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2003 Replay

by Aphra Kerr 
As an observer of the games industry in Ireland I think I can safely say 2003 was a fairly active year. From the launch of gamedevelopers.ie last March, to the founding of an International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Irish chapter this month, game developers and wanna-be developers have begun networking and working to raise the profile of the industry in Ireland. This feature reflects on 12 important developments that appeared somewhere on the pages on gamedevelopers.ie in 2003 – no doubt people could add to this list. Feel free to comment as usual in the forums on this feature.



My top 12 of 2003, in no particular order of merit, were:

1. gamedevelopers.ie
2. Shindigs
3. Launch of the N-Gage Challenge
4. Bernard Stolar Talk
5. Edinburgh International Games Festival & Dare to be Digital 2003
6. New game design courses in Ireland
7. Formation and launch of IGDA Ireland chapter
8. Play exhibition at the Digital Hub
9. Dare to be Digital Ireland Information Day, Digital Hub.
10. Game companies move into the Digital Depot
11. Update on existing companies
12. Policy for the games industry in Ireland.

gamedevelopers.ie

Research conducted by STeM (Centre for Society, Technology and Media) in 2001 identified two PC/console development companies, five mobile/internet development companies, two part-time developers, two specialist service companies (middleware and animation) and two major localisation companies on the island of Ireland. Thirteen companies: 8 companies founded in the Republic, 2 in Northern Ireland and 3 foreign owned. Approximately 256 people were working full time or devised a considerable part of their earnings from various aspects of the games industry. While these figures were probably conservative at least they provide a map of where we were at in 2001.

The report also noted however that another eight companies had gone to the wall in the 1980s and 1990s. Names like Gremlin Graphics (Ireland) Ltd., Emerald Software Ltd., PCSL Software Ireland Ltd., PixelMagic, Taintech, Pooka Games and Funcom all promised much but for various reasons shut their doors. Let no-one tell you it is an easy business.

STeM launched their research report in the Friends of the National Gallery building, Merrion Square in March 2002 (See http://www.comms.dcu.ie/kerra/ here under research for images). Only about ten people turned up, but those who did were appreciative of the fact that such research had taken place, they met new people and had a glass of wine.

What struck us was the fact that many of them didn't know each other and had no facility through which they could meet. Our research indicated that there were people in Ireland who had gained considerable experience abroad but even at the height of the Celtic Tiger it was still a hard sell to get either national funding agencies or international publishers to invest in a start-up games company in Ireland. There were exceptions: Kapooki secured venture capital funding in 2000 to develop an online turn based game; Eirplay and Havok benefited from seed funding from Enterprise Ireland. Even then it wasn't easy.

The summer of 2002 saw the development of the gamedevelopers.ie concept. We wanted to create an online resource to assist networking between companies and individuals interested in games development. Letters to different companies and funding agencies failed to secure funding but in late 2003 two suiters came forward with enthusiasm for the project: Nokia and 02. By Jan. 2003 we had hired two multimedia students from DCU to develop the project and with assistance from a number of parties the project went live in March. Late April saw the official launch of the site in the Guinness Storehouse – and a crowd about five times larger than that which greeted the earlier research report turned up. They weren't disappointed: Steve Collins, Chief Technical Officer with Havok gave an insightful talk about the games industry and the food was great. People stayed to mingle afterwards and retired to a nearby drinking emporium after to hear stories of Irish antics at GDC.

Press coverage of the launch in Ireland was small, with The Digital Hub's newsletter and the Sunday Independent (May 4th) the exceptions. But through word of mouth various industry publications abroad picked up the story. The editor of Gamesindustry.biz, who turned out to be Irish, contacted us and ran a story which can be found at http://www.gamesindustry.biz/content_page.php?section_name=dev&aid=1473 this address

Develop magazine also ran a few lines saying; ‘Only so many coders can squeeze into a pub, so the nascent Irish development industry has got itself a new center of operations.'

shindigs

It is ironic that in fact the website has led to face to face meetings in pubs and from September 2003 there have been monthly shindigs on either the last Thurs or Friday of the month in Mahaffeys in Dublin. The shindigs are informal but each month one or two new faces turn up and they are a way for new people to make some friends and get some pointers. In December a small group held a shindig in Belfast too.

From the start companies and academics were supportive of the site with Havok providing an early article on their experiences of GDC 2003 and Hugh McCabe from Blanchardstown IT on his experiences of SIGGRAPH. We have a few regular freelance journalists contributing and despite the fact that the site is run mainly entirely on a voluntary basis it has held together well.

