By Sudha Kamath
Less than a year after opening in March 2014, the Virginia Serious Game Institute at George Mason University has
already generated five new businesses with more than 35 employees, and raised half a million dollars in corporate support. Institute Senior Projects Director James Casey, also a Mason assistant professor in computer game design, said he expects the incubator to spur four more businesses and 30 more jobs in 2015.
Located at Mason’s Prince William campus, the institute provides early-entry entrepreneurship into the simulation, modeling and serious game design industry (games created for utility versus entertainment). It offers Virginia schools, businesses and universities hands-on training, certification, research and development assistance by merging business incubation and rapid prototype development.
One of the companies to spring from the program, Professions Quest, was started by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. The new company’s flagship, multi-player online game, Mimycx, was in the beta test phase as of press time. It will allow schools for health professionals to offer students a novel way to interact online, fostering the development of communication skills and core competencies critical in their field.
“The Virginia Serious Game Institute has been instrumental in our ‘excellerated’ performance as a new small business,” said Professions Quest Project Manager John Damici, who earned his bachelor’s degree in computer game design from Mason in 2014. The Connecticut native said he grew up playing video games, but never dreamed he could turn his hobby into a related career.
Damici said he plans to earn a master’s degree in computer game design by taking courses in entrepreneurship and game studio management, and to create more businesses to help others find their calling.
“This will give me the satisfaction of creating jobs and creating something that all of my employees love and feel passionate about,” said Damici.
“[Mimycx] has the potential to build new professional relationships and knowledge exchange to improve the health care industry in the future,” said Scott Martin, institute founding director and associate dean of research and technology in Mason’s Computer Game Design Program.
Another institute startup, Little Arms Studios, recently debuted its state-of-the-art firefighting training, Interactive Virtual Incident Simulator. Used by the Fairfax County Department of Fire & Rescue, it has earned the fire chief ’s commendation.
Little Arms Chief Executive Officer Kyle Bishop is also a Mason alumnus, earning his bachelor’s degree in computer game design in 2013. He attributes his company’s success to the support it received from the game institute and to Prince William County, which invested $32,000 to help establish the institute.
The institute at Mason is one of only four international affiliates of the Serious Game Institute, which is based in England. The others are in Mexico, South Africa, and Singapore. For more information, visit game.gmu.edu/sgi/.
A longtime resident of Bristow, Sudha Kamath is manager of communications at the Industrial Designers Society of America. Kamath earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the E.W. Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University.