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Savannah's offer: Free office space for game designers

Qualified video game developers can get up to a year of free rent in a riverside building in one of the South's most beautiful coastal cities.

The Creative Coast Alliance and the Savannah (Ga.) Economic Development Authority are offering qualified video game developers up to a year of free rent in a bid to boost the industry's presence in the historic city. The Creative Coast Alliance

They're calling it "the offer," and if you're part of a video game development team looking for a financial boost, it might indeed be hard to refuse: up to a year's free rent in a riverside building in beautiful Savannah, Ga.

The initiative was the brainchild of Brenda Brathwaite, a longtime developer and a professor of game development and interactive design at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). She says as the recession kicked in and she saw layoffs affecting everyone, including friends and colleagues, she asked herself what she could do to help and stop feeling powerless in the face of the economic storm.

"I wondered," Brathwaite recalled, "'what if game developers had free office space, so...that worry was taken away. It's not a lack of talent that's causing these layoffs."

Given that Savannah and its surrounding area have a number of colleges and universities, including SCAD and Georgia Tech, Brathwaite said there is a plethora of local video game developers looking to get projects off the ground. And so, she took her idea to the Savannah Economic Development Authority where, rather than being politely ignored, her idea was fully embraced.

"Within 24 hours," Brathwaite said, "they said they're going to do it."

In fact, The Creative Coast Alliance, a nonprofit comprised of the Savannah Economic Development Authority, the city of Savannah and Chatham County, had an office building at the ready for the project. And now, the first floor of that building is known as the Game Development and Digital Media Center.

Brathwaite said that in order to be eligible for the free office space--as well as a 30 percent tax credit on "qualified Georgia expenditures"--applicants must be able to demonstrate real potential for making games. That means, she said, that a company has already secured funding, or that it has previously published games. There's no set rules, though. "It's judged on a case by case basis."

And why would a city like Savannah make such an offer?

"It's an opportunity cost," Brathwaite said. Bringing more successful game developers to Savannah will be good for the city, and that, she explained, is worth the investment.

Here's hoping other cities follow suit.