HitPoint Studios, successful gaming company, leaves Amherst for Springfield

Last modified: Thursday, January 01, 2015
AMHERST — With its move to Springfield next week, an Amherst company that has developed online video games for Facebook and smartphones is poised to launch its own channel from which gamers can select the new content they wish to play.

The relocation of HitPoint Studios is prompted by a $1.25 million investment from local investors. HitPoint, the largest independent gaming studio in Massachusetts, is moving from its 6,000 square feet inside the Slobody Building at 101 University Drive to an office tower at 1350 Main St., Springfield.

While the new headquarters will have about the same space for the company’s 33 employees, Chief Operating Officer Paul Hake and Chief Executive Officer Aaron St. John said the move will mean better accommodations and easier access to capital.

The $1.25 million investment, primarily by MassMutual and River Valley Investors, will allow the company to grow, while also keeping it from moving to Silicon Valley or Boston.

Known for hidden-object adventure games such as “Seaside Hideaway,” “Fablewood” and “Jane Austen Unbound,” St. John said the investment has been a missing piece for HitPoint.

Hake said one of the drawbacks of being in Amherst is that it remains isolated from other high-tech businesses and investors. In Springfield, there is a greater concentration of both.

The move will also make it easier for people from Boston and Worcester to visit HitPoint and gives the company better access to air and train travel.

HitPoint may also be buoyed by an influx of people and money in advance of the MGM casino being built.

“It remains to be seen what the casino moving in does for all of us,” St. John said.

The company was founded in 2008, a merger of St. John’s Golden Goose Games of Amherst and the former paul hake productions of Greenfield. After starting out with a handful of employees in Greenfield, the company moved to a barn in Hatfield and then, 18 months ago, came to Amherst. Hake said he believes a tenant has been lined up to take over the space, although he declined to say who it is.

St. John and Hake began by developing games for advertisers and companies such as Disney and EA.

Since then, HitPoint has branched out to focus on premium games for a casual audience, including adventures that appeal to non-traditional gamers such as women.

HitPoint also teamed up with Microsoft and Dreamworks to develop “Dragons Adventure World Explorer” for smartphones and tablets. This is based on the “How to Train Your Dragon” films.

Hake said the company has a pretty big following, with an estimated 8 million installs of its games by Facebook users. “They know HitPoint, they follow HitPoint and they know the games we make,” Hake said.

The investment of capital means HitPoint can focus on making new content and branching out by creating the gaming channel that would be accessible through any mobile device. It will also be able to better market these products.

St. John said one challenge for his company is holding onto the work force. “A lot of the talent nurtured here is the talent that goes to the West Coast,” St. John said.

But he and Hake have still managed to attract employees from other gaming companies.

St. John said he has appreciated being in Amherst because of the student environment and the support of so-called “game jams” where game developers, including programmers, designers and artists, come together. In addition, UMass and the rest of the five colleges have helped fill entry-level artists and engineering positions.

Town Manager John Musante said HitPoint is a company that has been good for Amherst, noting that it has earned acclaim statewide for its work in game development.

“We’re disappointed they’ve chosen to relocate,” Musante said. “They are precisely the type of business that has and can thrive in Amherst.”

He cited the talented work force coming out of the colleges and UMass, the access to fiber connectivity through the Five College Fiberoptic Network, and the quality of life Amherst offers.

“All of these assets are here and we continue to have a welcoming mat for companies like that,” Musante said.

Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Donald Courtemanche said losing the jobs is not something he is thrilled about, though it is fortunate that HitPoint will continue to build itself within 30 minutes of Amherst.

“It’s great they’re staying in the Pioneer Valley,” Courtemanche said.

Courtemanche said it’s always a challenge for Amherst when Springfield or Holyoke seek to lure a growing company. Office space is less expensive in those cities and more private investors reside there.

“It’s difficult to compete with a $1.25 million subsidy,” Courtemanche said.

Still, Musante said young entrepreneurs and spin-off companies from UMass should feel welcome in Amherst, and that soon more office space should be available to start and continue businesses in Amherst.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.