Issue 3, 2012. June-July

   

THE EXPAT INDUSTRY

Georgia has an untapped potential to attract expats for start-up businesses, according to board game creator Mark Rein Hagen.

Forget exporting reforms or churchela. The next "Made in Georgia" label you will likely see in the US will be on a board game.

Georgian reformers might not have been eyeing the multibillion dollar gaming industry when they set about rebranding the country as the pro-business, pro-investment capital of the Caucasus, but Mark Rein Hagen said the easy regulation, high speed internet, and location makes Tbilisi a natural base for his business.

Rein Hagen, an established game creator in the United States, has developed a new game he plans to sell in the US and Europe. The game, an old fashioned-type of board game that allows players to create and govern a fictitious democracy, is the latest creation from Rein Hagen, who is well known among fantasy and vampire buffs for Vampire: The Masquerade and World of Darkness games, among others.

The game allows players -divided into ‘parties' like Liberty, Tradition, Change, and Regulate - to build factions, create liaisons, and negotiate betrayal as they battle for control over power structures: the media, voters, activists, lawmakers, money, justice, and bureaucracy. Brightly colored tiles outline possible relationships between the spheres, and cards - laws - lay out the price for different moves.

The game, which should hit American stores in time for the 2012 elections, is currently under development. Rein Hagen plans to launch a promo on the fund-raising KickStarter site by summer.

Unfortunately for Georgian political junkies, there are no wild cards from the Ivanishvili camp, or special point rounds for preventing a war over South Ossetia. But while Georgia is not a direct model for the game, Rein Hagen said the reforms were crucial in creating a strong base for start ups.

"I can basically run a company from Georgia," he said. "I think it is increasingly true you can run pretty much any kind of product company, have meetings on Skype and live anywhere you want and still help the local economy."

Rein Hagen stressed the new focus on creating an IT hub in Georgia, which should give IT start-ups tax-free status, which will make the country an easy and affordable base for programmers looking to create new products and businesses.

"Internet for people living in certain areas, like Vake, is much faster than the internet in America. And we have worked very hard on that," he said.

One potential obstacle, however, is the lack of local programmers. But Rein Hagen has found the cadre he needs, even hiring a local graphic designer to create the games pieces - not a small feat in a country not known for its love of board games. While Georgians have a strong tradition of playing chess and nardi (the national version of backgammon) there is a notable absence of Georgian board games.

Rein Hagen has cultivated a group to play his game - even at times resorting to remote games with teams of players in other countries. But he said the end result could be the creation of a new audience for board games - and promoting the opportunities here for start-ups.

"[I]f I can do board games, anyone ... can produce something from here," he said, adding he would "definitely love" to start a culture of gaming in Georgia.

"I am working on a product that will mostly be sold in America and there is absolutely no problem doing it from here."