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UCSC has a Game Design Department that is unique on the global stage. Additionally there are a number of local game designers who have achieved success, including Gaijin Games and Team Meat. Game Design involves both technichal skills like programming and artisitic skills like charact... read more

UCSC has a Game Design Department that is unique on the global stage. Additionally there are a number of local game designers who have achieved success, including Gaijin Games and Team Meat. Game Design involves both technichal skills like programming and artisitic skills like character design and music. For all of these reasons, Art Ramirez, Dean of Baskin Engineering at UCSC has called Game Design one of the most promising industry sectors for Santa Cruz to focus on. What can we do to develop this industry further?


  1. Establish a location for Game Cluster
  2. Define the organizational structure of the Game Cluster
  3. Define the metrics of success for the Cluster
  4. Decide how to fund the Cluster space
  5. Decide how to fund cluster staff and equipment
  6. Suggest activities for cluster members
  7. Brainstorm ideas to market the cluster


The Santa Cruz Game Cluster will be an enterprise for attracting game products, education services and jobs to the Santa Cruz area.


By 2015 the Game Cluster will be nationally and internationally recognized for innovative projects and initiatives that connect game businesses and research to catalyze economic vitality and increase local employment.

Mission Possible

By 2015, a Games Cluster may result in the following benefits to the region:

  • Job Growth: 25 new freelance jobs
  • Attraction: 10 micro businesses per year, emphasizing startups and/or major regional offices/year, with a target of attracting one major player
  • Incubation: 2-5 businesses per year
  • Projects: 2 of global significance in 5 years and 2 per year of regional/statewide significance
  • Economic Impact: $ 20 million in new economic growth from game activity
12-Month Goals
  • Communications/branding strategy and resources
  • Operating networking systems for games/programming/data faculties, students and innovators
  • Resource commitments to support regular events
  • Plan for conference / meetings on gaming &/or interactive education
  • Initial structure and panel of resources: mentors, coaches, venture funders
  • Key participants panel
24-Month Goals
  • Measurable brand recognition
  • Full-functioning and maintained network
  • Regular gaming events
  • Event attracting games heavyweights to Santa Cruz
  • Success stories and growth of resources panel
  • Efficient ‘transactions market’ for local industry cluster talent
  • Sustainable participants panel

Game Industry Snapshot

In 2012, the annual sales of the video game industry surpassed $78 billion.

What Is A 21st Century Game Designer?

Today, most commercial game development companies are made of large teams with many individuals contributing to the game’s success. There are programmers, producers, level designers, modelers, animators, technical artists, testers, marketing and finance specialists.


Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has said that “the game world is good training for a career in tech. It teaches players to build a network, to use interactive skills and thinking.” Even for someone planning a different technology career, the principles and skills behind gaming are valuable building blocks. A career in game design is a smart move in terms of stability and earning power.

The takeaway here is that, no matter what, games have to be conceived, coded, tested and sold. There is room for top talent—talent with solid, proven portfolios. According to the Game Career Guide issue of Game Developer Magazine, the average annual game development salary in 2012 was estimated at an impressive $80,000. And if you are a programmer or a producer, you can expect to break six figures. So yes, the gaming industry is a good long-term bet.

Game-Based Learning

Game-based learning is a knowledge transfer method that utilizes "gameplay," which includes some form of competition (against oneself or others) and a reward/penalty system that essentially functions as an assessment method. Game-based Learning products (edugames) have explicit pedagogical goals. A user "wins" an edugame when he or she achieves the learning objectives of the gameplay.

Game-based learning is growing extremely rapidly as more and more education moves online. The move towards online education has been supported by universities like Stanford and MIT putting large course offerings online for free. Sites like Khan Academy, Udemy, and Codecademy are by now well known "learn-it-yourself" sites contributing to this trend. It is only natural that as this trend towards digitization continues, education will also become "gamefied." Electronic Arts and the Institute of Play recently launched GlassLab, a project that explores the potential for commercially successful digital games to serve as learning environments and real-time assessments of student learning—in other words, games that are teacher and standardized test in one package. For starters, "Glass Lab" aims to tackle the middle school core curriculum.

Unique Opportunity for Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz prides itself on thinking differently, one might say humanistically. This culture is exemplified by many local holistic food, medicine and education companies. It also crops up at TechRaising, our local hackathon competition, where health, environment or education professionals frequently team up with technologists to work on new ideas to improve the world. At these events there is an altogether different atmosphere from what one might find at a Mountain View hackathon.

Against this cultural backdrop stands the UCSC game design department. As part of a research institution it will naturally focus effort on the frontiers of gaming, finding new and creative applications. The department will conduct primary research that goes above and beyond the action titles many of us tend to think of when we think of "computer games." A department with this focus is currently unique on the world stage.

Taken together, Santa Cruz's humanistic mentality and UCSC's world-renowned Center for Games and Playable Media could yield many 21st-century products that do not require resource-intensive processes yet still yield abundant wealth and employment opportunities for residents.

Definition of A Cluster

"Geographic concentrations of inter-connected companies, specialized suppliers, service providers, firms in related industries, and associated institutions in particular fields that compete but also co-operate." — Professor Michael Porter, Harvard et. al. For more see the book 'Competition, Competitive Advantage, & Clusters: The Ideas of Michael Porter'

This paper evaluates the role of regional cluster composition in the economic performance of industries, clusters and regions.
On the one hand, diminishing returns to specialization in a location can result in a convergence effect: the growth rate of an industry within a region may be declining in the level of activity of that industry.
At the same time, positive spillovers across complementary economic activities provide an impetus for agglomeration.

Excerpt from "Clusters, Convergence, and Economic Performance," Porter, Stern, Delgado

Case Study: Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg is the only leading media center in Germany to have developed a comprehensive package of support measures to actively bolster the local games industry.

The objectives are:
  • Improving general conditions for businesses and the industry as a whole.
  • Providing optimal local support to both new and established companies.
  • Creating a network within the sector to promote cooperation, business development and knowledge transfer.
  • Linking up the games industry with the relevant convergence industries.

The offering is completed by a broad portfolio of activities, ranging from recruiting tours to joint trade show appearances to networking events.

As a result, the city has seen a 72% increase in game industry jobs, growing from 2,550 jobs in 2009 to a forecasted 4,403 as of Dec. 31 2012.

More than half (55%) of these jobs are developers and publishers. The remaining 45% includes media, sound, art, PR, and consulting.

Ecosystem: University, Government and Private Sector Working Together

It takes an ecosystem to support a cluster. Working together, each party can leverage its strengths and mitigate the weaknesses of others:

  • Private sector provides infrastructure/finance
  • University provides research/insight/innovation
  • Government sets policy that fosters cluster development

This leads to outcomes of greater innovation and education. Industry drives game projects while the university provides a stream of talent, research and insight, and government creates supporting policy.

The golden egg here is revenues from exporting game products and game education services.

Creating An Identity

A successful brand identity embodies several key characteristics, including:

  • Identifying unique aspects of activities found throughout the location
  • Creating an emotional connection with multiple target audiences
  • Identify its location to differentiate and add context
  • Deliver a “payoff” that is unique, ownable and memorable
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  • Bonnie Lipscomb
    Executive Director, Economic Development Department
  • Bill Tysseling
    Executive Director, Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce
  • Jim Whitehead
    Chair of Computer Science, UCSC
  • Jane Pinckard
    Associate Director, Center for Games and Playable Media
  • Graeme Devine
    Game Designer, co-founder of Trilobyte