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Meanwhile, over in Ireland... A Games Industry is Born

The Irish Games Industry is on the march. With now over 150 games related companies operating on the island of Ireland, this article looks at research conducted over the last two years, and how some changes four years ago have led to a boom in development

Dia Duit (Hello in Irish)

As the international games industry has powered ahead over the last decade, an island called Ireland on the North West Coast of Europe lapped it up as gamers and consumers. With one of the youngest and fastest growing populations in Europe, growing up since the 90's with ever increasing computing power, internet speeds (now up to 150mb fiber), and unrestricted access to the global internet, the consumer market generated an estimated €2,000,000,000 in sales, estimated at about 7% of the UK Games Market between 2000 and 2010.

The country has a long, if intermittant, history with the games industry. Atari set up manufacturing facilities for both arcades and consoles back in the 70's, Funcom developed Speed Freaks in Sandyford, Dublin in the late 1990's, and the early 2000's saw Irish middleware champions Havok and Demonware introduce their technologies to the industry, and distribution companies such as Selatra embeded themselves into the market. The mid to late 2000's saw a wide range of big name international companies set up support facilities in the country. The list is impressive: Microsoft, Sony Computer Entertainment, Apple, Electronic Arts, Webzen, Riot Games, Activision and Blizzard, among about thirty international companies based here.

There were some casulties, notably Popcap Games and Jolt Online Gaming, but as with other regions, these simply spawned several new experienced development teams, rising from the ashes and establishing for the first time small or mid scale studios  as best seen in SixMinute Studios (ex-Popcap) Digit Games Studios (ex-Jolt), Ballardia Games (ex-Jolt) and others.

But the real growth, the indie games scene, has seen nearly 100 small teams, ranging from individuals to four or five people teams, emerge. A key issue was resolved between 2009 and 2010 that had, until then, held back teams from formally setting up, as all of the supports could cater for middleware, classified as an internationally traded service, but excluded the actual content and games to the end user. So you could get grants and support to set up a bakery, but not a game developer, as it wasn't in the rules. After informal lobbying from industry over a decade, the rules were changed to include games content, but also intentionally vague enough to cover anything that could emerge from now on, and this opportunity opened up funding, jumped on by mobile developers.

As the barriers to entry disappeared to in front of them, and the over the air market direct to app stores gave them the access to the global games market, and Steam inspired them to try and get their projects GreenLighted, Competitive Startup Funds offered teams the chance to get two tranches of €25,000 seed funding (€50,000 in total) plus space, help, training and all sorts of support to get going . If they didn't get onto that specific program, enterprise-ireland.com, the Republic of Ireland Government Agency tasked with job creation, opened it's doors to the games industry in all of it's forms including tools, services, middleware, analytics and development, bringing them into Accellerator schemes such as iGAP, and letting them mix with the rest of the broader software industry for the first time.

In late 2011, the Irish Think Tank Forfás, published (http://www.forfas.ie/publications/2011/title,8426,en.php)  a strategy for the games industry, and elements of this were included in the Irish Government's Action Plan for Jobs 2012 (section 7.7 of http://www.djei.ie/publications/2012APJ.pdf), for the first time formally recognising the digital gaming industry as a distinct sector of the economy. They also gave a grand plan statement, hoping to double the size of the games industry in two or three years. The initial survey in 2012 was conducted to get a starting point that everyone could agree on, as I couldn't see where they were pulling their figures from, and if a government policy if going to be made work, data and figures need to be available need to be available to show the situation now, not a year and a half ago, given the speed of change within the industry. If it looks good to policymakers, it gets more focus, and it stimulates everything around it into action. It also helped that the last election pretty much turned around the decision makers from people in their 50's and 60's who didn't particular think much of games, with people in their 30's and 40's who have grown up on mobile phones, the internet, consoles and even if they don't play them themselves (although they do now on mobiles), they do with their children.

The previous generation thought games were for boys in their rooms. The current generation think it's a fairly feasible industry for their 18 year olds to have a punt at making a career in. And the policy went pretty much overnight in favour of making the games industry work.

I published The Games Industry in Ireland 2012 (Summary at http://www.gamedevelopers.ie/features/viewfeature.php?article=5652 / Full report at http://www.gamedevelopers.ie/features/TheGamesIndustryinIreland2012.pdf  ), in November 2012. It was an independtly released semi-follow up on Dr. Aphra Kerr’s and Dr. Anthony Cawley’s “The Games Industry in Ireland 2009”. Their survey estimated that there were 1,469 employed by 21 companies and noted that there had been a rapid growth in community support jobs in foreign owned companies. It also said that there were less than a handful of independent teams.

