Baton Rouge is transforming from a college town into a gaming hub
Though well-known for its diehard sports fans, excellent cuisine, and epic tailgates, Louisiana’s capital Baton Rouge has leveraged its film production industry, research university, existing tech incubators, and low cost of living to become an emerging southeastern hub for the video gaming industry.
The city’s gaming industry was kickstarted when community leaders realized that the city’s foundation of digital media talent and incentive frameworks for the film production industry could also serve as assets for video game companies. Louisiana has long been a regional hub for film production, thanks to its diverse locations, competitive incentives, and low cost of living. Baton Rouge itself is home to Celtic Studios, the largest film facility in Louisiana, with nearly 150,000 square feet of design-built stage space and 100,000 square feet of gated office space. Films like Dallas Buyers Club, 22 Jump Street, and Pitch Perfect 2 were filmed on location in Baton Rouge. The state’s film industry created a strong foundation of digital media expertise and talent in the region.
To replicate its success in film production in another industry, Louisiana has helped foster a regional gaming cluster with the Digital Interactive Media and Software Development tax credit. The most comprehensive of its kind in the country, the initiative gives digital media and software development companies tax credits on labor payrolls and production expenditures. The Qualified Entertainment Company program also supports gaming companies with tax credits on payroll jobs.
Y Combinator cofounder Paul Graham has said, “there are no technology hubs without first-rate universities.” As home to Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge is no exception. LSU was a critical component in Electronic Arts’ decision to establish its North American testing center in Baton Rouge. The center is instrumental to the development of games from EA studios such as BioWare, DICE, and Maxis. The company employs nearly 400 people in the LSU Digital Media Center, a $30 million, 90,000-square-foot building on LSU’s campus. The space is shared with the Center for Computation and Technology, an interdisciplinary research group.
Once EA was established in Baton Rouge, the city faced the challenging task of leveraging EA’s presence into a gaming community that could support early stage companies. Driven by the region’s growing tech community, the state, universities, and local governments have invested in a network of startup incubators like the Louisiana Business and Technology Center at the LSU Innovation Park, which has to-date has created more than 10,000 jobs and helped startups raise almost $200 million in equity and contracts.
LSU also works alongside the Louisiana Tech Park, which created over 3,000 jobs with an economic impact of nearly $200 million last year. The newest entrant to this tech landscape is Baton Rouge’s Southern University — one of the country’s most historic HBCUs — which recently launched the SU Innovation Center, an incubation space, co-working office, and entrepreneurial training facility.
Success stories from these incubators include General Informatics (GI), an IT solutions company that employs more than 60 engineers and is currently building @Highland, a $20 million campus to hold both GI’s headquarters and other tech companies. CellControl, a Bluetooth-based mobile device and app that prevents smartphone use while driving, is another product of Baton Rouge’s incubators. Their distracted driving solution has landed deals with corporate fleets as well as leading insurance companies like Allstate, Ohio Mutual and Liberty Mutual.
Baton Rouge leaders capitalized on this existing incubation infrastructure to campaign for a grant for a video game development center. This resulted in the creation of Level Up Lab, a gaming accelerator. Thanks to this focus on gaming, Baton Rouge is now home to successful video game companies like Pixel Dash Studios, King Crow Studios, and Procedural Reality. While many of Baton Rouge’s emerging gaming companies are founded by Louisiana natives, the state is beginning to attract companies from around the country as well.
Though supported by tax credits and incubators, gaming startups in Baton Rouge face a common challenge for tech companies outside of Silicon Valley — a lack of venture capital options. Venture capital firms and investors have not grown in the region as quickly as startups and gaming companies. To combat this issue, Baton Rouge leaders have created seed and early capital funds like Innovation Catalyst and Louisiana Funds that invest in early-stage, pre-revenue companies and syndicate deals with angel networks and venture funds.
With a major research university in its backyard, Baton Rouge is becoming a magnet for talented young people and smart ideas. By capitalizing on investment from key tech industry leaders and doubling down on early startup resources, this college town has emerged as an energetic, livable city for both established and early-stage video gaming companies.
Adam Knapp is the president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC), which works to provide the Baton Rouge area with quality jobs and sustainable economic opportunity. Prior to BRAC, he worked for Accenture Labs, the Louisiana Governor’s Office, and Louisiana Recovery Authority.