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Seattle’s gaming industry is often overlooked, but it is an economic force in the region with more than 150 companies employing upwards of 15,000 people. And with recent deals like Electronic Arts buying Seattle-based PopCap Games for up to $1.3 billion, there’s certainly a need to make sure that the next-generation of gaming companies take flight here.

Now, through a $1.2 million grant awarded to enterpriseSeattle, Seattle is getting a new high-tech incubator which will focus exclusively on the gaming industry.

The funding was provided through the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, Department of Labor’s Employment & Training Administration and the Small Business Administration. It will be used to create the Washington Interactive Media Accelerator, also known as WIMA.

Jeff Marcell, president and CEO of enterpriseSeattle, said that the accelerator will be used to “attract jobs and capital investment to our region.” In addition to physical office space, the organization will establish internships and other professional training opportunities.

Seattle already has incubators for Internet companies — TechStars Seattle — and biotech — Accelerator Corp. But an incubator for gaming upstarts makes ton of sense.

In addition to Nintendo, Microsoft, Big Fish Games, Valve and WildTangent, the Seattle area also boasts two universities which specialize in degree programs for game design: DigiPen and The Academy of Interactive Entertainment.

Having an accelerator that could help some of those graduates — or other entrepreneurs in the Seattle area — get their gaming ideas off the ground could be a huge boost as the region looks to incubate the next PopCap.

UPDATE: Kristina Hudson, director of the Washington Interactive Network, tells GeekWire that this marks the first major grant for the program since it was started in 2004.

“We have always run on a shoestring budget, and this grant award will allow us to bring our programs to a new level,” Hudson says. “In addition, it will help us continue to assist in the growth of our local industry and to help make our region the global center for interactive media development and IP creation.”

Hudson says that they’ve yet to choose the physical location for the incubator, with the grant money first being used to create the industry executive council. However, she said the physical location “will be a top priority” with plans to incubate five to six companies.

“2012 will be a fun year,” she says. In addition to the incubation space, Hudson’s proposal includes educational and mentorship programs. It also includes the creation of a job portal, scholarships and a work skills center.

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