Launch of the N-Gage Challenge

Call it coincidence but no sooner was the site up that we had news to report. April saw the launch of the N-Gage challenge, a joint initiative between Nokia and Upstart Games to find exciting game concepts for Nokia's new platform. While we still await confirmation of the winner the final five were available on the web and generated some interesting comments on the forums of gamedevelopers.ie See community/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=158here

Bernard Stolar Talk

No sooner had we gotten over E3 and talk of Sony's new PSP than Enterprise Ireland organised a seminar with Bernard Stolar, formerly of BAM Entertainment, and Havok's Paul Hayes. Around 40 people turned up to hear Stolar's insights into the industry and how to, or how not to, get along. See our feature report from July features/index.php?article=6here

Edinburgh International Games Festival & Dare to be Digital 2003

August is usually silly season for news but this year Scotland launched an International Games Festival to coincide with their annual summer cultural festival. Since I was in Scotland anyway I went along and an Irish accent proved a strong marker as a group of Irish people working at home and abroad gathered over coffee. The next day I went to meet with people from the University of Abertay to talk about their game courses and their research into games. See features/index.php?article=8here

Prior to that it had become apparent that many Irish students who wanted to study game design went across the waters to the UK and in particular to Abertay. Some of these participated in a competition called ‘Dare to be Digital' which to me seemed like a great way to bridge the gap between college and work in a company. In September we were pleased to announce an Irish interest in one of the winning teams who developed an RPG called Demon Lore.



New Game Design Courses in Ireland

But perhaps this brain drain to UK institutions will be no longer. 2003 was the year that academic institutions in Ireland started to take games seriously. On this website we have a list of courses and research in Irish colleges and universities which are of relevance to games (see resources/here) but notably in September Ballyfermot Senior College launched a two year Higher National Diploma in Game Design to complement their one year LUDO course and the North West Institute for Further and Higher Education in Derry launched a one year Higher National Certificate in Interactive Computer Entertainment. Both colleges are working with Torc Interactive and will be using their game engine as a teaching tool. 2004 is likely to see new courses in Letterkenny IT, Dundalk IT, Carlow IT and Ulster University.

Formation and launch of IGDA Ireland chapter

The Autumn is a good time to get people into pubs and Tony Kelly came up with an inspired excuse to darken the doors of some licensed establishments – form an Irish chapter of the IGDA. He got immediate support from companies and the first committee meeting took place in Nov., in a pub, just before that month's shindig, in another pub. Nothing like fulfilling national stereotypes eh! The committee started to put structures in place for an Irish chapter and to plan a launch event.

Ernest Adams, founder of the IDGA was a suitably high profile keynote speaker for the launch on the 8th of Jan. 2004 and it was well attended to boot. Again the Digital Hub through the Liberties Learning Initiative and Diageo alongside Enterprise Ireland came forward to fund and host the event. Ireland's IGDA chapter has a presence now on the IGDA website at http://www.igda.org/dublin/index.htm http://www.igda.org/dublin/index.htm but there is also a thread devoted to this topic on gamedevelopers.ie community/forums/forumdisplay.php?s=&forumid=13See here.



Play exhibition & Dare to be Digital Ireland Information Day, Digital Hub

Speaking of the Digital Hub; not only did gamedevelopers.ie get a regular plug in their monthly newletters but the Hub was proactive in other ways too. An early signal of what was to come was the launch of their fourth exhibition on ‘Play'.

Shortly afterwards the Digital Hub through their Liberties Learning Initiative announced that in 2004 the University of Abertay's Dare to be Digital' competition would be opened to Irish teams and the team selected to develop their game concept into a prototype would be housed in the Digital Depot on Thomas Street in Dublin over the summer of 2004.

A very successful information day was held in early Dec. in the Digital Depot when around 200 people turned up to hear visitors from Abertay introduce the competition and a roundtable with industry and government agency representatives discuss the opportunities and difficulties faced by digital games companies in Ireland. To my knowledge it was the first really open public discussion on this topic and it was great to see people engaging with issues like skill development, company finance and business opportunities for Irish companies. We understand that a video of the event will be available from the Digital Hub and a report on the event was posted under news in Dec. news/index.php?article_number=63See here.

Game companies move into the Digital Depot

The newly refurbished enterprise space, the Digital Depot, became home to a number of digital media companies in 2003 including game companies. Havok was the first Irish games company to move in (index.asp?i=206index.asp?i=206) and again in 2003 the company was recognised internationally by the Game Developer's Frontline Awards in the middleware category. flanomination.htm#2002winnersMore info here.

Just this month Havok was jointed by Mistaril who are involved in indie PC game development (www.mistaril.com). Mistaril's first game ‘Space Station Manager' is a finalist in the Independent Games Festival to be held in San Jose, California in March 2004 ( ). We wish them luck!

