Everyting to play for
With the phenomenal success of the global games industry, Laura O’Brien examines where Ireland’s position is in the gaming market and what needs to be done to further it
THE global games industry is growing faster than ever. With many developers producing some of the highest quality of games at the moment, it’s not surprising to see this translate into sales.
Halo: Reach, the latest edition of the highly popular Halo franchise, made $200m worth of sales in the first day of its release. This eclipsed takings of the three-day opening weekends of blockbuster hits such as Toy Story 3, Iron Man 2 and Alice in Wonderland.
Halo: Reach is not the only game to have got such high sales. Grand Theft Auto IV generated $310m in sales on its first day and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare topped this, pulling over $401m of sales on its release date in November 2009.
The social gaming industry is taking off too. According to an NPD report, 20pc of the US population have played a game on social networking sites, with 35pc of social gamers being completely new to gaming.
Considering how lucrative this industry currently is, what position is Ireland in to seize some of it? The country is home to many successful games companies which are making their mark worldwide.
Irish companies such as Havok and DemonWare are acclaimed globally for their development in software. Other international companies that have set up base here include Activision, Blizzard and Gala Networks Europe.
One such person who is acutely aware of the gaming industry in Ireland is Dylan Collins. He founded DemonWare and sold it to Activision, before setting up an internet games company, Jolt Online Gaming.
“We are probably as big as some of the other gaming hubs in the world such as Vancouver and Montreal,” says Collins.
“Generally speaking, when the big American online games companies look to go to Europe to establish a presence, they are establishing it in Dublin.”
With so many companies setting up in Ireland, it has already paid off in terms of employment.
According to a survey undertaken by Aphra Kerr from National University of Ireland Maynooth and Anthony Cawley from University of Limerick, there was a 400pc increase in employment in the industry from 2002 to 2009.
“There have been quite a few multinational games companies moving into Ireland and so that’s given us links into the global games industry, giving people opportunities to work in certain areas,” says Kerr.
Irish companies are particularly involved in support, social gaming, localisation and middleware.
Collins points out that, with technology developers like Havok and DemonWare, iPhone developers and social gaming developers like Jolt, Ireland’s gaming industry has a broad knowledge base.
“Initially it was technology but I think more and more it’s moving into content for both browser games and social games as well as the smartphone market.”
Indeed the industry focus on social gaming seems inevitable. Social games are much cheaper to make and are doing incredibly well, considering the report from NPD.
But what is the state of console gaming in Ireland? Certainly, it’s hard to ignore the previous successes of Halo: Reach and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in sales.
Kerr points out that there are numerous bridges to pass in order to develop a console game, which can be daunting for new companies.
“The console games industry is difficult to break into and every game has to be approved by the hardware manufacturer and a major international publisher,” she says.
“There are fewer barriers in getting to market in the social and casual game spaces, which are easier for new companies to break into.”
However, this focus on social and mobile gaming could be a good thing, considering the direction of the industry as a whole.
“If you think about the growth of the internet per se and that consoles are even offering online content services, you can see that the future is going to be some combination of the online network and, perhaps, mobile devices,” says Kerr.
“I think it is good that we have expertise in that area and so we should be well positioned then as things change.”
Many universities and colleges have set up games development courses in the past few years, meaning that Ireland has created a significant pool of games programmers and designers as a result.
Collins believes that more government support is needed to help further improve the developmental space of the Irish game industry.
“I think the companies that are here established a variety of different functions: some are development, some are support and some are a mix of the two,” he says.
“Ideally you want to see the companies that are in support moving over to development, and I think the potential to do so is going to be based on what government support can be given and ways in which we can show that our labour pool has the right set of skills for them.
“We need to make it as easy as possible for people to be here and work here and we need to make sure that employment laws are very flexible.”
Collins also emphasises the need for a stronger focus on science in all levels of education and believes an “overnight sensation” would happen globally if the artist’s tax exemption was extended to gaming.
According to Kerr, students need more than development and creative training in order to be successful.
“We have to make sure that the students not only have the technical knowledge and the design knowledge, but also the business knowledge such as how to break into the industry, how to run a company and how to connect and go to the right festivals and conferences,” she says.
Collins points out that even more multinational companies can be brought here.
“We could re-establish direct flights from the west coast of the US to Ireland,” he suggests.
“As a country that is trying to get more and more companies to relocate here, not having direct flights from the west coast is simply a killer.”
He adds that our existing base of well-known companies can help our cause.
“Companies take comfort when other companies are somewhere. The hard part has already been done. We’re in a very, very good position, it’s just not enough people know about it.”
Ultimately, thanks to numerous multinational companies already here, our skilled workers and global demand, Ireland has a very strong position in the global gaming industry.
While the current economic climate is making this more challenging, with a greater push and more understanding, it can continue to grow.
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