Virtuos subsidiary Black Shamrock recently announced that it will be nearly doubling its workforce—a move that brings the 120-person Irish studio up to about 200 employees.
Though not a full acquisition, the move is another indicator of the growth of large co-development companies that are taking a bigger and bigger role in triple-A and live services game development. Virtuos has spent 2022 picking up a number of small and mid-sized studios, and this massive increase in headcount at an existing studio shows that demand for these services is increasing.
Lukas Codr, general manager at Black Shamrock, told Game Developer in an e-mail interview that he and his colleagues are beginning to see deeper "integration" with the game studios hiring them out.
That means though his team are still working in fields that typically rely on co-development, they're now doing that work in in game engine, not just producing art assets, but a "fully-integrated functional piece of [a] game."
Codr had some other insights on the choice to expand in Ireland—including the challenges of dealing with an ongoing cost of living crisis. Here's what he wanted other developers to know:
Black Shamrock and Virtuos are expanding "across all disciplines"
Codr explained that Black Shamrock's headcount increase is meant to expand development across a wide number of fields. Specific disciplines the company is hiring for include game engineering, design, art, animation, as well as production and quality assurance. "The idea is to enable us to take care of more co-development projects and increase the size of our current projects," he said.
Most of those hired will be jumping onto projects that are partnered with other companies, but Codr also said that the company is "encouraged" to explore its own ideas.
@_Black_Shamrock recently announced our expansion plans for 2023. 🥳— Black Shamrock - A Virtuos Studio (@_Black_Shamrock) November 17, 2022
We're co-developing some of the biggest and best AAA video games in the world and we're looking for the most passionate and talented people to help us do so! ❤️🎮https://t.co/uuWnYvgPnj#gaming #gamingjobs pic.twitter.com/dEi3xbMitd
It's not clear if that means we'll be seeing any original games from Black Shamrock in the future, but the team already has full responsibility for developing full games—those just happen to be remakes or remasters (a notable trend in the video game industry).
Ireland's unique opportunities
Though Ireland is a hub for technology firms working in Europe, it's not a country we write frequently about on Game Developer (though by coincidence, it unveiled a new tax credit for game devs yesterday). Codr described the country as being a great "cultural fit" for the video game industry. "We always say that people in Ireland are natural-born game designers," he said. "If you look outside at the beautiful nature, castles, and towns, it already feels like you are living inside an RPG game."
But expansion in Ireland—particularly Dublin—doesn't come without costs. Dublin is currently experiencing a housing crisis that is driving up rent and housing costs in the area (Elon Musk's recent demand that all Twitter employees return to office surprised employees at the company's Dublin branch for this very reason).
Codr acknowledged that it's "one of the hurdles" Black Shamrock is facing. Both junior developers and experienced veterans with families have been impacted by rising housing prices. "There is no perfect solution to this problem," he said. Black Shamrock is apparently taking "several actions" to help current and new talent.
The studio's HR department is providing support for employees in search of housing, enacting a hybrid work model so employees don't have to commute, and looking into satellite offices across Ireland so employees can return to the office in more affordable regions.
Why else would a studio choose to partner with Black Shamrock? Codr pointed out one major geographical advantage his team has: Ireland is squarely between North America and the rest of Europe, meaning it's able to support developers on a workday that overlaps both regions.
With other co-development companies like Universally Speaking branching out into new fields, it's quite likely that we'll see companies like Black Shamrock (and other Virtuos subsidiaries) exhibiting a bigger presence in the video game industry in 2023 and beyond.
Update 11/28: A previous version of this story misclassified Codr's comments about Black Shamrock's work on original projects. The quote has been updated to reflect that the studio is encouraged to pursue "its own ideas."