Local heroes become video game All-Stars

10 Dec 2007

In the past, kids dreamed of being rock or movie stars and lately perhaps celebrities famous for nothing more than being famous.

But if you ask any teenage boy today what he would dream of when he leaves school many would leap at the chance of being part of the creative process – making music, writing scripts, creating storyboards and the computer wizardry – behind high-grossing video games like Saint’s Row or Project Gotham Racing.

The games industry is big business, yielding estimated revenues of US$30bn a year and you have to look no further than Halo 3, which grossed US$300m in its first week, to realise how lucrative it is.

For Nenagh, Co Tipperary brothers Fergal and Padraig McDonnell, however, the path to riches may not be in going global but in going local instead.

The brothers, both hurling enthusiasts, have developed their own PC game Bainisteoir – Hurling, which is a management game for the PC that allows you to train and manage your favourite county hurling team. The game is the first ever GAA strategy game and their company, Tailteann Games, anticipate it being a hot seller this Christmas.

“Long term, we will focus on the international market,” says Fergal. “But in the mid-term we will expand on the titles we have for the local market. The next natural progression would be to create a football version of the game.”

The McDonnell brothers may be following a wise path by focusing on the local market – the games industry worldwide is teetering on the edge of an era of consolidation.

Earlier this week Activision and Vivendi entered into a US$18.9bn merger to create the world’s biggest computer games company and eyes are now on players like Electronic Arts, Take-Two and THQ to see if they will follow.

While the local software industry and state agencies are keen to see Ireland develop its own local games industry – bootstrapping local musical, artistic and technological talent – the country has yielded so far only a handful of success stories that have since become acquisition targets.

Earlier this year, a Dublin-based firm specialising in the technology that allows gamers to play each other over the internet DemonWare was bought by Activision for €15m. And in September, chip giant Intel acquired the entire share capital of Havok – which created the physics engine behind prominent games and movies – for US$110m in cash.

Acquisition of any kind is far from the minds of the McDonnell brothers. “We would be GAA fans ourselves and always believed there would be demand for a home grown game. There would be too many challenges ahead if we even attempted to compete with the big names in the games industry, but locally we found there was great support from the local retail sector.”

Apart from support from the North Tipperary County Enterprise Board and private investors, Tailteann Games is self-funded and employs two full-time and five part-timers.

McDonnell believes hopes for Ireland’s gaming industry are well founded. “There are established gaming companies in Ireland like Havok and DemonWare and we see graduates equipped for careers in the games industry setting up budding companies,” he said, referring to new courses such as the new Masters in Gaming course at Trinity College Dublin.

Bainisteoir – Hurling would have began as a conversation we had but it grew from there. It took us three years to build the game and bring it to market.

“The hardest part is the time you have to put into it and committing to the process. There can be a lot obstacles and I would say to anyone to listen to advice from industry and retailers.

“As time goes on we aim to expand the range of projects and increasing our headcount is very important to us,” McDonnell concluded.

By John Kennedy

Pictured standing from left: Johnny McCaffrey, Dublin hurler; Stephen Lucey, Limerick hurler; Ciaran Herron, Antrim hurler; Mary Leacy, Wexford All-Ireland-winning captain. Sitting (from left): Ronan Curran, All-Ireland-winning Cork hurler; Fergal McDonnell, technical director; and Padraig McDonnell, marketing director, Tailteann Games