Explaining Southern California's economy

Welcome to Silicon Bayou: Louisiana is coming after California's gamers

Silicon Bayou-Foodtruck-MDB

Matthew DeBord/KPCC

The good people of Louisiana want to steal our gamers! They've sent a food truck to E3 to entice Californians to cone to "Silicon Bayou."

You never know what you're going to find when you stagger out into the sunlight after watching a preview of the latest zombie-apocalypse videogame. But that's exactly what happened to me at Day 1 of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, the big computer and video-game trade show that's taken over the Los Angeles Convention Center.

"ZombiU," the new game from Ubisoft, does looks pretty darn scary. It also seems to be set in London, which somehow makes it even scarier — you can watch the trailer here, be warned, it isn't for younger viewers! I'm not even sure it was for me, so I made a dash for sunlight and ran right into...a food truck from Louisiana! Giving away alligator (sausage) and fried shrimp po'boys! And root beer! And two kinds of chips! 

But also providing helpful information on why, if you're involved in the gaming industry, you might want to come to work or set up shop in the Pelican State. I spoke with Heath Williams, the Director of Digital Interactive Media from Louisiana Entertainment and Louisiana Economic Development, who was completely unapologetic about bringing his state's fine cuisine right to the very heart of the California gaming industry, a roughly $2.6-billion-per-year business (and about $5 billion nationally).

And looking to bring our gamers back with him.

"Louisiana has the most aggressive tax incentives in the country," he said. "We're comparable only to Canada."

He explained that people have left Louisiana for places like California to work in the interactive gaming sector "because we didn't have the industry." That's changing, and California should probably pay attention. Louisiana is luring back "intellectual capital," as Heath put it, with hefty tax credits of 25 percent on "qualified production expenditures for state-certified digital interactive productions in Louisiana" and 35 percent on "payroll expenditures for Louisiana residents," according to the LED's website.

For comparison, Canada offers 37.5 percent on payroll, pretty much the international gold standard for these kinds of things.

But Louisiana isn't far behind. Basically, the state is structuring its tax system to create "Silicon Bayou." The credits also apply to software developers. Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, is very much behind the push to turn the state into a tech hub, according to Williams. Success stories so far include California's own Electronic Arts, which is building a new North American Test Center in Baton Rouge, in conjunction with Louisiana State University.

Louisiana is actually no stranger to coming after California's key industries. Since 2002, tax credits similar to what are being offered for digital media and gaming have been available for film and television production. Result: Louisiana is currently the number three state for film and T.V. production, behind New York at number two and California at number one. And the LED representatives at E3 don't think New York is going to hang on to its position for much longer.

At least New York isn't Nevada, which offers no tax incentives at all — and has seen its share of the production pie decline. But then again, incentives can invite corruption, as they did several years ago. The FBI investigated a state official who was ultimately found guilty of accepting bribes in exchange for tax breaks from a film producer. The official, Mark Smith, and an associate were both found guilty and sentenced to jail time.

Louisiana probably doesn't want to go down the same road with the videogame industry. And at E3, the state was the one handing out the free food and drinks — not accepting anything from gamers who might want to call Silicon Bayou home.

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