It was probably not the best weekend in hindsight to hold the birthday shindig. The May bank holiday weekend is usually the first one with a bit of decent sun and most students head for home for the last pre-exam rest. Still about 40 people turned up to help to celebrate the third birthday of in the Digital Exchange building in Dublin.

My previous trips to the Digital Exchange building were all to hear about blue sky research which might one day come to fruition. How different it was to attend an event about commercial projects that Irish game companies are participating in. In fact there was a sense at this event that Irish game companies are starting to make waves in the mobile and casual games space as well as in middleware. Even before we had kicked off Bomberman from Bit Rabbit announced that he was about to leave his job to work full time on mobile games.

I opened the event with some photographs from the launch of the ‘Loading please wait’ working paper in 2002 from which the idea for developed. The website was launched in the Guinness Storehouse in April 2003 followed by a birthday event in 2004 in Toners pub and in 2005 in the Learning Studio in the Digital Hub. The Learning Studio was not available this year and so we moved to the auditorium where we had podiums, double screens, sound, lights and least I forget champagne! The Digital Hub kindly sponsored the venue for the birthday event although UpStart Games kindly sponsored the champagne!

The up tempo feel was only reinforced by Will Golby’s talk about casual gaming and the success of games like Bejeweled. PopCap games international have offices in Seattle and San Francisco but they are involved in both localisation and original content creation in the Digital Hub in Dublin and they are growing their numbers rapidly. Will gave us some tips on how to design for the casual gamer and some insight into what has worked and what has not worked for PopCap in this space.

Will was followed by Sarah Guiney from UpStart Games who announced they were officially three years old also! UpStart may have come to people’s attention in Ireland with the N-Gage challenge but they are making waves with their connections to Japanese mobile companies and the development of 3D games for advanced mobile handsets. Sarah talked about the games the company are working on, original game development and the development of their Cork office to supplement their Dublin headquarters.

The final industry speaker was Tony Kelly from Nephin Games. This month’s feature explores the origins of Nephin and their rapid expansion over the past year. Tony talked about the different games they are working on, about the importance of original IP and the different skills required by employees of mobile companies. He finished with some comments about the IGDA.

Following a brief break to top up the glasses we then moved onto the major business of the evening, the awards, sponsored by GameStop. The awards are our way of recognising the input of a number of people to the website, the games community in Ireland and the profile of the Irish games industry abroad. As has become custom, members of the forums nominate people and the winner is chosen by a complicated process of totting up votes. Where there is a close call we call upon some neutral person from outside the boards to help make the decision.

This year’s newbie award went to John Molloy (nifty) a student in Ballyfermot Senior College. John has been a regular at shindigs, a constant poster on the forums and has written a feature for us on games and education. The stamina award went to Dave Kearney (skyclad) whose input to in terms of posting, the site redesign in 2005 and behind the scenes technical support has been immense. The Salmon of Knowledge award went to Malachy Duffin (mal) from Cando games who knowledge of 3D shockwave interactive design and enthusiasm is regularly shared on the boards. The humour award this year went to again one of our overseas posters who has become a constant presence on the boards and who managed to make his way to the venue in time for the event! It went to none other than Ivan McCloskey (kyotokid).

Finally our group of the year award went to a company who has been consistently making headlines in 2005/6 with the announcement of major deals with international publishing companies. They not only produce great software but they also offer much sought after internships, even more sought after t-shirts, and on top of all that they tend to regularly attend shindigs and interact with the community. For their impact both internationally and at home this year’s group of the year award went to Demonware. I was only sorry I didn’t have a nice piece of carved glass for the recipients this year, but hopefully they will buy some classy game for the team which they can’t get for free from all those publishers they work with!

The final award of the night went to the audience who had given up the Friday of their bank holiday to be with us. Jamie McCormick from Multiplay Ltd., did a Gay Bryne on it and gave everyone in the audience a free pass for the new Xbox play centre on St. William Street. Jamie is the community manager for the new centre and again a regular on the boards. We wish him and Multiplay well with the new venture which I am sure will be well supported by regulars.

When the bubbles were drained from the bottles everyone headed to the quiet and cold confines of McGruders pub to be followed, I have heard, by all sorts of shenanigans. But you will have to ask everyone else about that – I was off duty by then.

A big thank you to John Hurley, Melissa Meehan and Laura Kiely from the Digital Hub for helping to organise the event, to Alain from French Wines Direct for having such great taste in wine and to Tansy Cowley, a student of photography, for taking photos for us on the night. And of course a final word of thanks to our industry speakers for generously giving of their time.