Game On! Meet the Players of Carlsbad’s Gaming Industry

May 17, 2021

Game On! Meet the Players of Carlsbad’s Gaming Industry

When we think about the big, million-dollar industries that make Carlsbad such a great location to do business, manufacturing, technology, and certainly bioscience comes to mind. But Carlsbad’s best-kept secret is its robust video gaming sector. Worldwide, the gaming industry is a $150 billion behemoth and is expected to reach $256 billion by 2025. Drawing in billions of players, jam-packed tournaments, and endless platforms and mediums, gaming has outpaced both the film and streaming industries. 

To get the inside scoop on this entertainment mecca, we spoke with Casey Dickinson, CEO of the recently acquired Carlsbad company FTX Games for his insights on the gaming industry and its trends, as well as highlight one of Carlsbad’s biggest mobile gaming companies, Zynga. 

Zynga, the worldwide powerhouse behind popular mobile games such as CSR Racing™, Words With Friends™, and Empires & Puzzles™ has been operating in Carlsbad since the company acquired a small local gaming operation. Zynga’s Carlsbad team started on games like FarmVille, Café World, and Bubble Safari, which became some of the top games on Facebook and validated the Carlsbad studio’s place at Zynga. Today, most of the Carlsbad team is working on Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells in addition to other Zynga projects.

Zynga’s headquarters.

In the 11 years since Zynga planted its roots in Carlsbad, the company has embedded itself within the community – supporting numerous, local charitable causes such as passing out food at family centers and donating resources to homeless shelters. The commitment to community is ingrained in the Zynga ethos. 

“Zynga leadership promotes equality and social justice throughout the company’s 16 global locations,” said Aaron Watanabe, Executive Producer at Zynga. “Zynga makes employees proud to be a part of something that goes well beyond making games. I love this emphasis on the community that Zynga promotes; I’ve never been a part of anything like it.”

A Zynga employee develops a game character.

Of course, when it comes to gaming, the internal community is what is really novel at Zynga. Because the industry is already built on online connections and worldwide reach, players and companies alike have had their online networks to lean on during the pandemic. 

To give you a sense of the connection within gaming, Dickinson said “the games industry as a whole is a very welcoming and collaborative environment. Gaming in general continues to grow from a niche and nerdy activity to a universal form of media. It’s a vibrant and fast-paced industry with tremendous opportunities for innovation.”

Casey Dickinson, presents at the LA Games Conference.

Global gaming companies – Zynga and FTX Games included – worked together to reignite a #PlayApartTogether campaign to encourage players to follow health and safety guidelines for COVID-19. While gamers and employees certainly miss the in-person gaming sessions, the ability to engage remotely is something that has been made even easier due to the growing popularity of cross-platform play over the past five years. 

“The ability to play with other people in the same game regardless of the platform you’re playing on means PC gamers can play with their friends on mobile devices and consoles. This represents an opening of traditionally closed platforms and a huge win for gamers,” according to Dickinson. “The combination of these trends along with widespread 5G adoption could lead to the realization of the play any game anywhere on any device goal.”

FTX Games employees play a game in the Carlsbad office.

Dickinson, a 19-year gaming industry veteran, got his start with Sony Online Entertainment before joining FTX Games in 2010. Recently acquired by Tilting Point, FTX Games is an award-winning publisher of mobile games based on major entertainment properties. Turning your favorite movies and shows into interactive game entertainment, FTX Games harnesses the audience and buy-in of the film and television industry to produce games such as Narcos: Cartel Wars, The Walking Dead: Slots, and most recently, Star Trek: Legends on Apple Arcade.

The FTX Games team in Carlsbad works solely on the management and production for games developed around the world. While the company has an internal development team in Russia and Tilting Point studios around the world to work from, FTX Games’ lean team of four are fairly committed to continue their work from the comfort of Carlsbad.

 “Living in Carlsbad is an amazing place to have a family and a fantastic location professionally. There is an established and growing pool of successful games studios here. Recruiting for relocation is another advantage. It doesn’t take much to bring talent down from San Francisco when they see the quality of life and relative cost of living,” Dickinson said.

When asked what’s ahead for gaming, Dickinson said he’d like to see more inclusivity within the industry. 

“The games industry is incredibly dynamic. It sits at the center of technology and culture and is subject to changes from innovation as well as consumer taste. In my 19 years in the industry I’ve seen multiple dramatic shifts as gaming went from a hobbyist market to mainstream. Everyone is playing games now and I’d like to see it continue to be more inclusive. As an interactive storytelling medium, games can be powerful in ways that films and books cannot.”

FTX Games employees discuss the Breaking Bad: Criminal Elements game.

Zynga is already supporting some efforts on this front, with its various Zynga Employee Resource Groups (ZERGs). Employees are actively encouraged to participate in ZERGs to build community, appreciate diverse cultures, and support allyship. Many of the ZERGs, like the Black Zynga Union, Women at Zynga and zPride, use their resources – both time and money – to give back to the community.

Zynga employees take a break with some frisbee in the  office.

As the gaming industry continues to skyrocket and reach new heights in accessibility and reach, we can expect Carlsbad’s gaming sector to thrive alongside it. 

“While major cities compete to attract game creators, Carlsbad’s gaming industry draws both developers and talent to the city, offering a work-life balance that can’t be beat,” said Matt Sanford, Economic Development Manager for the City of Carlsbad. “In fact, Carlsbad is also home to popular gaming companies including Kalloc Studios, Rockstar Games, WB Games (Warner Brothers)Redemption Games, and Jam City.”