Marcus Howard wants to turn Tampa Bay into a gaming hub
Marcus Howard has known since he was 6 years old just how important video games are.
- He keeps the game that got him and his siblings hooked — Super Mario Brothers 3 for the first at-home Nintendo console — in his pocket. He runs his fingers over the hand-sized cartridge as he talks to reporters.
Driving the news: Now Marcus, 35, is trying to make Tampa Bay one of the top five gaming ecosystems in the country. And transform the way brand marketing and gaming merge.
Flashback: By high school, Marcus and his twin brother, Malcolm, started making games of their own on their TI83+ graphing calculators and showing classmates how to do the same.
- "We learned games are just code," Marcus recalls.
When their teacher realized no one was paying attention in class, she wiped the memory on all their calculators.
- That's when the Howard brothers realized just how influential games were. And how underestimated.
By the numbers:
- Less than 2% of global gaming industry professionals are Black.
- Yet 83% of Black teens play video games — more than white and Latino teens.
- And overall, the Black community in the U.S. spends the most money on the gaming industry.
Marcus hopes to instill a love and appreciation of gaming in future generations as president of the Tampa Association of Gaming, a non-profit that teaches kids in youth programs around the area how to build games.
- But that's not all ...
What they're doing: While the Howard brothers (Malcolm is in Savannah) and other members of their team all have day jobs in the tech world, they're also running MetArena, a company matching brands of various sizes with games relevant to their product or service.
- They want to take what Wendy's did with Fortnite and Burger King did with FIFA and bring it to mom-and-pop shops.
- For the less gaming savvy among us: Wendy's, for example, created a Fortnite avatar that entered the game to destroy a virtual burger joint's freezers in a marketing ploy to promote its commitment to only using fresh beef.
The bottom line: "We're turning every brand into a gaming company. We believe every business should be a gaming company that sells a product or service," Marcus says.
- Bonus — what he's playing: Marcus has been playing the beta version of Knockout City, what he calls "a dodgeball game that plays like NBA Jam and Fortnite."
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