Making Erie a Hub for Game Development

Hello! I’m Matthew White, and I run a small company called Whitethorn Digital located in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Images courtesy of MenajErie Studio

We’re a tiny indie game publisher and developer. All of us (about four people, depending on how you count) have day jobs that take most of our time, and we’re trying to represent indies and build our own IP with every spare minute.

We started Whitethorn first as the Gem City Game Collective, an incubating, collaborative space with the intention of getting on board with the growing decentralization of games and the growth of our local development community. Over time our business model evolved. Specifically, we traveled to E3 and the need for indie-friendly publishers became abundantly clear, so like most startups, we pivoted.

People are leaving major hubs for new opportunities. The games industry is seeing an out-migration of talent both out of major studios, and out of the games industry entirely — horrific labor standards, lower pay, and other quality of life issues are frequent complaints.

I personally left California because the cost of living was utterly and completely prohibitive and my work-life balance was worsening badly as a result. While cost of living was the largest factor, traffic was definitely a close second.

As of the time of writing, a 1300 square-foot single-family home in Palo Alto, California is $1,995,000, representing a monthly mortgage cost of roughly $8,300. A similar modest two-bedroom 1300 square-foot single-family home in Erie, Pennsylvania costs $75,000 or so, representing a monthly mortgage cost of around $300, more than 25 times less.

My wife and I spent our time in San Diego and LA doing things like snorkeling on the beach, going to movies and sports games, touring microbreweries and drinking great craft beer, and hanging out on the couch and playing video games together. It turns out, we do exactly the same things here.

About Erie, Pennsylvania

#OurErie — from MenajErie Studio

Erie is a rust belt city on the junction of I-79 and I-90, adjacent to Lake Erie, its namesake. It’s been a city that’s had its ups and downs, mostly as it tries to grow out of its history in gritty manufacturing. Inspired by the tech and entrepreneurial renaissance of nearby cities like Pittsburgh, Erie is in the midst of a cultural, technological, and business upswing, of which we’re happy to play some small part.

Erie enjoys a simply incredible cost of living, thriving entrepreneurial community, nearly a dozen craft breweries and distilleries, a wine trail in two directions, a gorgeous, warm (in the summer), swimmable, fishable waterfront, yachting, sports, theater, music, dining both fine and casual, culture, the arts, a handful of world-class universities, dozens of activities for children like the zoo, children’s museum, planetarium, observatory, arboretum, state parks, and countless other amenities. If that’s somehow not enough for you, you’re an LA commute away from Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Niagara Falls, and Toronto.

Oh, and you can mortgage a mansion for what it costs you to park in San Francisco. You will, however, have to shovel more than your fair share of snow.

About Whitethorn Digital

We have a single-minded purpose here — to help independent game developers get exposure, launch their games to the world, and turn their passion projects into commercial products that allow them to keep doing what they love. We also believe that the developers deserve to keep as much of that revenue as possible, and strive to be a publisher that allows devs to maintain more of their product than our competitors.

Together with our development partners, we’re showing every day that a publishing relationship can be symbiotic. Whitethorn strives to be a business where developers thrive, succeed, and keep working in the games industry, despite its many very public struggles. We work with our clients to establish sensible development schedules and working hours, promote awareness of those issues within the games industry, and try to model the kind of work culture we’d love to see the industry adopt one day.

Understandably, crafting this kind of relationship is difficult. There’s a reason that publishers often take a large chunk of their client’s revenue — namely, video games are consistently becoming more and more expensive to produce and market. By keeping our overhead lean, leveraging decades of games industry experience, and taking advantage of all of the quality of life and business boons that Erie has offered us, we’re able to offer what we think is a better deal.

Join Us Here

Erie is a city where a new headquarters can be built for pennies on the dollar. Tech talent that’s bleeding from the wounds inflicted by decades of skyrocketing housing costs and prohibitive taxation in America’s hub cities is finding its home on our snowy doorstep day after day, and we are here to welcome it with open arms.

Game developers — studios, service providers, publishers, consultants, freelancers, and contractors alike are no longer bound to major centers. With the current remote work boom, the increasing need for contractors and freelancers in the industry, and the proliferation of fiber-op, there’s really no better time to make a move and trade your commute for a new house on the lake.

With what is predicted to be one of the most generous implementations of the Federal Opportunity Zone program, a flexible tax credit system at the state level, a statewide tax program specifically dedicated to game development, and ample office redevelopment opportunities available for less than a small home in California, Erie is waiting for you.

If you’re interested in talking game development in Erie, whether you’re a small developer trying to get a foothold, or one of my former colleagues looking for a third or fourth expansion location, drop us a line at hello@whitethorndigital.com — we’d love to tell you all about it.

Our Crowdfunded IPO

Whitethorn Digital is an entirely self-funded venture. My wife and I put down our entire savings, retirement funds, and home as collateral to bring the company into the world, and while the startup is being run in as lean a fashion as possible, Whitethorn is swimming in opportunity, and needs additional working capital to grow.

If you’re interested in investing in us, we recently launched a small OPO through StartEngine. www.startengine.com/whitethorn-digital