MadREP in the News

Wisconsin State Journal: Madison video game studio rapidly expands as broader sector eyes mergers

Wisconsin State Journal & cobrand logoSource: Wisconsin State Journal


Lost Boys Interactive, a video game studio based in Madison, launched in 2017 with two co-founders who named their company to capture the mythos of the Lost Boys of Neverland.

The studio has now established itself as not only a large part of the Madison region’s video game enclave, but a major industry player with 350 employees in 36 U.S. states, said CEO and co-founder Shaun Nivens.

The company, which has a studio on the West Side, saw 1,255% revenue growth between 2021 and 2022 alone. It has helped gamers around the world explore new worlds, win epic battles, meet dynamic characters and embark on wild adventures by working on popular titles like “Call of Duty Online” and “Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands,” a spin-off of the “Borderlands” series.

Lost Boys Interactive has developed games across other genres, too, including sports and sandbox, or games that allow a great degree of interactivity for the player.

Last April, the studio’s growth really took off when it was acquired by Gearbox, an indie interactive entertainment developer and publisher in Texas with 1,300 employees. Gearbox is owned by Embracer Group, a Sweden-based video game and media holding company.

The deal’s financial details were not disclosed, but it came as consolidation has been an increasingly common trend in the video game industry. Embracer itself makes up about a “fifth” of the sector, Nivens said. Lost Boys Interactive’s rapid expansion also comes as the tech industry at large grapples with layoffs and other economic hurdles.

“We connected with Gearbox at a conference,” said Nivens. He said the Texas company gives Lost Boys Interactive the manpower and resources to work on more expansive projects and allows the studio to maintain full control over operations. “They were our style,” he said.

Both companies also value hiring employees that are full-time and paid a fair wage, Nivens said. That’s because it’s a frequent industry practice for video game studios to hire contractors to save money, he said. Employers are not legally obligated to offer contractors benefits like health insurance.

“We feel it makes better games,” he said, adding that Lost Boys Interactive is set to hire at least 300 more employees within the next year.

Humble beginnings

Prior to the studio’s launch, Nivens and Stefanowicz had just parted ways with their previous employer, PerBlue, a local studio that makes mobile games such as “Disney Heroes.”

It was their combined passion for art and storytelling through video games, that motivated Niven and Stefanowicz to team up and create their own enterprise, Nivens said. Stefanowicz is a former Disney studio art director, and Nivens has an extensive software engineering background.

In a “pretty precarious start,” the studio’s only investment funding ever was the $50 it borrowed to open its first checking account, Stefanowicz said with a laugh. From there, the team used their already established business ties to pick up development gigs and hire workers wherever they could.

The studio scored its first “big” gig with with PUBG, maker of battle royale title PlayerUnknown’s “Battlegrounds,” which needed an engineering team to aid in the creation of an up-and-coming video game, Nivens said. PUBG operates a studio in Madison.

It’s common for several companies to have a hand in developing one video game, he explained. Lost Boys Interactive has until now mainly functioned then as a co-development studio to fill staffing gaps for clients.

Video game design is a complex and expensive process involving computer programmers, software engineers, graphic artists, animators, workers who play video games to test for glitches and more, he said.

Nivens said the studio — with Gearbox’s support — intends to act on a longtime goal: Develop internal video game ideas and projects.

A new norm?

Consolidation is likely becoming the norm for the video game industry, explained Madison Region Economic Partnership enterprise development director Craig Kettleson, who has researched the sector extensively.

Microsoft attempted its largest-ever acquisition of California-based game developer Activision Blizzard (parent company of Madison-area studio Raven Software) in early 2022, which was challenged last December by the Federal Trade Commission. That deal is worth almost $70 billion.

The FTC said in a December statement that the Activision deal could enable Microsoft “to suppress competitors to its Xbox gaming consoles and its rapidly growing subscription content and cloud-gaming business.”

Kettleson said he’s in favor of that deal, adding that it could theoretically bring more money and workers into the region, as well as elevate Madison as a destination for new game development studios. Nivens agreed with Kettleson’s sentiments in a separate interview.

“I think its good for the industry,” Nivens said. “When large corporations like that are spending large amount of money to consolidate, that raises all boats. The bigger and more studios you have, the more likely you are to create offshoots, forge new paths and create crazier (video) game ideas that the mainstream wouldn’t invest in.”

Microsoft already has ties to the area through Bethesda, a game-development studio that owns a location in the city. The tech giant bought Bethesda in 2020 for $7.5 billion. 

What Microsoft and other tech giants like Sony are after is titles, Kettleson said. Both companies already make the Xbox and Playstation gaming consoles, respectively.

Purchases of video games soared during the pandemic, so much so that analytics company Newzoo forecasted that in 2020 the sector would grow to $217.9 billion by this year. 

Lockdowns lift

Newzoo has since released numbers showing that the video games market saw a slight decline in 2022 compared to 2021 — from $193 billion to $184 billion.

That was mainly because people spent less on mobile games in 2022 as “the world opened again after two years of lockdowns, and people’s disposable income became increasingly strained by inflation,” Newzoo said.

And Microsoft’s highly anticipated purchase of Activision comes not only with scrutiny by various government agencies, but as the overall tech industry faces layoffs. Microsoft announced it would layoff 10,000 employees, including some workers at Bethesda.

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Cap Times: See where rural broadband is (and isn’t) available in Wisconsin

Economic Development Cap Times LogoSource: The Cap Times

As federal regulators prepare to publish a new map showing where broadband internet is and isn’t available across the U.S., Madison-area internet advocates are urging residents to check the draft themselves.

