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How Seattle Became the Hollywood of Video Games

A timeline of how Microsoft, Nintendo, and a fleet of talented indie developers placed Seattle at the center of the gaming industry.

By Sophie Grossman September 17, 2021

“I often describe Seattle’s game scene as the Hollywood of video games,” says local developer Ty Taylor. Between Microsoft, Amazon, Valve, Nintendo, and a bevy of independent studios, the Seattle area is a nerve center that draws developers from all over the world. Taylor himself moved to Seattle to work for the Xbox team at Microsoft, and, before long, was working 80-hour weeks between his day job and his passion project. When he launched The Bridge, to great acclaim, he was able to strike out on his own. Taylor’s is, in many ways, the aspirational story for eager young developers, many of whom come to Seattle to work for tech giants while harboring personal creative visions. So how did Seattle become such fertile soil for game development?

1982 ► Mario Arrives in the PNW Nintendo of America moves its headquarters from New York City to Redmond, Washington. Proto-tech-bros converge on the region in the wake of Nintendo’s announcement that employees have less than thirty days to decide whether to relocate or accept a severance package. Seattle or bust, baby.

Redmond served as the port of entry for Mario and Luigi's U.S. immigration. 

1987 ► Zelda Heads West Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda makes its North American debut, helping to popularize the genre of action-adventure RPGs. The high-fantasy world-building and dynamic play, blending combat with puzzle-solving, defines the genre.

1996 ► A Better Half Arises Microsoft alumni Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington found the Valve Corporation; two years later the now-classic first-person shooter Half-Life is released. While noted for its graphics, the real innovation of Half-Life is its nuanced, immersive storytelling.

Half-Life changed storytelling in video games. 

2001 ► Teatime Is Never the Same Microsoft launches the Xbox, selling over a million consoles in just three weeks. The company acquires Chicago-born Bungie Studios for $30 million, and the adaptation of Halo for Xbox accelerates the console’s popularity. Halo, unfortunately for us all, plays a major role in bringing the term “teabagging” into the mainstream. One step for man, one giant leap backward for mankind.

2002 ► It’s (A)live! Microsoft unveils Xbox Live, which quickly becomes the most successful online gaming network to date.

2003 ► Valve Picks Up Steam Steam starts out as an in-house software client for Valve games. It expands to include third-party games, such as indie fighting game Rag Doll Kung Fu. It also pioneers the concept of digital game distribution—considered, by many at the time, untenable.

2007 ► Portal Takes Us to Another World Valve releases Portal, which, aside from its compelling storytelling and clean, slick design, transforms gameplay. Lacking the lavish gore of its popular first-person shooter contemporaries, Portal is a platforming puzzle game. While not the first of its kind, it is arguably the best, and demonstrates the genre’s commercial potential.

Portal proved gore is not a popularity requisite. 

2009 ► Horticulture Meets the Undead Indie studio PopCap, founded in Seattle in 2000, releases Plants vs. Zombies, which pits the player, armed with explosive greenery, against zombie hordes. Two years later, Electronic Arts (EA) buys PopCap and ushers in the mobile version of the game that transfixes us during plane rides and bathroom breaks.

2014 ► Amazon Twitches With typical brawn, Amazon snags video game streaming service Twitch for $970 million. Many professional gamers find fame and fortune as Twitch streamers. Average concurrent Twitch viewership, as of early 2020, reaches 1.4 million. 

2016 ► Pokémon Go Must Be Stopped The Nintendo/Niantic game introduces the world to augmented reality, uniting generations by capitalizing on millennials’ Pokémon nostalgia and boomers’ love for phone games. People will stop at nothing in their rapacious quest for Pokémon, and the Auschwitz Museum actually has to formally request that the former site of the Nazi death camps not be used as a Pokéstop. So that happened.

2018 ► We’ll Keep This Among Friends Small indie studio InnerSloth releases

During pandemic lockdown, and a presidential election, Among Us (and its jellybean characters) took off. 

Among Us, inspired in part by the familiar party game Mafia/Werewolf. The game receives little attention until 2020, when it experiences a wave of popularity.

2019 ► Slay Inspires In a deft generic fusion, Seattle indie developer MegaCrit produces Slay the Spire, a dungeon-crawl deck-building game that combines classic RPG elements with card strategy. Dungeons and Dragons nerds everywhere rejoice, and Slay inspires a profusion of games in this mold.

2020 ► New Horizons Beckon Nintendo debuts Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch, spawning a massive and diverse contingent of fans. It quickly becomes one of the best-selling games of the year, as people all over the world, unable to leave their homes, console themselves with visits to one another’s artfully arranged animated islands.

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