Ireland: the new gaming platform?

18 Jul 2007

With the gaming industry worth over €30bn worldwide and growing, Trinity College’s new Masters in Interactive Entertainment Technology aims to push Ireland to the forefront.

The games industry in Ireland is still in its infancy says Steve Collins, director of Trinity College Dublin’s new games development masters, but it is growing steadily, driven by smaller companies finding their market niche.

Trinity’s new masters course aims to provide talented graduates and to act as a bridge to the IT industry.

“With my background in gaming, I’m very keen that what we produce in an educational environment is directly relevant to the industry,” says Collins (pictured).

Already there exists successful companies like Demonware and Havok, which demonstrate the emerging co-existence of niche providers and bigger multinationals like Microsoft and Activision.

Havok, a Trinity College spin-off founded by Collins, provides the physics that make games like Halo 2 look so realistic, and is used in many of the best selling Xbox and PS3 games on the market right now.

It emerged earlier this year that Demonware, which made the software that enables gamers to challenge one another over the internet, was acquired by the world’s number three games maker, Activision for around €15m.

“Multinationals don’t play a huge role in games development in Ireland,” says Collins. “Most of their activities are centred around localisation or testing.

“Therefore I think there is huge opportunity here, but it lies in companies being very creative and identifying niche markets rather than trying to go up against the big players.”

There are many dimensions to this, explains Collins, it might mean finding platforms, or looking for a unique element of games design or gameplay that can be exploited to create a market opportunity.

“The role of these smaller businesses is about being disruptive, about identifying new market opportunities.”
To this end Collins sees a number of roles that academia plays. It involves educating people for the future of the current industry but also producing graduates that will create new industries.

“We work closely with people like Microsoft but at the same time I want these folks coming out creating the new Havoks and Demonwares. That’s what it’s all about.”

But is this new masters essentially big boys playing with big toys?

“You might as well say a degree in aeronautical engineering is all about flying kites,” he says. “The graduates may well be better at creating and flying kites but it isn’t the be all and end all.”

The masters course is not just about gaming, explains Collins. It is the wider picture of where game technology is evolving to and how it is converging with TV, high-definition projection systems and online technology.

The games market, in comparison to the overall software industry, is often labelled as narrow or limited. However, it is one of the fastest growing markets in the world, says Collins.

He points out that the traditional games industry is growing at a rate of 10pc per year, while the mobile sector is growing even more rapidly at 50pc. “This is an exciting industry. This is an industry with opportunities.”

Trinity’s course is not unique to third level education. The first degree in games development was introduced in 2004 by the Carlow Institute of Technology, with the blessing of both Havok and Microsoft Xbox.

Students of this course will graduate in September of 2008, and will now have an opportunity to bring their skills to post-graduate level both with Trinity’s offering, and another similar course in Letterkenny.

“We’ve tried to focus on core technology and leverage our research capabilities here in Trinity College. That’s how we can claim that ours is a new venture.”

The other aspect says Collins, is all about getting students engaged.

“In this era of TV and 20-second attention spans we have to look at new ways of education.

“This is an exciting growing market that has a need for graduates, that is very much underpinned by serious science but which can be presented to students in a very appealing way.”

However, suspicion and distrust still lurks within employers and the IT sector here in Ireland.

Although it is a developing market, people still look to the rise and fall of the dotcom era and fear a repeat performance.

“The dotcom boom was a blip in the market. The problem was that everyone thought it was a sustainable blip and started to invest heavily in the infrastructure around, keeping that at a sustained level.”

Consequently school leavers are not flocking to technology related courses like they have done in the past, and qualifications in appealing areas like games development are hoped to remedy this.

“Every part of the industry, that I’m aware of, is crying out for undergraduates, more graduates, greater skills and better training,” says Collins. “Students think ‘Oh, I’m much better off being a doctor or a lawyer because it’s a guaranteed salary’. The fact is that the jobs market is changing rapidly.”

Collins states that we have done well in the past few years on the back of multinational investment, but in order to sustain or grow this, we have to look more and more inwards to create a fourth-level economy.

Courses like Trinity’s Interactive Entertainment Technology will put Ireland in a position to create niche companies that can play havoc with the global gaming industry right now and in the future.

Marie Boran