Unveiled in November, the “pre-production draft” of the Federal Communications Commission map is the most detailed and current federal map of internet accessibility, according to an announcement issued last week by the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP). The eight-county economic development group is now encouraging residents to enter their addresses in the online interactive map and notify the FCC if the internet in their area doesn’t match what’s shown on the map.

“If it does not, we have a brief window to challenge that finding,” said Gene Dalhoff, vice president of talent and education at MadREP.  “If areas are incorrectly finalized as having access they do not, it will jeopardize the Madison Region’s ability to access federal support for broad infrastructure.”

That federal support includes a share of the more than $42 billion that was set aside for internet expansion under the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. Corrections to the map must be submitted by Jan. 13, 2023, before those dollars are allocated.

This isn’t the first time MadREP has sought to mobilize the public to gather information about internet access in the region. Last year, the group released its own internet speed test for Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Rock, and Sauk counties. The test is designed to provide data that the agency and its partners can use to seek improvements to internet infrastructure where they’re needed most

Much of rural America — and some urban and suburban areas — doesn’t have internet fast and reliable enough to meet the federal definition of broadband, which requires download speeds of 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of 3 megabits per second.

For years it’s been hard to say just how big the problem is, since the prior Federal Communications Commission maps that are typically used to assess coverage were based on data by U.S. Census Bureau tract, a geographic unit that can include as many as 8,000 people. A single tract can include homes with fast internet through a cable or fiber connection, as well as homes still connecting to the internet with a dial-up modem.

“If you have one address in a census block that has tremendous broadband, they’re going to apply those results to the entire census block. So this creates very, very misleading maps,” Dalhoff said last year.

If governments or service providers consult those flawed maps to determine where to develop new broadband infrastructure, Dalhoff said, “it could be that 99% of the people are kind of left out in the cold.” In Wisconsin, the Public Service Commission estimates that around 800,000 people, or 14% of the state’s population, don’t have the infrastructure needed for broadband — twice the figure the prior FCC maps suggested.

The new maps will offer a more detailed and current view, showing the fixed and mobile broadband options available at individual addresses, as reported by internet service providers.

“As we often say, access to broadband is vital for economic success,” said MadREP president and CEO Jason Fields. “Now is another opportunity for Wisconsinites to contribute to a broadband solution.”

Article originally published on

WCLO: 12/5/22…Info on Broadband

MadREP’s Vice President of Talent and Education, Gene Dalhoff, joins WCLO with details on the group’s efforts to collect accurate data on underserved areas in both urban and rural communities in our Region for the last year. Gene announces an opportunity for Wisconsinites to contribute to a broadband solution.

Wondering about next steps? First, check your speed with MadREP’s speed test and compare it to the national map

WCLO: Rock County Jumpstart hosts Black Business Month luncheon

WCLO Your Talk LogoWCLO

Rock County’s black businesses accelerator is highlighting the good work done by local individuals to foster the growth of Black and Latino-owned businesses.

Rock County Jumpstart Executive Director Genia Stevens says Madison Region Economic Partnership President and CEO Jason Fields will be the keynote speaker for the annual Black Business Luncheon.

Stevens says the event will take place at noon on August 12th at the Beloit Historical Society.

Stevens says several awards will be given out, including the Legacy Award, Business of the Year, Lotus Award, Peer Mentor of the Year, and Mentor of the Year.

While the tickets – which include lunch from Backyard Barbecue – are free, they do need to be reserved in advance on the Rock County Jump Start website.

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Business Facilities | STEM Leaders: This Will Be On The Test

economic development business facilities logo

Business Facilities | Nora Caley

Madison, WI: Helping Students Get An Early Start

To help students discover if STEM courses interest them, in 2015 the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP) launched Inspire Madison Region, a software component of the web-based program Xello, which the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) made available to all public school districts. While Xello allows students to learn about specific occupations based on interests and abilities, the Inspire Madison Region component enables students to connect via the interactive platform with mentors and career coaches. Students also participate in job shadowing, internships, and apprenticeships at local employers.

“Through the connections Inspire provides, MadREP is facilitating student awareness of local career opportunities and growing the future workforce in the Madison region,” said Gene Dalhoff, Vice President of Talent and Education. Through Inspire Madison Region, 70,000 students can connect with 500 career coaches as well as over 400 companies, many of which offer career-based learning experiences for students.

Another MadREP and Wisconsin DPI program, Wisconsin Pathways—Madison Region, is a region-wide effort to deliver high-quality career pathways in high schools. The pathways focus on occupations associated with high-skill, in-demand industry sectors. Students complete a pathway by taking a sequence of aligned courses, earning an industry-recognized credential, enrolling in dual college credit classes, participating in career-based and work-based learning experiences, and accessing related Career and Technical Education (CTE) student organizations.

Dalhoff said the pathways offer benefits for high school students and for employers. Students gain education and training that align with the needs of the local job market, and a high school diploma with at least one industry-recognized credential. Employers gain partnerships with a greater number of schools.

Another recent effort is the expansion of Fabrication Laboratories (Fab Labs) in school districts throughout the Madison Region. Fab Labs provide the physical space, equipment, instruction, teamwork, and other resources necessary for students to explore STEM-related topics and engage in projects.

MadREP is working to engage with even more students in the region. “Looking to the future, we will prioritize growing opportunities to support the BIPOC community through economic development strategies and policies that prioritize funding STEM-related endeavors,” said Jason M. Fields, MadREP’s President and CEO. “Students of color need to see themselves reflected in the industry to believe it is possible.”

Originally published on

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