RavenSoftware

Dragons and other fantasy figures commonly decorate the work spaces of designers at Raven Software, above, and other Madison area video game development studios.

At age 25 with nearly 200 employees, Raven Software is the Madison area’s Big Kahuna in the digital game development business and is credited with a good share of its growth.

But it is far from the only game studio.

For example:

  • Human Head Studios, created in 1997 by former Raven staffers, has nearly 50 employees. Two of its current projects are creating Dungeon Defender II for the Playstation 4, and developing a prototype for a new type of cloud-based game platform in a project with Shinra Technologies.
  • Filament Games, an educational games developer founded in 2005, has 59 employees and recently moved to 316 W. Washington Ave. It has won a contract with the National Safety Council to teach new safety features in cars.
  • PerBlue makes mobile games. Founded in 2008, PerBlue has 30 employees and is working on a mobile role-playing game, expected to be released later this summer.
  • Sky Ship Studios is a small, independent company that came together in the past year. Its eight employees are working on their first game, Gloom.

There are at least 15 game development startups in the Madison area, said Constance Steinkuehler, co-director of the UW-Madison’s Games+Learning+Society center and an associate professor in digital media.

The center itself has 17 full-time game designers, creating games that are learning tools — whether it’s learning about the environment, mindful meditation or the difficulties of navigating through graduate school.

Steinkuehler worked for the White House in 2011-12 as a senior policy analyst in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. “Video games have now hit the mainstream in a big way,” she said.

She said Raven has “played a really big, positive role” in developing the local game development ecosystem.

Steinkuehler said the center is working to establish a game design curriculum, similar to those at the UW-Whitewater and UW-Stout campuses. Interest in the field “is taking off like wildfire,” she said.

That’s evident at Madison Area Technical College and Herzing University, which already have game development studies.

Jeff Dewitt — who worked at Raven and two other local game studios — teaches animation and concept development at Madison College. The program accepts 18 students every fall, and there’s a three-year waiting list. Some applicants have advanced degrees in other fields. “They realize working in games is a legitimate opportunity now,” he said.

At Herzing’s Madison campus, not only are college-level game design courses available, but an eight-week summer course for high school students is in its third year.

The high schoolers get an introduction to the field, including designing their own game. “We’re starting the pipeline for the professional community,” he said.

Pederson said he thinks Madison “has grown to the point of rivaling Chicago for game development,” though Wisconsin did not make Fortune.com’s list, in February, of the top 10 states for video game development. The game industry directly employs more than 42,000 people in 36 states, the article said.

In Madison, Dewitt said, Raven has “set the standard.” Like alums of Epic, in Verona, have gone on to create their own health IT companies, so have former Raven staffers spread out, starting studios, working at the UW’s GLS center or teaching their skills to the next generation.

The leaders at Raven, he said, showed a special passion for the field. “It felt like a band of people trying to bring to life something that was new, that was exciting,” Dewitt said.

“I think we all owe a nod to Brian and Steve for taking a chance and giving us that opportunity,” he said.

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