Was 2011 the breakout year for the Irish Games Industry?
|by Jamie McCormick
While much of the economy is in a flux these days, the Irish Games Industry is one of the few sectors that has shown measurable growth. This article will look some of the things that have allowed Ireland to become one of the hubs for the games industry in Europe.
This is particularly relevant in a week where we have the Government’s Jobs Strategy which has a specific bit, 7.7, which says it will implement the Forfás report, grow games to 2,500 employees by 2014, and then up to 5,000 by 2016. We also had the Dare to Be Digital launch at the Department of Education, and GIG 2012 this week.
Looking at things evolve over more than a decade, I have seen a wide range of change occur both at home and internationally. Trying to build a career when there effectively wasn’t an industry to begin with was a fun challenge, but through some pioneering groups of people and the growth in related technology industries, a whirlpool has centred on Ireland in recent years.
The primary goal of GameDevelopers.ie when it started nine years ago was to give developers, and would be developers, a resource packed with information and advice about all the stages of game development and getting products to market. Back in 2003 this was difficult, as the range of platforms that were out there (consoles & PC) had many barriers to entry. Development for console games was prohibitively expensive, requiring huge amounts of capital and investment in both time and money to get a prototype together, with very little guarantee that the game would ever get a publisher.
PC games development also faced severe challenges. A combination of declining shelf space at retail, piracy with the advent of peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, and a focus on consoles led many to believe that there was no future in this sector. Yet in 2012, through a combination of digital distribution platforms such as Steam, ever increasing broadband speeds, new business models such as free-to-play, the movement into games as a service, and the evolution of browser games, the PC games market is now in a period of resurgence.
It is true to say that we still do not have a “AAA” developer, making multi-million euro games for the major platforms, located in Ireland. But as the industry has evolved and games consoles opened up to smaller projects via Wiiware, XBLA and PSN, a number of companies based in Ireland have taken the opportunity to go for it, get a game together, and ultimately get published to a worldwide audience over the Internet.
Taking these factors into account, there is a bright future ahead for any developers who want to take a punt on making their own game and bring it to market. So how is the Irish Games Industry taking advantage of these factors to grow, when much of the rest of the economy seems to be mired in stagnation?
People and Irish Companies
People are the real drivers of the games industry and unlike many other countries that have built up large development hubs, Ireland has adopted a uniquely Irish approach.
The people behind middleware companies Havok and Demonware have a lot to be proud of. They built technologies that were best in their classes, showing that an Irish product, focused on making games more realistic, or easier to get online, could be used by dozens of developers across nearly every platform in the world. They did such a good job that two big industry giants bought them to secure their products and skillsets: Intel and Activision respectively.
Spurred by the success of these companies, people have set up a wide range of other types of companies catering not only to the end user, the gamers, but also to the business and creative sides of the industry, the publishers and developers. These include companies such as GameLocalisation.net who take a game in one language, and translate it into multiple languages, and Stream Global Services, who manage much of Microsoft’s Customer Services for Xbox Live.
We also have retailers as well as a growing number of console and PC based gaming centres spread around the country. Companies such as Gamesworld, founded in the nineties in the back of Chapters on Abbey Street now have dozens of stores across the country after being purchased by industry giant, GameStop. Xtreme Gaming Centre on Dublin's Liffey Street, which came into being after the Xbox Live Gaming Centre shut down, now caters to the community of players looking for a venue to come together and play competitively. There are also a number of new stores opening and new entrants such as the British retailer CEX which recently opened a pilot store in Dublin.
We also have a growing number of small local developers who have released commercial products, including Jolt, Tailteann Games, Open Emotion Studios, Nevermind Games and DarkWater Studios. These in turn are inspiring a healthy number of independent studios and developers to make their own games for a range of platforms including the console download services, Steam, Android and iOS devices. For the first time in nearly a decade, the forums here on GD.ie are announcing new game after new game on what seems like a monthly basis.
Image from Outfoxed, released via ITunes in Feb.2012, and developed by Billy Goat Entertainment, Belfast.
Finally, a large number of Irish people who emigrated over the years now hold down senior positions in companies across the world in countries such as the UK, US and Canada. In time, some of these may come back to Ireland to set up their own studios.
