By RICK SMITH, Local Tech Wire editor

CARY, N.C. – With a towering 20-foot battle-scarred veteran from “Unreal Tournament” standing guard and banners touting “Gears of War 2” hanging on walls and videogame creating warriors looking on, North Carolina declared itself a bigger fighter in the videogame industry Thursday.

The setting at the shinny, newly expanded high-tech headquarters of , where multi-million copy selling “Gears of War” and “Unreal Tournament” have been created, certainly was appropriate for the event.

As Mike Capps, president of Epic, other videogame industry leaders, reporters from numerous outlets and legislators looked on, Gov. Bev Perdue signed legislation designed to help the state fight on more equal terms in what she called “the digital economy.”

“To me, this is one good indicator that North Carolina is determined to foster and create the kind of community in which videogame and related technology companies can develop,” said Richard Boyd, who leads 3-D virtualization efforts for defense giant Lockheed Martin from his office in Cary. “This in an expression of overt support.”

The bill includes tax credits ranging from 15 to 20 percent on compensation and wages for employees working on digital media production.

Perdue signed two bills that provide, according to the governor’s office:

• "A new tax credit for investments in the digital media industry.

• "Extension of tax credits for businesses that create new jobs and new investment.

• "Enhancements to North Carolina’s film tax credit to increase our competitiveness in film production.

• "Raising the bonding limit for small businesses that compete for small state construction projects — which makes it easier and cheaper for small businesses and historically underutilized businesses to do work for the state."

Epic exec: "We’re competitive now"

Capps, a native North Carolinian who returned to the state to help turn Epic into one of the world’s top videogame entertainment and game technology developers, said the bill could help the state recruit more companies and the kind of employees Epic needs.

“We’re competing not against other North Carolina companies but companies in California and around the world for workers,” Capp said after the signing. While he cautioned that it “remained to be seen” if the legislation will be a help to recruiting and growth efforts, he added: “This is big because it sends a signal that we didn’t have before.

“There are 23 other states that offer incentives to gaming companies. We didn’t have anything,” Capps explained. “This [bill] is what we need to do. It shows that North Carolina really is interested and can be one of the world’s top development hubs.”

The bottom line, he added: “We’re competitive now.”

Epic opened some 70,000 square feet of office space just a month ago and now has some 100 of its 500 employees based in Cary, Capps said. The privately held firm continues to add 25 to 30 employees per years. ()

The Triangle is especially active in the gaming industry and related technologies, such as 3-D simulation, with some 1,000 employees spread among more than two score companies. North Carolina State and Wake Tech Community College also have very active game-related degree and training programs.

Perdue also touted legislation designed to step up incentives for movie production in the state. Referring to the digital media bill, she called it “a major bold step.”

“We came to Epic because we wanted to see a cool place, cool workers and cool jobs,” Perdue said. But more important than cool, she noted, was that the videogame-related jobs are “good ones.” She also stressed the availability of jobs in digital media helps North Carolina recruit people from other states to live in North Carolina. She cited Capps as an example.

Wayne Watkins, who spearheads economic development for Wake County at the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, fought for passage of the bill.

“We’re surrounded by other states offering incentives,” said Watkins. “For little companies, these incentives could make a big difference.

“Some of them,” he added, pointing to Epic’s spacious building, “could turn into this.”

Rep. Chris Heagarty, a Democrat who represents District 41 (Wake County) in the General Assembly, was a big supporter of the bill.

“I’m a gamer,” he told the crowd. With a big smile, he quickly added that his mother had told him – incorrectly as it turned out – that no one was going to get a job “spending all their time playing videogames.”

Heagarty, who has played Epic’s “Gears of War 2,” said the bill means more than providing a boost to videogame development. He noted that Epic and other firms develop applications that are used in 3-D simulation for military and medical training as well as many other users.

One example is Epic, one of the world leaders in game engine development with its Unreal technology being used for titles across every major game technology platform. Emergent (Gamebryo), which has a major studio in Chapel Hill, and Vicious Cycle (Vicious Engine) also have highly regarded game engines.

Stressing that North Carolina needs to generate more non-manufacturing jobs, Heagerty said the new bill will make North Carolina a more preferred destination for companies.

“It all begins,” Haegarty said of a knowledge-based economy, “with the creative mind.”

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