Orlando has long been associated with Mickey Mouse, Universal Studios and all things theme parks, at least from afar.
But as sectors like video games, virtual reality and location-based entertainment grow, so, too, could the idea that Orlando has become more than just a tourist destination.
It could become simultaneously a rising force in technology, meaning its economy could be poised for a hefty surge as more companies and industries dive into these disciplines.
“Orlando has a large concentration of the nerd culture,” said Jason Ambler, president of digital media for Orlando-based Falcon’s Beyond. “That ties into games and building a community of people around the unique aspects of entertainment. That’s a big part of it. It’s special to not only make great entertainment but be innovative in its delivery.”
Synapse brings tech together
The recent Synapse Orlando event had a healthy dose of entertainment-based technology representation from Central Florida.
Ambler took the stage for multiple panels, along with Electronic Arts’ highest-ranking executive based in Orlando Daryl Holt, 302 Interactive CEO Kyle Morrand and Falcon’s Executive Vice President Saham Ali.
The message sent, while not overt, was clear: Orlando tech has depth when it comes to gaming and entertainment tech.
“A lot of this growth happened organically and it has not really been drum beating,” Ambler said. “Up until this point, this community has been looking to support the industry that is here.”
The assets that exist in Orlando appear to add up to a strong showing in themed entertainment technology.
Schools like UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, Full Sail University and the DAVE School specialize, to an extent, in teaching skills related to video game development.
Add in the volume of students in the region, a budding independent video game community and the presence of larger companies like EA and Iron Galaxy and you get a formula that works.
Holt said he has been encouraged by the region’s embrace of The Metaverse, with economic leaders launching an effort to brand the region as “The MetaCenter.”
“It’s an incredible opportunity for us as a community,” Holt said of the power of play and technology. “Play and gaming are the on-ramps to those experiences that will shape the future.”
Gaming can drive economy
Electronic Arts recently unveiled a high-tech downtown Orlando campus that now hosts 1,000 employees, more than 40 percent higher than pre-pandemic levels.
To be clear, tourism will never be an afterthought in Central Florida.
Beyond even the major theme parks like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, there is a healthy ecosystem of small- and mid-sized attractions throughout Orlando.
Still, technology based upon virtual reality and other technologies often associated with gaming have the potential to drive Orlando’s economy.
“Where Orlando shines when it comes to gaming technology is its natural integration with a variety of industries to help solve real-world problems,” said Morrand, whose firm uses video game-related skillsets to develop applications and products for companies in sectors like healthcare and entertainment. “Like Walt Disney’s vision for EPCOT Center, as emerging technologies seek to culminate in a cohesive Metaverse, Orlando will continue to be a model of the future for what our industries and communities can become when they work together.”
Leaning into “The MetaCenter”
As Orlando pushes further into its “The MetaCenter” rebrand, the businesses that exist here could adapt and lean into that persona.
Falcon’s, which employs about 100 in the region, has been an example of businesses that can flex and adapt.
While the company’s roots lie in digital experiences, the firm has done more work recently in building physical theme park attractions than it ever has in its 20-plus year run in Orlando.
“We have this convergence of entertainment, tourism and industry here that, when we work together becomes a fairly large community,” Ambler said. “There is a culture of innovation here because we have all of these unique elements in one place.”