Ireland lays out its five year plan for video game growth
GamesIndustry.biz looks at the key findings of the Forfas report on Ireland's budding games business
Today the Irish government made clear its commitment to making the country a hub for games development, and promised both to offer tailored incentives and support to companies, much in the same way that Korea, France and Canada have all done with great success.
The basis for much of the discussion that will decide what sort of tax and financial packages are offered, and what sort of support companies will be able to expect, will be based not just on the government's discussions with major industry names, but also on the findings of a Forfas report - The Games Sector In Ireland: An Action Plan For Growth.
This report focuses on six key areas vital for that growth, and summaries for each are provided below.
Developing an International Cluster
The report suggests the creation of a Cluster Development Team made up of between eight and ten spokespeople from both the industry and government. Over two years this team would action the recommendations made in the reports.
"A key focus of the Cluster Development Team (CDT) will be to build tangible links between the indigenous and multinational games companies in Ireland, such that on the one hand indigenous games companies can demonstrate their capabilities, understand the corporate view of the games industry and build relationships, while on the other, multinationals can derive the benefits of new creative inputs."
It also recommends exchange programmes between developers and publishers.
"The 'exchange' of talent may take the form of a single inter-firm placement (for example a multinational company, providing mentor or technical support to a start-up development studio) or the establishment of an 'incubator desk' within a multinational games company that would facilitate mutual learning."
Enhancing Skills and Experience
Education is currently a hot topic in the games industry and the report covers the matter extensively, and identifies a number of potential issues that could threaten the growth that the government and Games Ireland are hoping for.
It points out that in the short term, senior roles within the games industry are hard to fill, leaving it to overseas recruitment to fill the gap. At the other end of the scale, graduates need to be supplied with up to the minute learning to make sure they can find work in a fast moving industry.
To address these needs, the report sees two solutions.
"No further increases in the labour tax wedge should be introduced and when feasible reduce marginal rates of tax below 50 per cent to retain Ireland's attractiveness for international talent."
The Special Assignment Relief Programme, or SARP, could also be improved.
"The Department of Finance should explore the reasons for the low take up of the SARP relief, and determine how it could be better promoted, or whether there are alternative tax policy options which would be better placed to ensure that Ireland can compete internationally to attract mobile highly skilled workers."
To address recruitment needs, Forfas also highlights the importance of on-going training and development, through high level ICT skills, skills conversion courses and professional development via higher education establishments and professional training companies.
Investment by firms in on-going training and development is key so that they maintain agility.
"Investment by firms in on-going training and development is key so that they maintain agility and keep abreast of new developments in technologies and business processes."
As for young people and graduates, the work to promote growth will start early, in schools with game based learning software provided by e-learning and game developers, and continue with better partnerships between the industry and higher education institutes to provide relevant training and work placements.
A hothouse initiative is also proposed, as an element of undergraduate and PLC courses.
"The initiative would bring together, in multi-disciplinary teams, students from games, multimedia and animation courses (from a range of participating PLC and third level colleges) to work together on a game development project for a defined period."
The 'hothouse' would provide early exposure to multidiscipline team dynamics and team working and develop commercial awareness. Each of the teams would receive mentor support from industry practitioners."
Accelerating Growth in Creative Content Development
Ireland also wants to change the type of work games companies are bringing to the country. Often, like Bioware's recent office opening, it's customer service based departments, and the report suggests incentives for more development based work.
"Determine the scope, rationale and benefit of introducing a new horizontal financial instrument to incentivise creative concept and content development to enhance Ireland's attractiveness for investment and indigenous growth in games development."
One of the most important areas of the report for those within the games industry is the proposed financial support for companies. The report recognises that games development often struggles to find traditional investment due to its challenging production cycle, and aims to combat that by educating Irish investors and venture capital companies about video game investment opportunities, and through the new Competitive Start Fund.
"Carry out an early review of the EI Competitive Start Fund within the context of the Forfas Evaluation Framework to inform any necessary adjustments that would enhance effectiveness and facilitate an expansion of the model."
It also aims to offer companies support on business matters and investment through the creation of an International Advisory Panel.
Building International Visibility
Key to the aims to be a major hub for games development by 2016 is marketing and communications.
"Continue to develop and promote a marketing proposition for the games sector in Ireland under the Innovation Ireland brand, through a strong cohesive approach involving the enterprise agencies, industry and other relevant bodies such as the Irish Film Board and Culture Ireland."
One approach outlined in the report is the creation of global industry events to be held in Ireland, on everything from cloud gaming to analytics.
R&D and Innovation
Ireland already has the R&D tax credit & R&D funds, and this support needs to be made more visible to the games industry, both through a special guide and workshops aimed at videogames.
The role of social sciences as they relate to games will also be examined.
"Review the extent to which social sciences play a role in games industry RD&I - both currently and potentially as the sector evolves. If and when deemed appropriate, make the necessary changes to qualifying criteria associated with the R&D Tax Credit to include relevant social sciences as eligible fields of science in R&D activity."
"In the context of Cloud Computing there may be a need in the longer-term to enhance our direct Tier 1 telecoms connections to mainland Europe."
Copyright issues are also a concern, with a report on the current framework due by the end of the year, and the action points today focus on reducing costs for copyright litigation, the creation of a specialist IP court and reform at a European level.
Infrastructures - Broadband
The final point on the agenda recognises the importance of emerging trends in the storage, use, and transfer of data, and specifically cloud computing. A strong internet infrastructure is vital.
"In the context of Cloud Computing - which is directly relevant for the games sector - there may be a need in the longer-term to enhance our direct Tier 1 telecoms connections to mainland Europe."
The creation of a Next Generation Broadband Taskforce will help address issues in broadband speed and availability, which the report cites as vital to continued growth and investment.
"The forthcoming Forfás Report Ireland's Advanced Broadband Performance and Policy Priorities, sets out the suite of actions required to address barriers to investment, focused on areas of pro-investment regulation, infrastructure planning and investment, and demand stimulation."
"These actions need to be progressed as a matter of priority."