Video of SpongeBob Demolition Sponge, developed by This is Pop and Tiny Mantis.
On the sixth floor of a building overlooking the East River in Dumbo, Brooklyn, Tiny Mantis Entertainment operates out of a space that fits its name: a 500 square foot room, furnished with red couches and large shelves with electronics and classic video games.
Yet with minimal elbowroom and no heat, the space works well for the independent video game developer, which boasts a portfolio of more than 50 games, ranging from flash banners on websites to large apps for the iPad.
Tiny Mantis is not the only video game developer taking root in the city. In fact, New York City is becoming a bustling mecca of video game activity with companies, such as Zynga East and Arkadium, helping to expand the industry. An analysis conducted by the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City-based think tank that provides fact-based research on issues affecting New York City’s future, estimates that there are 30 game development companies, and another 55 firms involved in some aspect of gaming, in New York City.
But even with the growing market for video games, running a small independent video game firm in New York City is a daunting task. Real estate is expensive, and there is a lack of programmers and few tax breaks to soften the financial burden. Despite these challenges, Tiny Mantis is following the adage that making it in New York means it can make it anywhere. And New York is where it chooses to be.
“New York City is New York City,” said Harry Bogosian, an artist at Tiny Mantis. “People just love coming here and being here. There will always be a market.”
Tiny Mantis is a for-hire video game company, founded by Nik Mikros, with two full-time employees and several freelancers. Companies with ideas for video games who cannot create them in-house employ Tiny Mantis to develop their games. Past clients include Facebook, LEGO, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central. Most of the games developed by Tiny Mantis are free of charge to players.
But despite its work with big name clients and an upcoming project with Bloomberg in the pipeline, Tiny Mantis’ road to success has not been easy.
Founded by Chief Executive Officer Nik Mikros and his brother in 1997, the company developed its first game entitled “Alien Attack,” for the Macintosh Computer System. But in 2001, the brothers went their separate ways, with Mikros’ brother heading for the sandy shores of California and joining Blizzard Entertainment, now Activision Blizzard, one of the largest video game publishers in the industry. Mikros joined Black Hammer Productions, an interactive media company based in New York City.
“I had a lot of things going on in New York, so it would have been difficult to move to California,” said Mikros. “I felt like I wanted to stay.”
Mikros left Black Hammer Productions in 2005 to resurrect the company he and his brother created. Tiny Mantis Entertainment was born. The company started in a $500-a-month space inside a law firm in Chinatown. A year and a half later, Tiny Mantis left its Chinatown space and bounced from office to office, until finally settling in a space it would share with Templar Studios, an independent game developing company.
During this time, Tiny Mantis experienced growth and prosperity, with eight full-time employees and a contract for a full year of work for a French company. But when the French company unexpectedly pulled out of the deal, Tiny Mantis, on the brink of bankruptcy, was forced to downsize.
Shortly thereafter, Tiny Mantis opened its doors in Dumbo, and has since established itself in this artsy community.
“I love this neighborhood,” said Mikros. “Across the street is Brooklyn Roasting, the best cup of coffee you’ll ever have.”
And good coffee is not the only thing New York City has to offer. A large population of artists available for work means game developers in New York City are never short on artistic talent.
“In New York City, there’s a huge pool of potential employees,” said Bogosian, “There are so many talented people in New York City who want to work.”
Mayor Bloomberg, whose push for technology has spurred the construction of Cornell’s Technology Campus on Roosevelt Island, also sees the potential in New York City’s population.
Looking to capitalize on New York City’s appeal,the Bloomberg administration is launching a program to assist start-ups and bolster New York City’s position as a leader in technology.
The New York City Economic Development Corporation provides affordable workspaces to small start-ups, including technology firms, who need office space. One such facility is located on 160 Varick Street, a 16,000 square foot building leased to the city by Trinity Real Estate and New York University Poly. Tax breaks are also available, but only for newly emerging technology firms.
For companies, like Tiny Mantis, who have established a presence in New York City since before the incentives program, Bloomberg provides little assistance.
