By Jennifer Larino
On a recent weekday, Matt Findley walked down Oak Street, had a friendly chat with four strangers, stopped by a coffee shop and a bar, and ducked into More Fun Comics to peruse. That was when it hit him. This was exactly the right place to develop video games.
“The street had everything that it takes to run a video game company,” said Findley, president of inXile, a video game developer based in Newport Beach, Calif.
Findley joined inXile founder Brian Fargo and a host of economic development officials Wednesday afternoon (Oct. 21) to announce the company would open its newest development studio in newly renovated office space at the corner of Oak and Dublin streets later this year. The studio will house 50 developers each earning about $75,000 per year.
Economic development officials lauded the opening as another sign New Orleans is gaining traction as national tech hub.
Fargo, who founded inXile in 2002, said a Louisiana expansion was not part of the game plan until state economic development officials visited him earlier this year. The state’s lucrative tax credit program caught his attention. The creative culture in New Orleans sealed the deal.
Fargo and Findley started seriously looking into a move in July. By September, plans for the move were in place.
“I think that if you’re going to do something you do it,” Fargo said. “So we did it.”
The space on Oak Street will house developers who will work on new projects, including a successor to “The Bard’s Tale” trilogy, a classic fantasy role playing game.
Findley, who is moving from California to New Orleans and will oversee the new office, said workers will start arriving from the company’s Newport Beach, Calif. headquarters over the next few weeks to establish the first satellite location of inXile. The company plans to scale up to 50 employees in New Orleans over the coming five years.
The 3,900-square-foot office at 8207 Oak St. is still undergoing renovations and should be ready by December, he said. The Wednesday news conference was held in the unfinished space, the windows thrown open to a sunny and mild October afternoon.
Michael Hecht, CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., one of the organizations involved in attracting inXile, called the new studio a “match made in video game heaven.”
Hecht said New Orleans continues to emerge as a tech destination. He pointed to a line up of recent wins for the city, including new studios for game developers High Voltage Software and Gameloft as well as a GE technology center, which will transition to developing software for the company’s energy and water segments this year.
Hecht said none of those deals would have been possible without the state’s tax credit for digital media and software development. The state offers credits up to 25 percent on qualified in-state payroll expenses and up to 18 percent on certain in-state production costs.
Public scrutiny over state tax credit programs reached a new height this year as the state faced a budget deficit. Hecht urged lawmakers and the public to take a closer look at the digital media incentives. “This actually works,” he said.
Quentin Messer, president and CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance, highlighted inXile’s decision to locate away from downtown and the Central Business District, where most of the city’s traditional office space is located.
“It shows that what is happening here in New Orleans is parish-wide, in every neighborhood,” Messer said.
Findley said inXile looked at traditional downtown office space on its first visits to New Orleans. He said he found the whole process “to be soul sucking.”
Fargo chimed in, noting the development company’s Newport Beach studio is a walk away from the beach, “with surf boards and chainsaws hanging from the ceiling.” Oak Street had the right vibe for their company.
Both Findley and Fargo said they were concerned at first that few of their developers would be willing to leave California for New Orleans. They were surprised when about a dozen expressed interest in making the move.
Now, Findley said the company has to get to work readying its office space, which will feature long tables for open desk space, a corner full of video game consoles, a “kegerator,” and a pool table.
Findley said a few inXile developers will be working from the Uptown home he is renting during the transition. He is looking forward to selling his home in California and settling into a place in New Orleans.
Findley said inXile will be posting hiring announcements for the new office to its website Wednesday night. He encouraged applicants to start sending in resumes.
“There are jobs here in New Orleans. Come and get them,” he said.