IGDA: strong local firms are best chance for future

18 Oct 2004

Ireland needs to pursue high-value jobs if it wants to build a sustainable games industry, an international expert has urged. Jason Della Rocca, program director for the International Games Developers Association (IGDA), also recommended that Ireland should try to help indigenous companies to develop original games instead of attracting localisation work from well known multinational studios.

Della Rocca was in Ireland for Awakenings, the inaugural Irish game developers conference which was held in Derry last week. As well as giving a keynote address, Della Rocca also spoke to representatives of development agencies from Northern Ireland and the Republic, advising them on strategy for building an indigenous games sector.

He recommended that the local industry should be built from the ground up instead of attracting marquee names such as Electronic Arts for the sake of prestige. An Irish office of an international games company would simply be providing relatively low-level services such as outsourced development, localisation or quality assurance and such jobs would be at risk from lower cost economies, he said. “Outsourcing is not the way to go, it’s living hand-to-mouth,” Della Rocca suggested.

The games sector is not a labour-intensive market, he added: “Gaming is a knowledge industry.” However, an Irish company would still need to staff up in the right circumstances. “For example, a 15-man company could need to double its headcount if it won a deal with a games publisher,” he said. Irish games companies, he said, should also try to develop original games concepts or underlying technology and not simply rely on attracting contract work on an existing franchise.

Della Rocca noted that finding additional staff for an expanding business would require an educational structure capable of supporting indigenous growth. He expressed his disappointment that in Ireland, there seems to be too much of a focus on the technical aspects of games development to the detriment of other disciplines.

“You need to ensure diversity of talent beyond technology – foster the creative side like art, animation, design and writing, as well as business and marketing skills. If you’re only focusing on games as technology then you’re losing out on the bigger picture.”

Business acumen is increasingly important when the sector begins to achieve some scale, he said. He pointed to the example of France, where a previously successful games development industry ended up being “decimated”. “Companies had been run by artists. When projects are smaller, that’s fine, but when the leap was made, the artists couldn’t keep up, they weren’t managers.”

A similar fate befell many English games studios, where a strong background in programming didn’t help when it came to managing games development contracts involving larger budgets and greater amounts of people. “The industry here in Ireland is at an embryonic stage, you don’t have to do things the same way; come up with fresh ideas,” Della Rocca urged.

He also recommended that development agencies and funding groups should invest in as large a pool of games companies as the best chance of success. “Don’t just invest in two or three. It’s a numbers game and it’s a gamble, but if you invest in 10 or 20 ideas and you have the one success that a games publisher will pay US$5m for, then that would fund all of the others,” he told siliconrepublic.com.

Ireland’s size means that the best chance of success lies in all of the investment groups and development agencies collaborating and presenting the entire country as a source of games development expertise, said Della Rocca. “Ireland is a very small place and if you want to have a serious go at this, you need to take an all-Ireland approach. Everyone has to work together to make it happen.”

By Gordon Smith