The source of entertainment for gamers all over the world happens to be tucked in between little shops and restaurants just off the square in historic downtown McKinney.
“Our door is nondescript and they have no idea that we’re even up here,” said Paul Bettner, founder of McKinney’s Playful Corp.
“We just have these roving bands of game developers that are constantly wandering around the square wearing hoodies," he joked.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a gamer, you may know Bettner’s work. He co-created the popular Words with Friends game before founding Playful Corp.
The company has 70 employees and is currently building a new headquarters, also in downtown McKinney.
Collin County, said Bettner, was a natural fit for his company.
“It used to be that Austin was the de facto answer for game development in Texas. But actually, Dallas has a rich history of game development companies going back to id Software,” explained Bettner. “That spawned a bunch of studios in the area.”
id Software was a pioneer in PC-based game development in the 1990s, releasing popular titles Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake, among others. He said that history helped establish a hotbed for game development.
“We have several studios within 20, 30 miles of us here at Playful,” said Bettner. “That was never true before.”
Another gaming company, Bossfight Entertainment, also recently built a new headquarters. Bossfight moved into its new space near Watters Creek in Allen over the summer.
Its founders said Collin County is home to them, but also many of its employees – current and future.
“Collin County, at least in recent years, seems to have gained quite a lot of ground in terms of the number of gaming companies and the number of employees,” said Chief Creative Officer Bill Jackson. “That’s not lost on us.”
Jackson said Bossfight sees a future in mobile gaming, capturing the attention of people introduced to gaming on their mobile phones.
“You see a lot of new players, people that probably didn’t even consider themselves gamers are gamers now,” said Jackson.
“A lot of people, because of mobile devices, never touched games when they were on consoles or PCs,” he added. “But now, they have this device in their pocket and so they discovered it.”
“There’s no longer a distinction anymore between somebody who’s a gamer and somebody who’s not,” said Bettner. “Everybody enjoys interactive entertainment.”
Commercial real estate firm JLL found gaming companies are on the rise in North Texas.
According to JLL, nine colleges offer gaming degree programs that help build a labor pool in North Texas.
The firm counts 87 gaming companies in North Texas. That’s nearly a third of all gaming companies in Texas, which only trails California in the number of design and development studios.
“We’re entering this golden age for our industry, for games," said Bettner.
"The people who are playing games that are adults grew up playing video games. They've never known a world that didn't have video games in it,” said Bettner. “These folks are now having kids and they’re looking to share that entertainment with their kids.”