is that the whole team behind the game can fit around one table in a loft office in East Cambridge, CEO/co-founder Dave Bisceglia and five full-time colleagues and a pair of part-time software developers. They are busy at work with plans for Tap City 2, coming out this summer.

"We’re swinging for the fences with that. It’s going to be a lot of fun," Bisceglia said.

Tap City is among nearly 30 Massachusetts-based gaming companies that will be demonstrating at Pax East, and Bisceglia, a 2009 Boston University graduate, hopes it becomes a chance for them to show off an emerging hotbed of digital game development in and around Boston.

"There’s such a solid gaming culture here in Boston, very close-knit and there's no ceiling" in terms of small start up leaders being able to reach out and make contact with industry veterans, as Tap Labs did when it recently closed a $550,000 round of investment funding from the founders of Harmonix, the Cambridge company behind “Guitar Hero," "Rock Band" and other popular games.

"There’s access to mentors, as well as the investment community," Bisceglia said. "There's a very strong angel investment community here."

What some may think of as just fun and games is projected to be an $80 billion industry, and releases of big-title video games these days are often blockbusters that easily rival Hollywood movie releases or music albums in dollar gross. State officials estimate about 4,000 people now work for digital gaming companies in the state, including dozens of promising startups like Tap Labs. And they look to Pax East – which has committed to return to Boston every year through 2023 – as having huge practical and symbolic value.

"This opportunity stretches for a decade," said Helena Fruscio, who works as the creative industry director for the state office of economic affairs. "This is such a great opportunity for the industry here to really get it right, to continue to use this as a platform" to grow and promote digital gaming as a key 21st century industry sector for the state.

Tim Loew, executive director of the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute, based at Becker College in Worcester, Mass., said, "An event like Pax can drive even more and more activity to the game industry and build what is a really healthy cluster here into an enormous cluster."

Among many things economic-development officials love about digital gaming: The range of jobs it creates for creative/artistic types, computer code writers and techies, and the whole range of business sales and administration and marketing positions. Loew said as it did when Rhode Island offered millions in tax breaks to lure former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios from Maynard to the Ocean State, Massachusetts faces a lot of states, Canadian provinces and foreign nations that would love to grab some of the digital gaming jobs growing in Massachusetts.
"The competition never sleeps," Loew said.

Bisceglia said he’s looking forward to rubbing shoulders with start up gaming company workers, and maybe get some of them to set up shop here.

"In the end, I think the most important thing for us with Pax is just having a platform to showcase Boston start ups and Boston indie game-dev shops," Bisceglia said. "We’ve got a bunch of cool stuff going on."

With videographer David Jacobs.

Tags: Boston, Peter Howe, business , gaming, Pax East convention
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