This week is an important week for the Irish industry. Like many other countries, computer games often struggling to gain official recognition as a distinct sector of the economy. But Ireland this week drew an important definition to make the digital games industry an official cornerstone for growth. Its inclusion as part 7.7 of the Action Plan for Jobs 2012 is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people for over a decade.
This week also saw the launch of the search for the Irish (North & South) team to be entered into Dare to Be Digital at the Department of Education, and the Games Ireland Gathering 2012 brought together over two hundred of us in Dublin's docklands.
While much of the economy is in a flux, the Irish games industry is one of the few sectors that has shown measurable growth. So how has all of these come together? Anyone trying to build a career when there effectively wasn't an industry to begin with had 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.
A bit of history
In the early 2000's, the Irish games industry was focused on middleware and its two most successful exports, Intel owned Havok and Activision owned Demonware. Anyone looking to get a job at a developer went to college, built up their own experience, and went to work abroad in the UK or North America.
For smaller scale studios until two or three years ago, even getting started wasn't an option as computer games weren't eligible for any state support. As middleware was sold to developers, it was eligible as an internationally traded service, but the actual content that gamers buy wasn't. Some teams tried anyway but prohibitive costs for development kits for console, and piracy on PC meant that there were less than a handful of games developed in Ireland and released for the guts of a decade.
But while the broader economy dealt with a financial and construction collapse, a different set of circumstances favoured the games industry. A convergence of broadband becoming ubiquitous, digital distribution, new business models, cheaper tools, the opening of console download channels to small projects, new mobile devices and the explosion of social games occurred. Ireland now sits well placed to benefit and become a leading light for the post-disk games industry in Europe.
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.
Recently, there have been a growing number of 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, Irish developers are announcing new games across various platforms on an almost monthly basis.
Spurred by the success of the middleware companies, many service-based companies offering localisation or customer support management secured large industry contracts.
On the ground, colleges have co-ordinated a lot with industry via events such as the Games Fleadh, the cross-platform community of developers through semi-regular GameDevelopers.ie shindigs (read piss-up in a pub) and now more recently the Games Ireland Gathering at a professional level.
Ireland has become a crossroads for the technology industry with incumbents already including Google, Facebook and LinkedIn. The country hosts an impressive list of companies with sizeable operations at Activision, Big Fish Games, Blizzard, EA Bioware, Gala Networks Europe, Microsoft, Popcap, Riot Games and Zynga.
These are employing about two thousand mainly in non-development services ranging from local offices to HQs for the European market. The kind of jobs that are now available include localisation, customer support, publishing, limited development, QA and other important functions that are necessary for a modern games company.
Government and agencies
The Jobs Plan announced this week reinforces the Forfa's report and hopes to continue to attract new international companies via the IDA.
For indigenous companies, Enterprise Ireland now have several funds open to game developers, as well as incubation programs, access to mentors and support which is attracting teams who are ready with a game to go to market, and for expatriates to return to Ireland and get set up. The Interactive Games Association of Ireland, established in 2011, has also brought key players in the games industry to Ireland and has begun running networking events for the broader industry.
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.
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 will have fewer barriers to entry and can now get a game out to a large audience over the Internet and start making revenue in a rather short period of time compared to the previous decade.
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.
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, operator of the www.gPotato.eu games portal. He has worked in the Irish games industry for over a decade, including at Gamesworld (now GameStop), Demonware, Xbox Live Gaming Centre and Jolt.
Notes: This article was originally published on GameDevelopers.ie, and a survey of the Irish games industry (and expatriates) in February 2012 is being ran to give a benchmark for future growth to be measured by.