Achievement through Play: The Welsh Gaming Industry

Achievement through Play: The Welsh Gaming Industry

According to a 2014 Nesta report, there are currently 1,902 active game companies in the UK, with over half of these having been formed since 2010. While most of the market is clustered together in London and the South of England, independent developers and companies dotted across Wales are scrambling for attention as they compete to get noticed by the global gaming market.

Encouraging people to work together is a social group called Games Wales, which holds monthly meetings in both north and south Wales (Wrexham and Cardiff) open to anyone who wishes to attend. The meet-up gives the opportunity for those starting out in the industry to gain social contacts, show off work in progress, and listen to talks by an assortment of people in the industry.

The session I attended was upstairs at the Urban Tap House (Cardiff) on March 25th. The room was filled with lively chatter from the people crammed onto long tables, the atmosphere very much created by that pub feeling of relaxed openness. Anyone caught standing around on their own for too long would be grabbed by a group and encouraged to enter into their discussion. A group of third year University students were showing off their game trailers on laptops, explaining the mechanics to anyone who wanted a look; they happily took on feedback, gaining advice about their games and the industry in general. At one point, a previous student with a loose tongue was being brutally honest about the difficulties involved with entering each sector of the industry; instead of being put-off, the students grasped any and all wisdom they could get their hands on.

Founder of Games Wales, Ian Thomas, originally developed the group in 2010 as an experiment to see whether or not there was a Games Industry in Wales at all. When I met with him to discuss his ambitions for Welsh industry, Ian explained that he had become tired of constantly commuting from Wales for his work, and on asking around, discovered a handful of companies, a few Universities, and some scattered developers. So ‘there was actually an industry, albeit a small one, it’s just no-one really talked to each other.’ It was therefore decided that there would be monthly get-togethers in a local pub, and what started as 8 people around a table has grown to 50-60 regular members.

The University of South Wales has produced a number of success stories over the years, including Alice Rendell and Catherine Woolley, who appeared on the 2015 Top 100 Women in Games UK list, and Mike Bithell with his award-winning game, Thomas Was Alone. While at Games Wales South, I was able to meet with Corrado Morgana, Academic Manager for Games at the University of South Wales. He described Games Wales as a fantastic opportunity for students to gain confidence in talking about their work and receiving criticism from people in the industry. When talking about the Game Industry in Wales, he expressed concern over the fact that, while it is growing, many still find it necessary to move further afield, where they may find better opportunities. Corrado believes that companies need to connect more with Universities and their students, to help with the process of turning those first steps into a career.

One example of how Wales does provide for new developers is through support from the Welsh Government. The Creative Industries department has schemes such as the Digital Development Fund, which looks to help projects involving the creation of games and the setting up of new companies; Dakko Dakko, Wales Interactive and Dojo Arcade are all examples of companies that the scheme has helped over the recent years. On 31st March 2015, WalesWorldWide posted a report about the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, where a showcase was held to promote Welsh talent in the video game industry. The trade mission was successful, securing funding from the Welsh Government for the Wales Games Development Show for the next two years.

The Wales Games Development Show provides a way of gaining attention from the public. The event is a chance for Welsh gaming companies, students, support organisations and industry personnel to show off their work, give talks and attend workshops. The event was originally created in 2012 by Dai Banner and Richard Pring, as a showcase for a GamesLab run by the University of Glamorgan. After a successful first year, more companies began to get involved, including BAFTA Cymru who started the BAFTA Cymru Game Award. In 2014, Games Wales formally took over the running of the show.

Co-founder of the Wales Games Development Show, Richard Pring, explained that ‘It is a great way to provide a focal point in the year to showcase Welsh talent and prove to the rest of the world, along with us, that there are many talented developers and companies in Wales that deserve recognition.’ Similarly, current organiser, Ian Thomas said that the event allows developers to showcase their games and get automatic feedback from players, while the inspiring talks bring in a large audience. Last year, the show was attended by 474 people, with 40 exhibit stands and 12 industry speakers. Ian hopes that 2015’s event will gain the attention of different Welsh media companies and create the opportunity for cross-pollination with games and game technology, which would help attract a wider audience.

Wales currently has a number of independent game companies stationed around the country, including Oyster World and Thud Media. One of the main companies to watch at the moment is Wales Interactive (led by Dai Banner and Richard Pring), who have won 20 awards since their creation in 2012, such as Appster’s Award for Best Indie Game Developer 2014. They have produced a number of games over the years, including Master Reboot, which was the first game to be produced in Welsh on the PS3.

Richard Pring suggested that those thinking about starting their own company should ‘start small and build their way up; ideas are the easy part, bringing them to fruition is hard.’ Previous business and industry experience went a long way when setting up Wales Interactive, the biggest hurdle being gaining recognition. He commented on how much the industry has already developed in the last few years, but expressed concern over Wales being too much of a cottage industry with companies competing against each other. ‘I think it’s a naivety with many new companies that they believe people will steal their ideas or try to slow them down, the Games Industry is worldwide and competing with Joe Bloggs down the road doesn’t help. Sharing ideas and resources is the way forward.’

The Welsh Games Industry needs to keep finding inventive ways of gaining recognition while creating imaginative and successful games. Ian Thomas has a number of thoughts as to what Wales could do to help their situation improve. Firstly, an increase in the number of big companies would start a chain reaction, as employees would gain working knowledge and experience in the industry, inspiring them to set up companies of their own. Additionally, the merging together of game technology with other existing media in Wales would improve awareness of the industry and what the technology can do. This would result in existing Welsh IP owners relying on local talent instead of repeatedly looking outside of the borders for help with their game adaptations, which would give Wales more recognition.

Ultimately, everything comes down to networking and making the best products possible. Events and get-togethers like Games Wales and the Wales Game Development show are vital for forcing developers to come together as a whole, and discuss the industry that they are so passionate about. Despite being in the early stages of entering the game market, Wales has grown substantially over the last 4 years, which is a sure sign of bigger things to come. As Ian Thomas remarked, ‘Everything is starting, I think; it just takes a bit of time and effort.’ A watchful eye should definitely be kept on the Welsh Gaming Industry; it just needs to show everyone what it is capable of.