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Video Game Producer Makes a Home in Farmington Hills

Drawn by the possibilities, Than McClure moved his family to Michigan.

Nathaniel "Than" McClure moved his family to Michigan in 2009 for one reason: the state's film incentives.

"I'd never been to Michigan before," said McClure, who owns Scientifically Proven Entertainment. The company is based in Farmington Hills, where McClure lives with his wife, Andrea, and children Tori, 15, Logan, 5, and Xavier, six months.

Raised in New York, he spent the past 10 years in Los Angeles earning a living as an actor and producer. "Then 9/11 hit and Hollywood shut down," McClure said. "There was nothing going on."

A friend introduced him to Activision, one of the world's largest video game producers. McClure started to see parallels between his film work and the world of video games, "a story you can participate in and not just watch." 

He got a job as a tester and worked his way up in the company, eventually becoming a producer on the popular Call of Duty brand. "That was my formal master's in the video game business," McClure said. "I really got to get a piece of all of it."

The work inspired him to open his own studio in Los Angeles in the fall of 2007. About a year later, he was searching for business opportunities—and the chance to move his young family out of Los Angeles—when he learned about Michigan's Film Production Credit.

Scientifically Proven Entertainment applied for the tax break, which at the time was 40 cents on the dollar, to develop Man vs. Wild: The Game, which went on sale in May. The game is based on the popular Discovery Channel show, in which star Bear Grylls is dropped into a remote area and has to fight his way back to civilization.

"My partner in L.A. and I both love the show," McClure said. "Bear appeals to such a broad audience."

The video game drops the player off in a random location, and the goal is "to make it out alive". "The core concept's pretty simple. There's a small educational component, in that we're teaching survival basics," McClure said, adding that Grylls narrates the game.

When he first talked with the Michigan Film Office, McClure was given a warm welcome. "I was listed as a success on the state's budget report," he said. "Then I submitted my first application, and they denied it."

Scientifically Proven Entertainment last month won a court decision in a lawsuit to claim the tax credit. McClure fought for the credit because his own business needed it to keep going, but he also believes there is a great opportunity in Michigan to build a national hub for interactive entertainment.

"There's a huge pool of talent (in Michigan colleges and universities)," he said. "They graduate, and they leave."

Scientifically Proven Entertainment has hired 15 people since opening its doors, all from local universities. They're working on a number of projects, including mobile games for iPads and iPhones, as well as an "edu-tainment" project that would engage kids in video games to teach subjects like math. The games would allow young players to earn points that could be redeemed for on-line prizes, as well as shared on Facebook and with their friends.

McClure said he is also working on a television show, Making the Game, that will start filming this summer, as well as a movie project. "We are also aggressively pursuing interactive automotive opportunities," he said. One concept would be components that would make people better drivers, with friends competing on Facebook to see who can get the highest gas mileage.

While part of his business remains in California, the goal, McClure said, is to move as much as possible to Michigan. "The cost of living is much more manageable for my employees," he said.

But he admits the turmoil over his own film incentive and the state's reduction in the program has taken a toll.

"It's been rocky ... It's very hard to do business when such a significant piece of your overall costs and return is unknown," he said. "A lot of time has been dedicated to active lobbying (for the film credits). I've been involved with incredible people in the entertainment industry working to persuade legislators."

McClure believes a solid base of video game producers will convince the state's best and brightest college graduates to stay here—and may draw others to Michigan from around the country.

He doesn't just have a business plan. He has an industry plan.

"This is about building a solid foundation in this state," he added. "It's about putting a big plug in the 'brain drain.'"

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