By John Kennedy
November 5th 2009
There are now more than 1,400 people employed in the games-development and related industries sector in Ireland and with new opportunities in mobile and social gaming, this figure is projected to grow.
Unlike mass markets like the UK, where games publishers could work in the midst of local buyers and the fact that entering the console-game business was prohibitively expensive, Ireland, it seemed, was unlikely to become a world leader in games development.
But with the rise of social networking, where social gaming is one of the fastest-growing segments and the rise of smart phones where platforms like the iPhone, Android and Ovi spell opportunity, Ireland could find itself very well placed.
A new survey of the computer-games industry in Ireland conducted by researchers from NUI Maynooth and the University of Limerick shows the industry is on the move, with a complement of multinationals and indigenous companies operating here.
The survey reveals that the 21 companies that responded employ 1,469 people in the sector across Ireland.
This is made up of 1,277 full-time permanent employees, 170 contractors and 22 freelancer workers, representing a growth of more than 400pc since the last industry survey conducted by one of the authors in 2002.
The survey also reveals that 60pc of companies are involved in game development, with many companies working across multiple platforms, while 30pc are games publishers operating across Europe, Asia and North America.
It also reveals the types of jobs in the industry. Nearly 900 are involved in non-development areas, which include online customer/player support, while nearly 200 are involved in quality assurance.
Some 104 are employed in management, 72 in programming, 59 in localisation, 60 in art, design and audio, and 26 in marketing. The survey also revealed that 17 of the companies who responded have been founded in Ireland over the last five years.
Many companies are working across multiple platforms, particularly those involved in support, localisation and middleware.
Smaller, indigenous companies who are involved in game development tend to focus on PC, web and mobile platforms. There are two indigenous game-development companies working on console/handheld game development.
Breakdown by region
The report also highlights the regional breakdown of companies operating in the sector. Thirteen of the companies who responded were located in the greater Dublin area, with nine of these stating they were located in Dublin city centre. A further five were located in Munster, with three in Ulster.
The report also highlights the demographics and multi-national nature of the workforce employed in Ireland. Almost 43pc of employees in these companies are aged between 26 and 35, with a further 30pc aged between 18 and 25.
By nationality, the greatest number of employees are German, followed by Irish and other European, ie, not French, German, Spanish or Italian. The fourth-largest nationality group is British. The report also highlights that females constitute 13pc of the total number of employees.
Location, location, location
Two-thirds of companies have located their headquarters in Ireland. When asked why they were located in Ireland, the companies provided an interesting mix of responses.
While availability of skilled labour was the most significant reason for almost half of respondents, this was followed closely by an ability to attract talent, even if it wasn't available locally, ie, access to Europe.
Four companies cited grants and financial incentives, and one identified links to universities.
Aphra Kerr of Gamedeveloers.ie explained there are new opportunities for the Irish games sector that can’t be ignored. “Less companies in the gaming space here are involved in console games but more so in social and downloadable games.”
Compared with the UK, particularly Scotland, which has developed a considerable gaming industry in the last 15 years, Kerr said that Ireland will have its own story to tell and its games industry development has every opportunity to be different.
“The UK by its nature and size has been a traditional power in games development because it focused on the console space, but now with the development of other countries’ games sectors, such as that of Canada, it is seeing this power shift. Countries like Canada and France are providing strong regional and local support for games companies.”
Kerr highlighted the work of IDA Ireland in bringing in overseas multinationals, like Gala Networks and Big Fish Games, and said more companies would consider moving to Ireland, attracted by the talent and skills of Irish people and the attractiveness of Ireland as a place to live.
She said funding is one of the most important issues and pointed to France and Canada, where film-support programmes have been opened up to support gaming firms.
“One of the problems facing the industry in Ireland right now is that there hasn’t been a lot of support financially for local firms. France recently introduced a tax-credit system. Information on the broader digital industry is also a problem.
“In doing this survey during a particularly hard time for the local economy, this sector has demonstrated continuous growth and good numbers, which suggests the potential for growth in this area as the economy picks up.”
In conclusion, Kerr said there is massive potential in cross-platform games, where developers are porting games on to iPhone devices and other platforms.
By John Kennedy