Jesse Lindsley | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND

The Leader of the Game

By Robert Green

Thrust Interactive, normally a very cool and hip place to work, was converted into an even more vibrant environment on the evening of February 22. On tap: to celebrate the official opening of their new location on Edgewood Avenue in Inman Park (Atlanta’s oldest neighborhood) and the launch of their latest mobile game title, Boomblastica (a retro style musical shooter). CEO Jesse Lindsley, the leader of the Atlanta Game Development Community, is making sure that all the attendees of this eclectic celebration are comfortable and well attended to. Young gamers speak to each other about their latest games and projects as seasoned business-men and women listen in wonder. People nod congratulations to a young man, who appears to be 17, as he says that he has been accepted into a PhD program at Georgia Tech for game development.

The party is at full force around 8:00pm as two well-dressed gentlemen, both of whom look like they play for the NFL, enter briskly, followed by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, for whom they are providing security. The mayor has had a busy day out of his office focusing on the economic impact of the entertainment industry for the city of Atlanta. He has spent the morning in Lakewood, for the dedication of yet another movie studio (the ninth at Lakewood) and the afternoon on Stone Mountain with actors John Travolta and Robert De Niro. Now he has come to a party at 741 Edgewood to honor Jesse Lindsley, Atlanta’s undisputed leader in mobile and online games, a major component of the entertainment industry.

Jesse Lindsley was born in Virginia but grew up largely in Nashville, Tennessee where his father was a professor at Vanderbilt. A tennis star, he accepted a full scholarship to Tennessee Tech where he graduated with a degree in Industrial Engineering in ‘97. After graduating he found himself managing software development projects all over the country, during the dotcom bubble.. In 2004, he started a company called P2PGames, focused on building “skill games” like chess, checkers, bridge, gin and poker creating the gaming portal a destination for players to play for fun and for money. After the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act passed in 2006 it became too risky for him to stay in that part of the gaming industry.

Jesse opted to change the company’s name to Thrust Interactive and its focus to one of providing 3rd party game development services – which he was good at – 100% of the time. The new direction proved successful when a top digital agency asked him to build a virtual world for one of their largest clients. The virtual world was launched successfully and it became the fastest growing virtual world ever – with 4 million sign ups in five months.

Now fully engaged in the third party game development of both online games and virtual worlds, Jesse and Thrust built up an enviable portfolio of clients; creating single player advergames, multiplayer educational games and massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs) for clients including TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, NFL AutoTrader, American Cancer Society and other household names.
Last year, Jesse decided to launch Thrust Games, a company that would focus on building it’s own IP and release indie games. Leveraging his past 8 years of experience building games for others Thrust now has 10 games in development. The move to 741 Edgewood gave Thrust the space to set up this game lab, expand the company and continue to meet the game, and now app, development needs of their growing client base.

Jesse Lindsley is not just focused on building games; he is also focused on helping transform Atlanta into a leading destination for game development. He has taken on leadership roles, including the President of the International Game Development Association Chapter in Atlanta as well as founding and organizing a handful of networking and professional development organizations. When he started in the business there was no real game development community to mention in Atlanta. But now he says, “there is a vibrant community” and “working with the Georgia Office of Economic Development, we have even created a tax credit for games.” “Another big part of the growth over the last 8 years here were the colleges, but even though they were putting out great talent, Georgia wasn’t creating opportunities to keep the talent local and they all headed to the West Coast post graduation,” he says. “That’s not the case any longer”.

Thrust Interactive also plays an active part of this growth by incubating talent with a very successful internship program (10-20 students per year) and the creation of an “open studio,” which means that Jesse allows smaller game companies to work out of his office – for free. “I like having them here for the collaboration,” he says, “and the inspiration.” One such company, Drowning Monkeys, has produced a game called Dungeon Crawlers that topped Apple’s App Store charts this year as the number one role playing game. Another company enjoying the Thrust environment is Social Games Today, which runs social and mobile game events around the country, including San Francisco Seattle and New York.

Another thing that sets the Thrust office apart are the animals. It is definitely a pet friendly place as Jesse brings his 3 dogs and cat to the office every day and encourages his employees to do the same.

The noise of the Feb 22 launch event dies down as Mayor Reed takes to the stage to speak. He compliments Jesse both on his persistence in building the game development community in Atlanta and on his growth as a company. The Mayor is unequivocal that Atlanta must be the “creative capital” of the east – not just the southeast. He has firm words for the Georgia legislature – which had just considered eliminating games from the entertain tax credit to save money – “Don’t mess with our entertainment tax credit.”

Because of Jesse Lindsley and Thrust Interactive, Atlanta now has a thriving game development community in Atlanta. As the Mayor shakes his hand and Jesse begins to speak, he sees many of the partners and clients that have helped to put both Thrust and the Atlanta Game Development community on the map.


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