Golden opportunity for Ireland to drive next phase of video games

18 Oct 2011

Barry O'Neill, director, Games Ireland

The sheer cost and scale of making best-selling console and PC video game titles until now meant Ireland had to content itself with making middleware and providing business support to the video games industry, but that’s about to change.

Games Ireland director Barry O’Neill believes the country’s rich tapestry of social networking activities involving Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and soon Twitter, along with it being home to strategic operations belonging to Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts (EA), Riot Games and many others, will stand Ireland in good stead as social, mobile and casual gaming merges with high-end console and PC titles.

A case in point would be the growth of EA Games’ BioWare operation in the West of Ireland, which is creating 400 jobs to support the next big Star Wars title Old Republic, which will create a whole new ecosystem of virtual goods and m-commerce and e-commerce opportunities.

The country is home to a number of major casual and social gaming companies such as PopCap Games, Gala, Big Fish Games and more lately, Zynga.

“The games industry press has made a lot of the fact that the social gaming and casual gaming space may take up to 50pc of the games market next year,” O’Neill says.

“What’s often lost in that message is the console industry hasn’t necessarily contracted and that social is bringing in a lot of new revenues into consoles.

“I think we have the scope for a very balanced industry here,” O’Neill said.

“We would all love to see a studio infrastructure grow up here, building on our animation industry where we have console-grade material in production. These projects typically involve hundreds of people working on a game for three years, compared with social or mobile games that can be created with a small team. We need to see a balance of both in Ireland.”

Last week, Games Ireland scored a coup by bringing some of the chiefs of the global games industry to Ireland for their annual conference, including senior management from Activision Blizzard, Eidos, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, Ubisoft, Walt Disney and Warner.

A Forfas report out last week estimates Ireland could double games industry employment to 4,500 by 2015.

O’Neill said initiatives by Enterprise Ireland, such as iGap and the Competitive Start Fund, are helping Irish gaming start-ups to overcome the barriers to growth that usually impede firms during the critical growth phase involved in moving from 10 to 50 to 100 employees.

“There’s great scope for indigenous companies and multinationals to create a balanced industry – we just need to create the graduates.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years