The 2012 survey identified 91% jobs growth since 2009 with over 2800 employed across 80 companies by October 2012. It also identified significant growth in the game development sector of activity in Ireland. 

One flaw is that I had missed out on about 20 companies on the report located in Northern Ireland, but this has been remedied for my 2013 report. The list is now impressive, I have compiled a comprehensive list at http://www.gamedevelopers.ie/forums/viewtopic.php?t=7208 which now numbers 160 companies that are involved in the games industry on the island of Ireland. The majority are in game development, middleware, services or publishing, but it also looks at the retail market, supply chain, media, gaming venues and pr and marketing activities. 

In July 2013, I will be embarking on a detailed survey of all of these companies, to prepare job numbers for this year, to see how we are growing over time. With a wide range of teams of five, ten or fifteen people coming together to work full-time on game development in Ireland, a wave of Irish developed games are hitting the market on app stores and digitial distribution platforms. Ballardia Game's WorldOfTheLivingDead.com, BatCatGames.com 's P-3 Biotic, BitSmithGames Kú: Shroud of the Morrigan (kuthegame.com) and Digit Games Studio's Kings of the Realm (www.kingsoftherealm.com) now the vanguard of the games which began development in Ireland last year, hitting the market this year. 

It's going to be an interesting year for the Irish Games Industry, and hopefully there's a hit in among them to encourage everyone else who will be hitting the market later this year, and into next year. 

On the ground, the situation has also changed. If you're from Ireland and emigrated in the 2000's, there was nothing on the ground if you actually wanted to make a game and get a career. This has changed permanently. It's a bit chaotic, but there is a buzz of creativity and colaborration. I am asking expat staff to participate in an expatriate survey at http://tinyurl.com/ismaithliomcacamilis which I will be using in conjunction to my Irish industry research to spot areas of strengths and weaknesses across different job types, and to get feedback on why you left.

College across the country offer game development, animation and design courses, organisations like LIT Thurles have ran Phil Bourke's GamesFleadh.ie, now in it's 10th year. GameDevelopers.ie , a website for helping the indigenous industry is now in it's tenth year too, while  GamesIreland.ie (Industry Association & Lobby Group) and Pulse College / Windmill Lane Studios (yep, U2's one) have set up an incubator space to enable many of the teams that exist to have access to space to work, network and share knowledge. The DigitalSkillsAcademy.com is running courses to help people move out of  unemployment, as while they worked in other sectors, with over 1 million playstations in a country with 1.6 million houses, many people are bringing their knowledge to the games industry to complement a hobby, that they can now make a career from, filling out many of the business roles that there has been a severe skills gap until now.

The other main skills gaps seem to be programming in the North, and Animators and Artists in the Republic. Mid and Senior experienced positions across all areas of design and development are there, but thinly spread, but with studios forming at an increasing rate, there are now more opportunities than ever for people to move to Ireland. And if it doesn't work out, they have a decent change to get loca job as a plan B.

There are regular events, such as globalgamecraft.com have already brought hundreds of developers together to help each other and collaborate, and a thriving development scene has begun to emerge in the North, Dublin and Galway, with some smaller clusters scattered around the rest of the country.

So to finish with the blog post, if you're Irish, please check in via the short survey at http://tinyurl.com/irishexpatgamessurvey2012 and check in that way :) If you are interested in moving back to Ireland to work, there's always friendly people at GameDevelopers.ie to help you get reacquainted.

If you're interested in bringing a team over to set up, ConnectIreland.com, a supporting team to IDAIreland.com, can help you get set up with office space and all the basics so you can hit the ground running very quickly, and with many of the games courses graduating their first and second, 3 or 4 year trained development students over the coming months into the local industry, there is a passion there that is creating some beautiful games.

It's a good time to be in Ireland, and not just for The Gathering, as looking ahead at the next couple of years, the world is going to be introduced to games, Irish style. There were less than two handfuls of games released in the entire decade of the 2000's. From now on that changes, as at least two or three irish developed games a month will emerge on the market from this Summer. 

Slán Leat! (Goodbye in Irish) 

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