Why Doesn’t Milwaukee Have a More Robust Video Game Development Scene? – Milwaukee Magazine

Daniel Rutkowski is probably the most ambitious young video game developer in the Milwaukee area. His big dream involves turning The Little Mermaid into a cyborg and implanting her into a game that echoes the TV show “Lost” with stunning graphics – all with just a two-person team vs. the hundreds that usually make the most expensive and marketable “AAA” games. His company, Sirenum Digital, has remained small while developing this action-adventure title, The Lost Pisces, in part because of a Kickstarter that failed in 2015, but also because of Milwaukee itself.

“It’s hard to pull together a team in the area,” says the young father who lives in Greenfield. He works for Microsoft by day but spends weekends and late nights sculpting the world of Pisces, part of which he hopes to show to publishers this summer.

Madison, by contrast, has a cluster of prominent game developers anchored by veteran Raven Software, which now works on the massive “Call of Duty” series, with other studios including Human Head Studios (now a part of Bethesda, maker of the “Elder Scrolls” and “Fallout” games) and Lost Boys Interactive.

Raphael Azcueta, a local independent developer and artist who also works at Northwestern Mutual, notes a game studio needs many professions, and Milwaukee is not known as a center for animators, artificial intelligence specialists, voice actors, sound designers, 3D artists and folks who specialize in user interface. “Why would a game developer come to Milwaukee?” he says. “Not very many people are surviving off of making games.”

One of them, John Bergman, head of small Guild Software, says financial incentives could help to grow the city’s share of an industry that now trumps the TV and movie industries for sheer revenue. He points to Louisiana, which has attracted developers to New Orleans using generous incentives, including a tax credit program that pays 25% of payroll. Bergman also believes private investors could play a role by establishing venture capital funds that target entertainment businesses in Milwaukee, and local universities could do more to foster young developers.

Most of Milwaukee’s schools, including UW-Milwaukee, Marquette University and the Milwaukee School of Engineering, lack full game development majors, prompting aspiring students to enroll at UW-Green Bay, -Stout or -Whitewater instead.

Azcueta, who completed a computer science degree at UWM in 2022, said the school “was not helpful. They suffer from this divide between STEM and humanities.” Vice Provost Dave Clark said UWM recently expanded the number of elective courses a computer science student can take in areas such as the arts, and it was working on a “microcredential” that would touch on game design.

Milwaukee and other, non-Madison areas of the state have shortcomings, but a group of investors recently floated Wisconsin as the home for a new, VC-funded game studio. According to Brandon Tschacher of the Milwaukee Esports Alliance, these employees of existing game companies had considered Green Bay in particular. But the talk was tentative and sounded unlikely to bear fruit, he says. “They were really shooting for the moon.”

Source: Why Doesn’t Milwaukee Have a More Robust Video Game Development Scene? – Milwaukee Magazine

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