Going head to head with free-to-play gamers
The growth in popularity of free-to-play games may pose a challenge, but rumours of the demise of the gaming industry are way off the mark, according to those in the know
IN MARCH, when EA unveiled its Simpsons Tapped Out game for the iPhone, the demand was so great, the servers kept crashing.
EA was eventually forced to temporarily remove it from the App Store until it could fix the problem. Yesterday, it still wasn’t available again in the Irish App Store, although it has been reinstated in the US.
The crash highlights two things: consumers still love the Simpsons and all that comes with it, more than 20 years after the cartoon characters hit the screens, and free-to-play games are now incredibly popular with consumers.
That last point probably isn’t news to anyone who has been watching the industry over the past few years. The free-to-play model has exploded, partly thanks to platforms such as Facebook and mobile devices.
But what about the games industry? For years, studios and publishers have been investing time, effort and money into developing games that generate millions of euro in revenue. These days, you can log on to Facebook and play games without ever spending a cent.
When PopCap co-founder John Vechey confirmed that its Dublin studio was under threat in a blog post last week and that the company was reorganising its business globally, it cited the unexpected rise of mobile, social and the free-to-play model as examples of the changing industry. At its Seattle studio 50 jobs have gone, with layoffs reported to include senior members of the design team behind Plants vs Zombies.
The news that PopCap looks certain to leave its Dublin studio after six years, with the consequent impact on its 96 staff, came as a shock to the industry.
According to Forfas figures from October last year, there are more than 2,000 people working in the games industry in Ireland.
That figure has almost certainly increased further, with some high-profile additions that include the opening of EA’s Bioware support facility in Galway, an operation that employs hundreds.
But it was an indication that the games industry in Ireland wasn’t untouchable.
The closure of studios is commonplace in the business, says Richard Barnwell, formerly of Jolt and current chief executive of independent games studio Digit. However, because the industry is very much in its infancy here, such news came as a shock.
Games Ireland’s Paul Hayes says the current doubts surrounding PopCap in Ireland is not a reflection on the studio, but rather was a decision made on a strategic level. However, it is one that goes against the grain somewhat.
Although companies such as Zynga may be suffering a slump – Zynga’s shares have fallen 69 per cent since the flotation in December – it’s because they “soared so high for so long” rather than a reflection on the company’s fortunes, says Hayes.