Ireland needs to create gaming value chain

12 Dec 2003

Ireland is well placed to become a major centre for computer games development provided the country can create a strong value chain of games developers, programmers, graphic artists as well as producers and directors, a leading world expert on the games industry has indicated.

In Dublin yesterday to address the “Dare to be Digital” competition in the Digital Hub, which seeks to pit winning Irish students’ games prototypes against those of other nations, was Dr Jim Terkeurst, research and business development manager at IC Cave, the International Centre for Computer Games and Virtual Entertainment at the University of Abertay Dundee.

Dr Terkeurst’s responsibilities include developing and maintaining ongoing relationships with game developers in Scotland and the UK, management of commercial projects, provision of support for research proposal writing and development of links to game producers in other countries. IC Cave’s middleware technology and intellectual property is often sought by some of the world’s major games developers and with the help of EU Framework funding the centre’s work also involves groundbreaking research into the future of gaming technology.

In an interview with Dr Terkeurst said that the games industry has only scratched the surface in terms of its potential and will soon be in a position to overtake the movie business. Indicating the fact that the Lord of the Rings-based game Return of the King was released on the Xbox and PlayStation2 platforms well in advance of the actual release of the movie itself, the next cycle of games development will require strong funding. “It’s going to be expensive and games publishers will need strong backing and will have to be realistic as games will cost between US$10m and US$30m to make.

“Worldwide the games market is on course for US$20bn in revenues and the 128-bit gaming revolution is fully under way as the battle heats up between the PlayStation2, Xbox and GameCube platforms,” Dr Terkeurst said. “Already industry rumours indicate that next year we may see the introduction of the Xbox 2 and PlayStation3 platforms.”

He continued: “Games development will become very expensive and only the well funded and well organised will survive. There will be a need to create a strong value chain between developers, programmers, publishers, designers, directors and producers where everybody thrives and does well. Major shifts are under way. From being a predominantly male environment where games are focused on male-oriented video games, the industry is now evolving to being a lot more female-oriented as a result of more female participation in games development and that is being reflected in new genres. Half the production team for Electronic Arts’ The Sims game are female, for example.”

In recent months, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Dermot Ahern TD, indicated that up to 3,500 jobs could be created in the fledgling games business in Ireland, where already companies such as Havok are making an international name for themselves.

“For Ireland to succeed, delivery and infrastructure will be key,” said Dr Terkeurst. “For example, in Japan consumers are used to 10Mbps broadband speeds and play games over these networks. There is no point trying to develop a game for a market that’s used to 10Mbps speeds if you don’t have those speeds too. Infrastructure is key. Hollywood and the entertainment industry are waking up to the idea that DVD and games consoles are becoming pervasive and new markets such as the ‘silver gamers’ (older gamers) who hated PCs but feel comfortable with consoles that plug into the TV are beginning to emerge.

“At present the big game development centres of the world are London and LA, but Ireland is well placed. The trick is to direct the potential and create the underpinning infrastructure and supports. Ireland has a tradition of the creative arts and as entertainment and games converge there is the potential for the country to become a major player.

“For Ireland to succeed the core values need to apply – finished product is the rule of the game in the industry and having the right skillsets in terms of creating a strong value chain of creative and professional games makers is vital in this regard. Creativity is central to the entertainment industry and Ireland has a superb tradition in this regard.”

“But creativity is not enough. You need access to the tools for growth – money. Enterprise Ireland should be working to bring companies together and creating a united front in having a full value chain in Ireland,” Terkeurst said.

By John Kennedy