Update on existing companies

And what of the other companies and where have we got to since the ‘Loading' research report was published in March 2002. Well by the end of 2003 the number of companies had risen to 19 and the numbers employed to 360 approximately. One of the companies listed in 2001 failed to get their business in advergaming off the ground and another company which was listed lost their main game developer who went freelance. But these companies were joined by new mobile publishers, middleware companies, returning Irish emigrants and some English developers whose wives happen to be Irish and wanted to return home. The IDA's job is made somewhat easier by these women!

Existing indigenous mobile companies signed important distribution deals in 2003 with UpStart announcing a deal with Konami online in November and Eirplay Games announcing a deal with Trust 5, amongst others. Kapookie became an approved X-Box development studio and are pitching their latest prototype to publishers as we speak. Torc Interactive became a fully fledged games company in late 2002 and not withstanding the odd excursion to Dublin for the shindigs they have been beavering away on their game engine. Rumour has it they are showing it to publishers so we will bring you news on this as soon as we have it.

Meedja in Dundalk consolidated themselves in 2003 and will be looking to grow in 2004. Meanwhile Demonware, formerly Phorest, are currently trialling their multiplayer networking technology and 2004 could be a big year for them. Finally, that gang of returned Irish emigrants who turned up at one of the shindigs this year have formed a company, Bugaboo Studios, and are working away on a console title. So unlike in 2001 we now have two companies each with a console game in production.

We keep coming across companies who are keeping their heads low but perhaps some of our readers can enlighten us? Does anyone know anything about Broken Edge Studios in Athlone and Deep Voodoo Gaming in Belfast? If so let us know….And while we would not like to spread rumours it would be wise to watch the people's republic of Cork for another emerging company in 2004!

Of the major internationally owned companies Intel's IT Innovation Centre won a major international award for skoool.ie in late 2003 and are working on educational game concepts as we speak. Both Microsoft and Vivendi continue to localise games in Ireland (and are Ireland's largest employers in the games field with over a 100 full timers between them) and there is much potential there for additional activities to develop, especially as their online projects emerge. Sony, while mainly a marketing operation in Ireland, are also a useful actor on the scene and importantly they provided gamedeveloper.ie users with tickets to their annual party in the Red Box in August.

Given the expansion of companies in the past two years gamedevelopers.ie is launching a company directory to provide users with a list of companies operating in game development and associated services in Ireland. This will complement the skills directory which will, from now on, only include freelancers and students who are looking for work in this area. We hope you will help us to expand these two resources and perhaps revise your current entries if you have them. They will provide an important map of the key players in this industry in Ireland.

Policy for the games industry in Ireland

Directories of companies and skills are important when it comes to visibility and lobbying for appropriate policies to develop the games industry in Ireland. In 2003 Forfas (who develop industrial policies for Enterprise Ireland and the IDA) consulted widely with companies and gamedevelopers.ie on ways to assist the industry to develop in Ireland. Our policy submission is available on the site resources/setting_up/index.php?article_number=3 here and we look forward to hearing the results of this process in 2004.

We also understand that the IDA have developed their own internal policy on the games industry, although this document will not be published, and we know they have been consulting widely with a number of companies who are interested in establishing operations in Ireland – amongst these we are pleased to welcome TKO-Software to Ireland and they have a number of jobs currently available (See community/jobs/ community/jobs/ ). 2004 should also see a report on the supply and demand for skills in the digital content industry from the Expert Group on Future Skills and the games industry in included in this study.

Hobbyists

And we mustn't forget that for some people developing games is a hobby and not an occupation. If you are interested in this side of things take a look at the group who are developing Irish scenery for Microsoft's flight simulator (see ./www.ifsd.ie./) and the very active game threads on www.boards.ie full of people working together and sharing game development tips. Our cover image is from the Gael Con in Clontarf Castle last Halloween where I saw numerous fans playing their favourite board, table and card games.

So the final analysis is positive and we are pleased that gamedevelopers.ie has been there to record these developments, controversies (e.g. about the GAA game going down under) and the ‘rare' rumours. We look forward to your contributions and reporting on your activities in 2004.

Author Bio: Aphra Kerr is a full time researcher based in STeM (Centre for Society, Technology and Media) at DCU.

Thanks to the Digital Hub for the images of Ernest Adams etc. from the IGDA launch

Previous Features

Back 
[01.10.03] SIGGRAPH in San Diego, 2003. by Hugh McCabe
[11.09.03] Education Pioneers by Aphra Kerr
[05.08.03] Advice from Beyond - Dave Perry by Jamie McCormick
[04.07.03] Stolar speaks to Irish developers by Gearóid Reidy
[04.06.03] Celtic inspiration at E3 by Pavel Barter
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