When you think of Wales, you think of rolling hills, a human population dwarfed by that of sheep, and Brains SA. One thing you certainly would not think of Wales as is the cradle of a burgeoning video game industry.
I have recently found out two very surprising things; the first is that South Wales actually has a video game industry, and secondly that said industry is growing at an alarming rate.
In retrospect, this is not surprising at all. The UK video game industry is projected to expand by 10.6% between 2010 and 2014, and as Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope set out in their 2011 Review of the Games and VFX Industries;
“The video games and visual effects industries play to the UK’s twin strengths in creativity and technology. At over £2 billion in global sales, the UK’s video games sector is bigger than either the film or music industries and visual effects and the fastest growing component of the UK’s film industry.”
Livingstone-Hope Skills Review - Credit goes to Nesta UK
Since, the UK Government announced in the 2012 Autumn Budget that it will give the video game industry a tax relief of 25% in order to stimulate even more growth in this sector.
The Making of
One developer based in South Wales is Wales Interactive, an offshoot of GamesLab. This was a project run by Swansea Metropolitan University and University of Glamorgan and funded by Academics for Business. As former EIDOS Interactive employee, and Managing Director of Wales Interactive, Dai Banner, puts it, “Gameslab [was] established to create a sustainable digital entertainment business in Wales.”
The team of 20 recently moved to the Sony UK building at Pencoed Technology Park, and continue to work on a variety of 2D and 3D games. To get an idea of the impact the team are making, their game ‘Master Reboot’, described as a “psychological puzzle adventure game”, has had interest from a major publisher who cannot be named, and there is talk of exclusive console publishing deal.
By and large, however, the team self publishes, believing it gives them creative freedom. “The indie developers are more experimental and innovative due to not having imposed publisher constraints,” Dai believes, referring back to his time being constrained by big publishing labels that want more of the same.
So what makes a good game for Wales Interactive? Banner says, “It starts with a good idea, having a good team with the right skills and a good plan of action. It helps if you have an interest in the genre your making and the quicker you can get people from outside the team to test the game/demo your making the better.“
Training the future
Of course, to have such great minds, you need to train people. The Skills for the Digital Economy programme at Creative Skillset was set up to train and give skills to those in the creative industries. To do this, it has received £2.7 million from the Wales European Funding Office, S4C and TAC (Teledwyr Annibynnol Cymru, Welsh Independent Producers).
Project Co-ordinator Jane Davies speaks with enthusiasm about the project, claiming that; “Creative Skillset helps the UK creative industries to be world-beating and leads the UK Creative Industries’ skills and talent drive.”
The programme itself does not make video games, but gives future developers the skills they need to go on to change the world. Jane went on to say that there is a noticeable ‘buzz’ around the games industry in Wales right now.
The Fans and Enthusiasts
GamesDEV South Wales is a group of developers from the South Wales areas, who have worked on a variety of titles; from the little known PSN title ‘Floating Cloud God Saves The Pilgrims’ to the latest entry in the hugely successful LittleBigPlanet series, LittleBigPlanet Vita.
Founder Ian Thomas started the group as an experiment to see who was around in South Wales making games. “It’s long been the accepted notion that there is no games industry in South Wales, and GamesDev South Wales is mostly about proving that wrong,” he said.
GamesDev is not a developer. The group runs GamesDev Sessions, a series of lectures on a wide variety of topics in the video game industry, including game creation, design and narrative. They hope to educate, build networks, and let the world know that South Wales means business. Member Dan Pearce described joining the group as “enjoyable because the networking aspect of it helped me understand what people actually did in industry.”
Video gaming in Wales will be on display next June at the Video Games Showcase at Wales Millennium Centre. This will be the second time the event has been held, following the success of the event this past year. The 2012 event featured 30 exhibitors, including BBC Wales, and goes to show the the video game industry in Wales is both alive, and well.