Good and bad news for Irish gaming
NET RESULTS:When you have experienced one bubble, it’s easy to fall into the trap of treating every positive trend with suspicion. Take the Irish games industry. It has been earmarked by the Government as a potential source of jobs in the coming years, provided we can get the formula right.
A report by Forfás published late last year outlined exactly what needed to be done. There are more than 2,000 people employed in the industry and that number could be more than doubled by the end of 2014 if the sector is given the right support. It is being held up as a shining example of the economy’s potential, a way we can excel.
But a few months ago, that particular shine was looking a bit tarnished. Within the space of a few months, Blizzard announced it was cutting 200 jobs from its Cork operation, retailer Game shut its Irish stores with little notice to staff, and PopCap Ireland, one of the examples of what Ireland could do given half a chance, closed its studio here.
Suddenly, a sector that could have created thousands of jobs was looking a little less of a sure thing, no matter how many industry experts pointed out that such occurrences are natural in the market – the industry just hadn’t experienced it yet.
A survey on the games industry published last week had some positive news, however. While we were being dazzled by the growing headcount at the multinationals, Irish developers have been working away quietly, building development teams and creating games.
In March, the survey estimates, there were more than 3,300 people working in the games sector. That fell to just over 2,800 in October after the series of high-profile cuts took effect. The interesting thing, though, is that, since 2009, the number of jobs in the industry had almost doubled, and the number of development teams was up 292 per cent. And more are being added all the time.
Most of those teams are working on smaller games but, when it comes to the games industry and the wider tech space, it’s from these small enterprises that big things can grow. After all, the firms dominating the market today all had to start somewhere.
Not every one of these development teams will go on to produce a hit but, for the small number that do make it, the potential is enormous. And that’s good news for Irish developers.
The games market is growing, fuelled by the rise in popularity of smartphones and tablets. Barriers to entry are lower than ever and the potential audience is global, thanks to app stores that give access to customers of a particular platform.
The beauty of mobile gaming is that you don’t need to be a major studio with hundreds of staff and the latest equipment to create compelling apps. All you need is some talent, a bit of technical know-how and an idea of what people want from mobile games.
The goal for Irish firms
This is where Irish games companies need to be: creating content rather than merely localising it for a European audience; needing the support teams rather than always being the ones providing support.
Support jobs will come and go but creating intellectual property is where the real value will come from. Companies need that killer app – the software that makes the industry take notice, the game that propels them from the small time to the major stage.
There is an abundance of talent in the Irish industry, and there are plenty of home-grown success stories to inspire such as Havok, now owned by Intel, and DemonWare, which was bought by Activision Blizzard.
And there are plenty of people and organisations willing to give a leg up to smaller firms trying to establish themselves, such as indie games studio Digit, which runs its own games incubator.
A few more success stories could put the industry in a position where it gets noticed for its ability to create content, grow our own industry and build something to be proud of.