2013 in review: the Irish games industry

26 Dec 2013

Artwork from 'Kú: Shroud of the Morrigan Special Edition Artbook' by Irish developer BitSmith Games, available on GetIrishGames.ie

In years to come, games historians will look back on 2013 as the year the Irish games industry began selling games in earnest. Jamie McCormick’s retrospective informs on some of the year’s key events, and muses what’s to come in 2014.

After more than a decade of being a major location for indigenous games technology companies and international publishers running European operations from Dublin, Cork and Galway, the Irish ‘indie’ games scene burst into life this year.

A decade of growth

GameDevelopers.ie turned 10 this year. Founded in 2003 by NUI Maynooth’s Dr Aphra Kerr, the site hosts Ireland’s most established online forum for advice and news about the industry. It continues to provide a vital resource for students looking to enter the games industry, with a mix of educational banter, news, and advice from Irish game developers and ex-pats.

Games Fleadh also entered its 10th year in March. Held on the LIT Tipperary campus in Thurles, this is one of the longest-established events on the Irish game development calendar, bringing together industry professionals, students, and academics. It allows second and third-level students, as well as indie developers, to participate in developing a game around a theme and participate in a Robot Wars-style AI competition. This year also included the Engineers Ireland Game Developers Awards and a Global GameCraft event.

Global GameCraft has since become an international affair with events across Ireland, Northern Ireland and, recently, the UK and United States. These events help bring together people working on games, challenging them to create a game from scratch in 12 hours and providing an opportunity learn new techniques from peers. GameCrafts continues to run about every other month, and you can find out more from the Dublin GameCraft website. In general, games jams are kicking off all over the place, with some community-organised ones but also industry-sponsored events, such as the Windows Game Jam held in September at Microsoft’s European headquarters in Dublin.

CoderDojo has also impacted participation in the games industry in Ireland, helping to teach young people how to develop and use programming skills. Many people participating in dojos may move into the games industry later on, as this volunteer community shares the same passion as the games industry events.

State of Play 2013, DIT (photo by Dr Aphra Kerr)

Good advice for Irish game developers in a slide shown during the State of Play event in DIT, November 2013. Photo courtesy of Dr Aphra Kerr

Going international

Gamescom and GDC Europe saw its largest number of Irish participants this year. More than a dozen major Irish-based companies – including Riot Games, Webzen, ZeniMax, Havok, Blizzard and Electronic Arts – plus a number of smaller companies and service providers sent representatives from Ireland to Cologne, Germany. This year, there were as many people attending from international companies as there were from indigenous ones, and this continued international networking is crucial for the development of export markets.

CultureTech in Derry in September also hosted a number of games-related events as part of a week-long festival celebrating all things digital. There was a packed GameCraft event as well as retro games nights, and this proved particularly popular with several busloads from across the country making the trip up for it.

The Dublin Web Summit also enabled a large number of people to meet different people from across the multitude of sectors of the digital economy. There were also events organised in conjunction with the festivities involving executives from countries around the world. It will be interesting to see if any of these meetings lead to new companies investing in Ireland in 2014.

Enterprise Ireland and Invest Northern Ireland continue to be open to games industry projects through mentoring, investment and inclusion in incubation schemes. Games Ireland, in conjunction with Pulse College, have established the pilot Games Space in the IFSC, which provides companies with a base from which to grow their projects. The IDA has also continued to attract new companies into Ireland, such as Nordeus, developer of popular online sports game Top Eleven Football Manager.

State of Play 2013, DIT (photo by Dr Aphra Kerr)

Attendees fill the room at the State of Play event in Dublin Institute of Technology, November 2013. Photo courtesy of Dr Aphra Kerr

From strength to strength

The last formal event of the year was Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) School of Media’s State of Play event in November, which you can still look back on via the #SOP13 hashtag on Twitter. A full house, this gathering showed how the Irish games industry has gone from strength to strength. Stories and advice were shared as developers showcased their games to the media and each other.

As the year drew to a close, about 100 people mixed and mingled at an #IrishGameDev party hosted by SixMinute in December. This ongoing connection, month-by-month through games-focused events and social gatherings, is enabling people to develop their skills, cross-pollinate ideas and get continual feedback, all of which is helping to improve the overall quality of games being released in Ireland.

I myself have recently launched a database of Irish games at GetIrishGames.ie to help gamers discover the Irish-developed games they can play and buy. This is the first online store exclusively focused on computer-gaming content from Ireland and it’s also one of first sites in Ireland to accept bitcoins in exchange for the games, at the same price as PayPal or credit card payments.

State of Play 2013, DIT (photo by Dr Aphra Kerr)

Jamie McCormick introduces GetIrishGames.ie at the State of Play event in DIT, November 2013. Photo courtesy of Dr Aphra Kerr

Looking forward

Increased media coverage has been helpful for the Irish games industry. Stories about Irish-developed computer games are more regularly seen on television, heard on the radio, or written about on both old and new media channels. The media can help Irish game developers in 2014 by giving a portion of their existing games coverage to an Irish game on a regular basis. It’s not all about Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto these days, and Steam has proven that there is a massive market for indie games, of which Ireland now has plenty.

So looking forward, what do I predict? Semi-organised chaos, but, overall, games companies will rise, fall, merge, and phoenix out of the ashes as they always do. Irish gamers can help in a big way by starting to put those searches into Google, looking for Irish iOS games, Irish Android games, Irish PC games.

If just 1pc of the €200m-plus spent on video games in Ireland (in a relatively bad year) was spent on locally developed games, dozens of companies would be able to benefit and grow. And, with a generation of talented young people working in the industry, Ireland is more than capable of punching above its weight. So, will 2014 be a breakthrough for the Irish games industry? That’s over to all of you to vote with your wallets. 

Jamie McCormick

Jamie McCormick has worked in the Irish games industry since 2000 across companies including Gamesworld, DemonWare, Xbox Live Gaming Centre, Jolt and Gala Networks Europe. He works as marketing manager for Shankill, Dublin-based Flashpoint’s BIONIC Advertising Platform for Facebook and, in his spare time, he is researching the Irish games industry for the Games Industry in Ireland 2014 Report. He also lectures and works with Irish game and app developers to help bring their games to international markets.