Originally posted on the Orlando Business Journal website.
July, the official end to Florida’s film incentive program, is approaching quickly. While the lack of funds will be a big blow to the local film industry and Florida’s ability to compete with other states such as Georgia and Louisiana, Central Florida’s largest game development studio is being affected negatively, too.
An executive with EA Tiburon, which has 750 employees who develop popular titles such Madden NFL and NBA Live, said nearly 100 jobs could have been sustained at the 128,000-square-foot studio in Maitland if the film incentives were in full effect.
Here, Daryl Holt, vice president and group COO of Electronic Arts, offers insights on how EA Tiburon is affected by the lack of film incentives, its creative way to work around being short-staffed and his thoughts on the future of the incentive program in Florida:
How is EA Tiburon affected by the loss of film incentives? When the state’s film and entertainment industry financial incentive program began, it enabled EA’s growth in Central Florida. The EA Tiburon studio in Orlando was selected to support company projects that resulted in the hiring of hundreds of new high-tech, high-wage jobs — bringing EA’s employee and contractor count in Central Florida to a record high. Unfortunately, the film incentive program did not evolve. The Florida Legislature’s decision to let the program sunset certainly has had a negative impact on EA’s presence in Central Florida. Since the program has been unfunded for multiple years and now is retired, our employment numbers are down. EA Tiburon employees have transferred to other areas of growth or new opportunities to work on projects we can’t green-light in Florida. Local digital media talent exists, but Florida now is forced to play on an uneven field against states where a well-designed incentive program better supports an environment for growth in this industry. To stay competitive, the state must commit to an ongoing investment in the cultivation of talent and opportunities for companies like EA to grow.
How are you dealing with staffing issues due to the lack of incentives? Now that EA’s focus on strategic growth is shifting to other locations, our teams of electronic artists increasingly are using technology to overcome geographical obstacles. For example, our studio now is home to 10 Smart Presence System Beam+ robots, a solution that allows employees from around the world to attend meetings and collaborate with artists in our studio by driving the videoconferencing robot around with an app on their phone or computer. The installation of these robots at EA Tiburon has supported nearly 100 jobs that no longer need to be in Florida. The Beam+ robots are a great way to source talent from jobs in other studios that are more cost-effective for EA to operate. In less than a year, the technology has been accepted rapidly by our team. It’s not uncommon to see several Beam+ robots heading into a conference room for a meeting about making the next Madden NFL.
What does the future hold for film and game development incentives? Florida doesn’t need the most aggressive incentive program in North America, but the state needs to remain competitive to create an environment for sustainable economic growth. Sound economic incentives that create a reasonable, level playing field in talent centers that already exist are the key. In 2014, the EA Tiburon studio renewed its building lease for 10 years, and we recently completed the studio’s largest renovation in history because we know we have great talent here and we believe in Florida. All of that was done, by the way, without any indication of future incentives. EA is committed to the area. The Florida Legislature isn’t as committed to digital media.
Click HERE to read the article on the Orlando Business Journal website.