Talent is Ireland’s secret weapon in digital games race

14 Mar 2012

Philip Burke, Games Design and Development Course Leader and Microsoft MVP who watched as one of the Zombie characters from Plant vs Zombies game designed by Popcap is evicted from an Aer Corp Eurocopter by Sgt. Alan Martin. Photo: Press 22

In the global race for supremacy in digital game production Ireland is fast emerging as a location for high-quality digital games developers, with graduates virtually guaranteed jobs in the local market, leading national and international industry experts told the LIT Tipperary Games Fleadh 2012.

Industry leaders predicted the sector will achieve accelerated growth over the next two years, with up to 1,000 new jobs coming on stream per annum.

The two-day event, which will include the first ever ‘Oscars’ for games design in Ireland as well as a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the launch of iconic game Chopper Command from Activision was also used as a recruitment opportunity for companies seeking to fill posts and identify new talent.

Jason Livingston, director of Customer Services BioWare Ireland, which has announced 400 jobs for its Galway operation over the next two years said:  “The reality in Ireland is that you have a fantastic pool of resources to pull from.  I really believe that the availability of jobs here is going to grow because it is recognised internationally that the pool of talent available here is really strong.

Why Ireland is valuable to the global games business

“Ireland’s reputation generally in the digital games developing sector is really on the up.  As a result, I believe that pretty much all of the graduates in this area will secure employment and, furthermore, they will secure that employment here in Ireland.

“The bottom line is Ireland is great value for money right now.  But it is only great value because you have the pool of talent available.  One very positive legacy from our perspective from the Celtic Tiger was the expertise and experience in customer services in Ireland.  We could hire gamers with development experience for customer service posts and it was the best mix possible.  

“They could understand what our customers want and we define and drive the development of our game products through feedback from customers.”

Livingston’s comments were endorsed by Chris Gregan, Principal Architect at Playfirst, which has a Dublin base and whose best-known game Diner Dash achieved over 500m downloads.

“We are headquartered in Silicon Valley but our company sees Ireland as a great place to do business.  This is not necessarily because of the tax base here or our improved competitiveness but because of the talent available.  There is far greater competition in Silicon Valley for graduates and we have been able to hire quality engineers here who are driving a lot of our business,” he said.

Scouting for talent

Also attending the event was Alan Duggan, CEO of Galway based independent game development company Tribal City Interactive who said that there are clear opportunities for graduates.  

“I am here today to scout talent.  I am really happy with what I have seen today and I don’t think we are going to have a problem filling our positions this summer based the output from young game developers here today.

“This is a real growth area in Ireland, not just for the multi-nationals coming in here but for smaller indigenous companies like us.  There’s no barrier in this industry for people with smart ideas and the skill to go with it.  There are plenty of publishers looking for good content but because you can now publish directly, this is creating a really strong environment for start-ups in this sector.”

Goal of the Games Fleadh

Philip Bourke, Digital Games Design Course Coordinator at the Institute’s Department of Technology, Media and Science and Games Fleadh founder said that the goal of the Games Fleadh is to provide a platform for would-be games developers to showcase their wares.

“And the very fact that some of the best known companies in this sector now come here to identify and even recruit young talent shows just how much of a success the event has become.”

One of the high points of the two-day event is the Engineers Ireland Game Developer Awards which were announced last night.  

Limerick based company Open Emotion Studios, which is currently designing the Rubberbandits game for the mobile market, took three of the twelve awards, including the overall ‘Best Game Award’, while Dublin based Pufferfish Games and Bat Cat Games claimed two each.

The award winners were:

Best Game: Ninjamurai (Open Emotion Studios)

Best Mobile Game: Power Grid (Puffer Fish Games)

Best Console Game: P-3 (BatCat Games)

Best in Animation: Bubble Dreams (Super Fun Play)

Best RPG Game: Allods Online (Astrum Nival/gPotato.eu)

Best Strategy Game: Power Grid (Puffer Fish Games)

Best Casual Game: Flip the Switch (Tribal City Interactive)

Best in Original Audio & Music: P-3 (BatCat Games)

Best Shooter: Reapers End 1 (Eysodic Games)

Best in Gameplay: Ninjamurai (Open Emotion Studios)

Best Indie Game: Revoltin’ Youth (Open Emotion Studios)

Best Windows 7 Game: Plants Vs Zombies (Popcap)

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