As you may have read, the Scottish Affairs Committee visited Scotland yesterday to investigate the games industry. Despite some of the coverage bordering on the hysterical, I don’t believe the Scottish games industry is in crisis. I don’t believe there are any “panicked” companies about to up sticks and move wholesale to another country.
The Scottish games industry is in transition.
Companies have been trying to move away from the “traditional” model of the industry, where a publisher funds the development of a game. This is a Good Thing. Companies like Cobra and Digital Goldfish have had success on iPhone with their own and licensed titles, Tag and Dynamo have recently received commissions from Channel 4 for public service games.
As much as we’d like it to be otherwise, not everything tried has been successful. Denki took a different funding model for Quarrel, but the lack of a distribution route for a unique experience was an insurmountable obstacle. And Realtime Worlds took on a couple of projects of massive scope and scale, that haven’t panned out the way anyone would have liked (understatement).
Aside from that, this year Ruffian launched Crackdown 2, Proper released a Final Fight reboot for Capcom and the downloadable content for Crackdown 2, Cohort have a Move launch title, Firebrand have the best selling Wii racing game behind Mario Kart, and Digital Goldfish were just included in the Guardian’s Tech 100 list for the second year running. Dare to be Digital and ProtoPlay were once again huge successes. Amongst the universities, Abertay are managing a £5m prototyping fund, Glasgow Caledonian continue to do great research and host the Scottish Game Jam, and West of Scotland are also conducting useful research. Ready Up and SquareGo are terrific online games magazines. There are a number of companies doing great work and having success in niche markets and/or “unglamorous” platforms – who knows what paths they will take in the future.
But let’s be clear – we’ve stumbled this year for one critical reason. We’re failing to make money.
Perhaps some of you reading that think I’m being crass in saying that. I’ve paraphrased Walt Disney on this before and I’m sure I’ll do it again in the future:
We don’t make games to make money; we make money so we can make more games.
That’s all there is to it; but right now we are lacking it. It’s obviously the key to creating a sustainable games industry, which is part of what is needed to have a strong Scottish sector.
The Scottish games industry is in transition, and it’s not something that can be solved overnight.
The public sector, government and media are going to have to adjust their expectations, though, because the new measures of success are not going to be job creation and new company registrations. The new measures will be based on wealth creation, rights ownership and social contribution.
The public sector can certainly provide support, whether through project funding, skills development, improving the country’s infrastructure or perhaps even tax breaks. The mainstream press could try being cheerleaders for the industry, though they’ll need the industry to talk to them in order to do that.
But this transition was started by the industry itself, and I believe it will be completed by the industry itself. It won’t happen overnight, it won’t happen without a few more stumbles, and it sure as hell won’t be easy, but the ambition is there. The belief is there.