The Interview: Dr Liam Noonan from Games Fleadh 2015

27 Feb 2015

Dr Liam Noonan, organiser of Games Fleadh

In Ireland, failure is still not a badge of honour and this needs to change if it hopes to be a significant player in the multi-billion dollar video-games business, said Games Fleadh organiser Dr Liam Noonan.

On 11 March, some of the biggest names in the gaming industry will gather at the Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) campus in Thurles for the all-island Games Fleadh, an all-island games design and development competition.

Not many people realise that Ireland had a considerable role to play in the games business in the 1970s and 1980s when Atari manufactured games in Ireland.

That tradition endures in a different form as players from Activision to Electronic Arts continue to have operations in Ireland.

Alumni from LIT Tipperary have worked on some of gaming’s biggest titles including Call of Duty, StarCraft and Guitar Hero.

Supported by Microsoft Ireland, EA Games and the Irish Computer Society, the 12th annual Games Fleadh will feature the ‘Direct X’ Endless Runner challenge, Robocode and the Game Studio ‘Endless Runner’ competition. The winners and runners up of which will present their games to Brenda and John Romero and the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) Greenlight Committee.

Brenda and John Romero have each more than 30 years of experience working in the gaming industry, more than 150 game titles, such as DOOM and Quake to their credit, amassed dozens of awards, and have collectively founded nine game companies.

Games Fleadh will also feature games development and research talks by industry veterans such as Bryan Neider, who will assist in the judging process for the various under graduate competitions. Neider is senior vice-president and chief operating officer of the Electronic Arts (EA) labels, which collectively are responsible for producing some of the best-selling video game titles of all time including, The Sims, FIFA, Battlefield and Madden NFL.

Noonan, a lecturer at the Department of Information Technology at LIT Tipperary, said Ireland has every reason to believe it can succeed in the games industry worldwide, but only if it concentrates on the right areas.

“The games industry in Ireland, when compared to other areas of software development and design, is still in its infancy and requires targeted supports in the areas of mentoring, marketing and games-focused incubator programmes.”

Risk and reward

In terms of career opportunities, Noonan said they are evolving in tandem with the evolution of game publishing.

“In 2006/2007, the opportunities were with large game labels to further your career. The arrival of cloud services, such as XBOX Live and Valve, as well as Windows Store, iOS and Android stores, has changed the landscape.

“Graduates can now choose to be a game start-up if they are entrepreneurial, work for game label or pursue a career in software development and develop their game ideas in their spare time. This gives graduates the freedom and the security to make choices that align with their level of risk and reward.”

But more than anything, for the games industry to succeed in Ireland, Noonan urged an acceptance of risk and failure.

“As my colleague Seamus Hoyne stated a year ago, the games industry requires targeted support so as to foster start-ups.

“A Y-combinator type of model would encourage graduates to invest three months of their time to develop a game concept with the assistance and advice of mentors from the game industry.

“In Ireland failure is still not a badge of honour. John Romero pointed out to our students in 2014 that Doom was their 35th game before they became a success story.

“We have to recognise that the creation of successful games are not an overnight process model, it is only through experimentation, creating games, taking the good ideas from the last game can we hope to create innovative products,” Noonan said.

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