The Case for an Empire State of Play

This guest post by Collin Cummings, co-founder and CEO of PlayWell, originally appeared on the PlayWell blog. Republished by kind permission of the author.


This one is personal for me. New York is a tough town that rewards grit, creativity and experimentation. It’s perfect for games. Yet, here’s what I often hear on building the game industry in NYC:


“New York is expensive.”

“Game development is hard.”

“It’s a luck based business.”

“You have to be rich to be a game developer in New York City.”


When did we get so defeated?


World changing growth is a matter of mentality. The most exciting changes happen not when we run clear of any obstacles, but when we’re guided by people who eagerly take them head on. New York City is bold, brave and eager. I can’t think of any place more perfect for the next generation of play.



Sadly, we’ve become incredibly good at making excuses for the difficulty of making it in games. Trust me, I understand. Failure is bitter when it ushers in financial struggle. Making games is complicated. Developers often work on projects that cost years of their lives and launch to little fanfare (more on the importance of idea validation, testing, and collaboration as means to avoid these issues for our pleasure).


So why do startups thrive here? What about the struggling stage actress? It’s not easy, but nothing worth it’s success ever is. Games are not uniquely risky in comparison. There are scores of people who have come to this city to make it with no guarantee of money or success. They have the same cost of living, same rigorous schedules, and arguably greater competition to deal with.


The only true difference is that we’ve built a thriving infrastructure on supporting startups, tech, art, creativity in NYC and have comparatively very little for games. Well, even that is changing.


Is New York too expensive for game developers?


Yes, it is, but so is San Francisco and there are plenty of game developers there. Everyone is pulling day jobs, pinching pennies and building minimum viable products until they make it work. I’ve seen incredible things get made by people who live here and don’t really have an income. If you want it bad enough, you get clever. 


Is game development hard?


Sure, but that can’t be the end of the story. Why are we giving up so easily? There are ways to make it easier. Whenever I’m faced with this concern, I say “Do we have the process all figured out? Is it as good as it will ever be?” Nobody has ever said yes to those questions. Imagine how an investor would feel if someone said “ugh, it’s just really harrrrrd”.


Is it a luck-based business?


This one boils my blood a bit. Sure, luck is involved. Why is that the end of the conversation? What do you do with that luck or the lack thereof?


When I did the 30 Weeks incubator last year I watched as four people in our group pursued hardware projects with very little real experience. A couple of them are still growing. One of them had insane potential (and interest from powerful people) but he let it go. I wish I could convey to all the down and out developers just how hard it is to make functional, fundable, and successful hardware.


Don’t ever let luck be a deciding factor in doing what you truly love.


So, then why New York?


Click this link, press play and read on.


Attitude means everything and New York has the right one.


New Yorkers are tenacious. We get things done and don’t make excuses. Give us an impossible wall to climb and we’ll jump over or break it. Don’t ask us to wait for permission, we’ll make it happen.


New York is packed with creativity.


You can’t yawn and stretch your arms without being within reach of thousands of incredibly successful and willing citizens. Ask me to choose whether I’ll work on a game by myself in a quiet town, or in the presence of the most concentrated creative population in the world, I know where I’ll go. Ideas don’t make products thrive, people do.


New York loves to collaborate.


Stick around a little while and you’ll have a hard time not finding dozens of opportunities to meet like-minded people who will go in the trenches with you. Most of us came here for that purpose. We’re here to find each other and make things. That’s why we take on the financial risk of the city. I’d rather spend the money to live here and tap the human capital then pay the opportunity cost of living without it.


Inspiration is free flowing and in high supply.


There’s no greater natural drug then the constant source of ideas you have access to here. Every minute gives birth to new brilliance. The atmosphere is thick with expression and life. Creativity bursts out of the chains of hesitation and fear.


New Yorkers love dreamers.


We elevate ideas and hard work together. We strive to see that everyone gets a chance. We know it’s not perfect but we’ll be sure we get there. People come and never leave. There’s too much to miss out on. Our table is big and we want everyone to come have a seat. If you sit with us, bring your ambitions.


New Yorkers are scrappy.


So are the best game makers. It’s a perfect partnership. Simply put, if you want the secrets to success against all odds, try New York. You’ll make more happen with less than you ever have.


The foundations are being laid.


We are making it happen. We’ve will not settle until everyone knows about the Empire State of Play. Every day, new opportunities rise for game makers. If you can’t find them, you’re not looking hard enough.


It turns out what they say is true. If you can make it here you can make it anywhere. Mark my words, this is where it’s going to happen. You can either be a part of it or watch it happen.


Cue Jay-Z and Alicia Keys mic drop.