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Thursday 23 November 2017

Ireland spent an estimated €206m on video games last year but how many were Irish

Estimated €206m spent in Ireland on games in 2014
Estimated €206m spent in Ireland on games in 2014
Frank Whelan

Frank Whelan

Irish sales of video games went up an estimated 11% in 2014, growing as next gen consoles build up steam.

The figures, produced by independent games industry researcher Jamie McCormick, highlight the ongoing appetite for games amongst Irish consumers and, at an estimated €43m VAT, the importance to the Government's coffers.

Unfortunately, Ireland's native game developers see little of this spend.

"If just 1% of this was spent on Irish games, it would make a huge difference to the native industry in both the North and South." says McCormick.

The Irish games industry has had mixed fortunes over the past years.

In 2011, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton announced an initiative aiming for 2,500 gaming jobs by 2014.

At the time, Minister Bruton said "These are sectors where, because of companies already located here, because of research being carried out here, because of the talent base we have or for other reasons, we have competitive advantage and therefore have the capability to attract more multinational companies, grow more indigenous companies, and ultimately create more jobs. Digital games is clearly one such sector. Not only do we have a base of ICT companies here which is the envy of many other countries, but we are fast developing an expertise in digital games specifically which can be a foundation for major jobs growth."

The future was looking bright for a sector that had been somewhat neglected amongst the buzz of general tech sector growth.

In 2012, the closure of PopCap Games in Dublin removed the country's only major content producer, leaving a few smaller studios, multi-nationals' service centres and a strong middleware sector. Even the aforementioned service centres weren't safe, with Blizzard cutting 200 jobs in Cork.

But 2012 also saw the arrival of Digit Game Studios. Although not at the scale of PopCap, the studio became the country's largest. Out of the ashes of PopCap came SixMinuteGames, based in Dublin and Rocket Rainbow in Galway, both companies joining an ever growing indie game developer scene, epitomised by the first Dublin Gamecraft held in February of the same year.

Digit's "Kings of the Realm" - screenshot with added wizard

Jump ahead to the end of 2014 and those 2,500 game jobs seem like a Kirby's dreamland. The government's Clustering Development Team setup back in 2011 is still in existence, but many of the members are unhappy with its effectiveness, including Digit's CEO, Richard Barnwell.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner (in an appropriately titled "Battle Lost in the plan for digital gaming jobs" article) Barnwell said “We put a lot of time into that particular group, but ultimately it was a waste of our time. No one on that board had any power, no one was actually listening. We did report after report and nothing happened. It ended up just being a big frustration for Games Ireland members.”

In an industry with an estimated 2015 value of $80bn, double that of film, it's understandable that the Irish games sector's wish list includes tax incentives similar to those enjoyed by the film industry here, but with the government think-tank stalled, this still looks unlikely.

So how to move the industry on?

There's a chicken and egg situation around that initial big hit. A massively successful Irish game would shine a light on the country's industry and no doubt bring it back onto the political agenda, but in a competitive global market that first Irish smash-hit would be a lot easier with government support.

The thinking that an undeniably successful game will snowball in to an avalanche of content is a credible one. In 2009 Finnish game company Rovio released Angry Birds, now a global phenomenon, which paved the way for fellow Finnish company Supercell, who founded in 2010 and were making $2.5m a day by 2013. With two billion-dollar start-ups, investors are now looking for the next big Finnish success.

Like many industries, an experienced major player in the territory creates off-shoots and new growth. Just look at PopCap, where a number of the country's current top development studios learnt their craft. If the state was as successful at landing a game studio as it has been at bringing in the Googles and Twitters of this world, the difference could be significant.

Ireland has the talent. We have the world class animators and artists, the mathematicians and programmers, and a growing cohort of game design graduates.

We have between 150 and 190 small game development studios in the country, because the options to get into games in Ireland are to emigrate or start-up your own operation. Some of these studios are producing world class games (such as Studio PowWow's Review: ShipAntics - The Legend of the Kiki Beast) so perhaps we won't have to wait long for the Irish breakthrough, but the road would certainly be more rainbow if Irish gamers picked up more Irish games.

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