Editor’s note: Walter Rotenberry is co-director of the East Coast Game Conference.

RALEIGH, N.C. – For the first time, the fifth annual East Coast Game Conference (ECGC), set for April 24-25, is unveiling a career track for participants to provide insights on what they need to know to break into this fast-growing industry.

Joining our other popular tracks of discussions and networking in design, art, mobile, writing, serious games, programming and education, this addition is significant because it reflects the demand of many local companies to solicit talented individuals to work in this field in the Triangle.

Gaming has become a major employer in the Triangle. We know that several area businesses are conducting major testing of games, and many individuals are performing small independent activities that result in the establishment and expansion of companies in the Triangle. ARA and RTI are leading the industry in the development of serious games, which is enjoying great growth as many leaders in health care, the military and other areas use these tools to train employees.

To meet this demand, many local institutions of higher learning, including Wake Technical Community College and William Peace University, have launched degree programs majoring in simulation and game design, featuring many faculty members who have actual experience in the gaming industry. More than 1,000 students in Wake County alone enrolled in the fall of 2012 to take courses on gaming. Students are being hired rapidly at existing and new companies. Mighty Rabbit Studios of Holly Springs and Lab Rats Studios of Durham are two examples of startups that grew out of students who graduated from Wake Tech.

These developments are encouraging signs of the Triangle’s commitment to this industry. Wake County Economic Development has long promoted interactive software and games as a target cluster for our community to pursue. Similarly, the local business community sees value in the industry and has displayed a willingness to hire local students who graduate from these programs.

As with all careers, there are certain trends in place that prospective candidates need to keep in mind. Programmers are more in demand than artists right now. Most people entering companies will start working in engineering and Q&A beta testing before handling the more creative or complex ends of the work. And while there have been fluctuations in the popularity of entertainment gaming, serious games have been relatively steady in generating interest.

The local gaming leaders recognize these circumstances and are trying to address them as the industry proliferates in the Triangle. They see value in local talent and a willingness to hire our graduates. Indeed, most students want to stay here to work and live after graduation. To maximize the benefits for both employers and graduates, efforts are being made to best match up the needs of both groups.

For example, an advisory board updates Wake Tech every semester on what classes the school needs to change and incorporate to stay vital in the field. It challenges the faculty to adapt quickly to an ever-changing industry and meet what our local businesses require.

It was the interest of local business that converted what started as the Triangle Game Conference in 2006 on the Wake Tech campus into the ECGC. Wake Tech remains a big part of helping train talent for our gaming industry. In fact, this year’s ECGC will include a juried showcase of 17 games from Wake Tech students approved by faculty, as well 17 squares of artwork printed onto plastic for attendees to vote. We believe the results of this contest will provide students with insights on where they need to improve in order to be the most attractive job candidates after graduation. More career-related activities are under consideration for next year’s ECGC.

We anticipate the career track will be a popular option for ECGC attendees this year and in the future. Gaming in the Triangle is here to stay. We need to ensure we are providing those interested in the industry with the skill sets they need to become part of it, just as we are for other sectors that are making a major contribution to the economic growth and quality of life in our area.