The interview: Richard Barnwell, Digit Games Studios

30 Sep 2014

The Digit Games Studios team in Dublin

After producing what has to be the biggest budgeted Irish video game to date – an investment of around €3.5m – Digit Games Studios CEO Richard Barnwell wants to take on one of the top-grossing games worldwide.

When Digit Games Studios opened its doors in Dublin in 2012 it was clear its founders – a collection of video-game industry veterans – were thinking big.

The management team, led by Barnwell, had between them held senior positions in EA, Atari, Jagex, PopCap Games and Jolt/GameStop.

Barnwell, the former CEO of Jolt Online and an adviser to GameStop, selected Dublin as the location to produce a video game that would bring with it merchandising opportunities. Digital Game Studios quickly won investment support from ACT, Delta and Enterprise Ireland.

In recent weeks, two years of hard work came to fruition and Kings of the Realm was released on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

The cross platform game, which is accompanied by a Penguin trilogy of books, was published by Kabam, and a platform backed by Intel, Alibaba and Google will put further resources into marketing the game worldwide.

By Christmas, Barnwell aims for Kings of the Realm to go head-to-head with Machine Zone’s Game of War. To give some perspective, Machine Zone’s game is one of the top THREE grossing worldwide and is bringing in revenues of US$1m a day.

A previous game backed by Kabam, Kings of Camelot, successfully grossed US$250m, so the stakes are high.

It’s all to play for

Barnwell points out that while the game may be one of the biggest funded Irish games historically, it’s quite small compared to the international competition but he hopes Kings of the Realm will punch above its weight.

“It’s certainly the biggest launch of a game in Irish gaming industry history but internationally it’s very competitive. Supercell, for example, started off with €12m.”

Barnwell explained that while the Kings of the Realm game may have had a budget of €3.5m much of that was spent on building the team and the engine.

The game is accompanied by a trilogy of books by Irish author Oisin McGann. The second book in the series has just been published by Penguin and the third will be published next year.

“We wanted to create a story world. Instead of just being an online environment we wanted to bring the story a bit further that tells the story of the game.

“Everything we have right now is focused on the game and making it the best and biggest it can be. It’s a big ask. Our biggest competitor right now is a company called Machine Zone which is rumoured to be valued at US$3bn, they’re a big player.

“They are bringing in US$1m a day in revenues. They are our number one competitor but there are lots of others.

A long hard slog

Barnwell revealed that so far Kings of the Realm has attracted users in their hundreds of thousands.

“We are on a good track and the hundreds of thousands of users after just a few weeks is good going and if we can keep at that current rate we’ll be in a good position.

“This Christmas is going to be a good stint for us. We were lucky to get featured prominently on the App Store and Google Play.”

Barnwell said that launching in Ireland two years ago was a good move for Digit Games Studios, which now employs over 20 people.

“About 55pc of the team are Irish so we had to go abroad to bring in experienced gaming talent with international experience. But all-in-all we have been successful.

“Even though we are the largest indigenous games studio we had to look abroad for experienced game talent.

“We are optimistic that over time that will change and experienced gaming talent will be easier to find.”

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