For these firms, Bloomberg will promote New York City as a growing technology hub in an effort to attract potential programmers and engineers, whom game developing firms often have a hard time locating in the city.
“Most native New Yorkers who become skilled programmers are hesitant to pin their career hopes on New York’s small game industry and move away,” said Tara Colton, an analyst at the Center for an Urban Future. “Those who do live here are often snapped up by investment banks or ad agencies that pay much higher salaries.”
Tiny Mantis, who had never heard of Bloomberg’s push for technology, has yet to take advantage of the new program. But the company appears to be doing well on its own.
Unlike its Silicon Valley counterparts, Tiny Mantis employs a small staff, which means that even the most junior employees acquire valuable skills and are essential to the team. This sense of importance to the firm’s success increases job performance and overall satisfaction.
“We gain a lot of hands-on experience at Tiny Mantis,” said Jordan Trańa, a junior programmer at the company. “California firms are often larger and so most of the entry-level positions there entail a lot of busy work.”
And with few large video game firms creating a foothold in the mobile gaming industry, New York City firms, like Tiny Mantis, are using mobile technology to create a niche for small companies to thrive.
“New York City mobile game companies are beginning to establish a major presence in the field of serious video games,” said Colton. “Several award-winning serious games focusing on everything from education in Haiti to the conflict in the Middle East have been developed in New York.”
New York City is also home to entertainment companies, such as Viacom, whose subsidiaries include VH1 and Nickelodeon, firms that Tiny Mantis has worked with in the past. Entertainment companies are increasingly incorporating games into their portfolios, and Tiny Mantis is taking advantage.
The company has no plans to leave the city in the near future.
“The people, the city, and the transportation make New York City a great place to be,” said Bogosian. “You can go to a town with amazing tax breaks for video game companies, but you won’t get the people or the talent that you find in New York City.”
For more information, check out my article published on WNET Thirteen’s MetroFocus.
Fresh Direct Looking to Operate in the Bronx, but Will not Deliver to Residents
With tax-payer subsidies estimated at $127.8 million, FreshDirect, the service that delivers fruits, vegetables, milk, and other groceries to homes, is on its way to building a new plant in the South Bronx, with no intention to deliver to residents.
The FreshDirect service will reside in the 104-acre Harlem River Yards, which once had other plans in the works—a railyard meant to improve transportation in the pollution ridden neighborhood with the highest rates of asthma in New York City.
But plans fell through, and residents were left with empty promises and waist high grass fields.
Now the FreshDirect project promises to deliver jobs and pollution, but no groceries, to residents in the area.
“Do we say no to the potential of 3,000 jobs?” said Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., who emphasizes the prospect of employment the service will create if allowed to operate in the Bronx.
Too bad only about 300 of those jobs will be for Bronx residents.
Bronx residents are often given the short end of the stick. A business that operates in the area, but does not cater to residents—neither through the creation of jobs nor its services—is not a business that should operate in the Bronx.
Corporations, with priorities to Manhattan residents, often do not consider the harm and disrespect to Bronx residents, whom they refuse to service. FreshDirect, which requires 130 trucks for deliveries, is servicing the Bronx in some ways, for example, through its release of pollutants that could potentially kill or severely disease residents.
FreshDirect does not belong in the Bronx.
To check out the NY Times Coverage of the issue, read Michael Powell’s article here.
Free to Play or Pay More in the Long Run?
Most Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) take advantage of monthly subscription fees to earn revenue from players. But Free to Play MMOs are becoming more common. One such game, Guild Wars 2, hopes to revolutionize the MMO genre at no cost to consumers.
Well, no cost to start playing, that is. But to access more content and get new gear, players will have to pay a fee.
“MMO players are savvy and want a chance to try something for free before they’re ready to start putting a lot of money into it,” said Chris Lye, Global Brand Director of ArenaNet, the developers of Guild Wars 2. “However, once they’re convinced that you’re delivering a valuable product, they are more than willing to open their wallets.”
