By Noah Donnelly, 11/10/2012
The games industry is one of the few sectors showing solid growth in this economic climate. Forfás claim employment in the sector has grown five-fold since 2004, and Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton has noted the setup of 25 new companies in the industry since then. Multinational gaming giants employ thousands all over the country, and a new independent studio opens every month. So, perhaps it’s time to take a look at some of these developments, and ask the developers for their opinion on it.
In recent years, the IDA has been making big attempts to attract multinationals to our shores, and to encourage Irish people to set up their own enterprises. Their interest and activity in the software industry has led to the employment of over 35,700 people here, and software making up of 22% of total exports.
Ireland plays host to the European headquarters of several big players in the games industry, including Riot Games, Zynga, Gala Networks, Blizzard and Bioware. PopCap recently closed its 96-person Dublin office, however gaming giant Electronic Arts will create another 300 new jobs in its Galway centre, which already employs 400. However, all of the interesting stuff is happening with our very own companies.
Ireland has enjoyed the growth of many new software and games companies in recent years. Software company Havok was founded in the computer science department of Trinity College Dublin, and was purchased by Intel in 2007 for $110 million. Its software has been used in some of the biggest game and movie releases in the past decade, from the classic The Matrix to Guild Wars 2, the latest massively-multiplayer online (MMO) game to hit the world. Meanwhile, DemonWare’s online-multiplayer services are used by more than 280 million players worldwide. It was acquired by Activision in 2007 for €15 million.
However, the really exciting things are happening with the independent, or ‘indie’ studios. Game sales have slowly been moving from physical retail to online stores in the past few years. This has somewhat removed the need for publishers: there are no supply costs to be covered, and smaller developers can market their game virally through social media for free, and often no longer need the advertising power of publishing giants. Because of this, smaller indie studios are making waves in the gaming industry. Independents were finally seriously recognised after Swedish hit Minecraft was released in 2009 by Mojang Specifications and garnered over 5 million sales, and the indie scene has ballooned since then. The Irish government offers various grants to help indie start-ups in Ireland, and we already have some successes.
One such success story is Digit Games, possibly the largest independent studio in Ireland. Yesterday, October 10th, it signed a deal with Penguin Books to print a trilogy based on the story of its first game Kings of the Realm, even though the game has yet to be launched. Digit has also set up a ‘gaming incubator’ for smaller independents. The first two studios to join this programme are BatCat Games and Bitsmith Games. BatCat have already released their first title, P-3 Biotic, to much success, and Bitsmith are hard at work on their game Kú: Shroud of the Morrigan. It is set in a stylised version of Celtic Ireland, and is due to have an Irish translation on its release in the coming months.
There are many other independent studios in Ireland. Open Emotion studios were founded in Limerick in 2009. They have released titles like Mad Blocker Alpha, Revoltin’ Youth and Ninjamurai on Sony systems. Redwind Software Providers, founded in 2008, specialize in quiz games on mobile platforms, and recently opened an office in Los Angeles. Icon Games Entertainment, located in Wicklow, has released over 20 games on various platforms. Some other Irish indies include Eyesodic Games, 2Paperdolls, Nevermind Games and Pixel Wolf Studios.
I interviewed Alex Proctor, co-founder of Bluefox Game Studios in CountyDown, about what it’s like to run a small games studio. He admitted that “starting up the company has been a lot of fun and quite terrifying.” I asked him about his biggest challenge as an indie. “Getting noticed is difficult. I have tried to utilize social networks and make as many friends in the industry as possible.” Overall, his reaction was positive. “Everyone so far has been really helpful. I have generated more interest than I ever thought possible at this stage.” Bluefox’s first game, Horizon Fellowship, is due to be released next summer.
It is clear that with events like the Games Fleadh gaming convention in Limerick, and the Dublin GameCraft II game-jam coming up in Dublin this November, the Irish gaming scene shows no signs of slowing down. Maybe in the future, gaming will no longer be frowned upon, but until then, let’s just enjoy our current success.