A large part of the Irish Game Industry’s growth has been driven by the arrival of international games companies who have set up shop in Ireland. We now have a diverse range of companies based here, employing over two thousand full time people in a range of non-development services: from dedicated representation for the Irish market through to large scale facilities performing specialist functions for the European market. This impressive list includes Sony Computer Entertainment, Microsoft, Apple, Zynga, Blizzard Entertainment, Activision, Gala Networks Europe, Riot Games, Playfirst, Popcap Games, and most recently EA Bioware.
The kind of jobs that are now available include localisation, customer support, publishing, development, QA and other important functions that are necessary for a modern games company. While most of these companies do not perform development functions, with the exception of Riot, Popcap and Playfirst, they have enabled many Irish people to work with some of the best in the international industry.
Government and Agencies
We have also begun to see a focused interest at governmental level which is helping to make it easier for game related companies to get started. The IDA has done a fantastic job attracting some of the big names in the industry to establish in Ireland, and as the first couple came in, then other companies could see that they would find it much easier to attract staff with the right set of skills. There is still a heavy reliance on staff from abroad coming into the country to fill certain jobs, but as time goes on and people get experience in one company, the natural movement of personnel from company to company will enhance the skillsets available locally.
Enterprise Ireland has also had a big push in fostering the indigenous games industry. It has now run several Competitive Startup Funds since December 2010 which were specifically open to games companies, enabling them to get funding, access to mentors and incubation facilities to allow several new companies to get off the ground.
The Interactive Games Association of Ireland, established in 2011, has also been doing its part, bringing some of the key players in the games industry to meetings in Ireland, as well as enabling large and small companies to share information at events, including the Games Gig 2012 this month.
At political level, there has also been a growing awareness of the relevance of the games industry in contributing its part to driving Ireland’s recovery. The most recent election saw a large number of younger, tech-savvy politicians replace those that were there before, and several have been very vocal in terms of pushing the games industry.
These show that the old worries that the games industry was being ignored are truly gone, and set the scene for a vibrant future, as many of the issues that have caused problems for getting access to funding are disappearing. The recently published Forfás “The Games Sector in Ireland: An Action Plan for Growth” shows that a policy level, the games industry is more centre stage. This has been reinforced by another broader government strategy, so it’s here to stay.
Image from Bejeweled 3 for IOS, released December, 2011, by Popcap Games.
So what does the future hold?
The future is very bright for the Irish games industry in the decade ahead. New platforms will come out, and new business models will become more and more established. Developers can now get a game out to a large audience over the Internet and start making substantial revenues in a rather short period of time. Once these revenues come in, they can re-invest some of it into new titles, building out a portfolio of games aimed at particular niches, and make recurring revenues off them for a long time into the future. This in turn makes them a lot more attractive to investors, as the reliance of the launch window, that realistically gives a new game at retail about six weeks to make the bulk of its sales, becomes obsolete.
The IDA will continue to attract new companies into the country, who will see a talented labour pool in situ (as well as a favourable tax regime), and Enterprise Ireland has adapted its rules to enable content creators, not just middleware companies, to be able to access its funding.
Independent developers have much fewer barriers to entry and a wider range of platforms to make games for. While it is unlikely that a developer will set up a large studio here from scratch, there is an opportunity for the right team with the right financial backing to build itself up through several successful releases, or possibly to entice some of the large number of expatriates working in top-tier developers to return to Ireland, bringing their skill, talent and experience to enable a “AAA” game to be truly made in Ireland.
Jamie McCormick is Marketing Manager at Gala Networks Europe, publisher of free-to-play games Allods Online, Dragonica, Terra Militaris, Flyff, Rappelz, Canaan Online, Castle of Heroes, Street Gears and the upcoming Age of Wulin and SEVENCORE via the www.gPotato.eu games portal. A graduate of DIT, he has worked in the Irish games industry for over a decade, working in a variety of roles in companies including Gamesworld (now GameStop), Demonware, Xbox Live Gaming Centre and Jolt.
Aphra’s report at http://www.gamedevelopers.ie/features/viewfeature.php?article=47 found a total of 1,469 employees in 2009. And since then we’ve had Blizzard expanding, Stream Global Services with the Xbox Live contract, EA Bioware setting up camp in Galway, Zynga move in, and expansion in pretty much the rest of the industry. So we’re probably already at the government’s growth targets already.
But who’s counting? Can we find out how many people work in the Irish games industry in February 2012 to give us an actual starting point? If you are working for a developer or any company that actively works in the games industry in Ireland, please fill in this short survey http://jamiegdie.polldaddy.com/s/gd-ie-february-2012-industry-survey