ArenaNet isn’t the only one who thinks players are willing to pay more when a game is free. Just last year, Blizzard, developers of World of Warcraft, introduced a new Free-to-Play plan that allows players to play for free up to level 20. Of course, after level 20, players who wished to continue must choose a subscription plan and pay a fee.
Guild Wars 2 will initially play much like World of Warcraft, with no costs to start. But as players progress through the game, they may see themselves spending pocket change on stronger armor, cool weapons, or level caps, which determine the highest level players can reach in the game. Pocket change could easily become tens or hundreds of dollars, as players immerse themselves in the game, seeking to become better and explore more areas.
From a psychological perspective, humans love things that are free, and a free-to-start MMO may prove more enticing than one that requires players to dish out $60 to play.
But with Guild Wars 2’s interesting business plan, a game that is initially Free-to-Play may eventually be more expensive than a game with fixed fees.
To find out more, check out an interview with ArenaNet’s Global Brand Director Chris Lye here.
New York State Seeks to Increase Minimum Wage
The Occupy Wall Street movement may have done one thing right.
After protestors brought to light the huge income gaps between the richest one percent of the population and the “99 percent,” New York State officials are taking action with legislation to raise the minimum wage to $8.50.
New York’s minimum wage is currently $7.25, which is less than 18 other states including Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont.
Sheldon Silver, Manhattan assemblyman, plans to not only increase the minimum wage by 17 percent, but also to cut taxes for those earning less than $30,000 a year.
"When you work full time at the minimum wage, you are poor in New York," Silver said in an interview. "You’re not making enough to get by. We want to have people able to support their families, plain and simple."
But the concept of minimum wage is not so simple. Originally meant to protect unskilled workers, the minimum wage has sometimes proven adversarial to businesses. With an increase in minimum wage, businesses will have to expend more money. Spending more money oftentimes means that businesses are not able to hire as many people as they’d like to. Paying more workers more money reduces profits.
But Silver is right. Living on minimum wage is not easy. And New York prices do not account for a $7.25 minimum wage.
Economists would say that some money is better than no money at all. Without minimum wage, companies can pay workers less and therefore, they can also hire more workers. This will decrease the unemployment rate.
At the same time, surviving on less than $7.25 an hour is tough.
It looks like New York State has to consider whether creating more jobs or paying low-skilled workers more money is the priority, because an increase in minimum wage will probably not do both.
Check out the New York Times Coverage on Silver’s proposed bill here:
Eat in the New York City Subway? Pay $250 Fine…
Do you often find yourself munching on a snack during your morning commute? If State Senator Bill Perkins gets his way, you may be fined.
In an effort to reduce rat infestations in subway stations, the senator is looking to pass a bill that will force riders to pay $250 if caught eating in subway stations or on trains.
“The rodents don’t grow their own food, nor do they go shopping at the market,” said Perkins, Democrat, Manhattan. “Their population is a function of the availability of food. We feed them and therefore we breed them.”
The Transportation Committee is reviewing the bill before it is sent to the full Senate.
I have always been one to notice the rats on the tracks. But recently, I have also seen rats on the station platforms and even on trains.
Senator Perkins thinks that to reduce the number of rats, riders should not be allowed to eat in subway stations or on trains, and compares the New York subway policies to those of other cities. For example, trains in Washington D.C. prohibit food on trains, and the trains are much cleaner.
But perhaps food is not the problem. Food and drinks are allowed on Metronorth Trains, also a part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the trains and tracks are not as dirty as New York City Subways.
Nonetheless, I agree that this bill is just what the city needs to get rid of rats. The pesticides once used to kill rats are no longer effective, and are not containing the problem. Seeing rats on platforms and trains is not normal. If this is what the city needs to improve the cleanliness of its subways, then I am all for it.
To check out a Q&A with Senator Bill Perkins and more information about the fine, check out this article, courtesy of MetroFocus:
Don’t believe rats are a problem? Here’s a Youtube video of a rat on a train.