Andrew Girdwood: Diverse future of Scottish gaming

One of the world’s most popular computer games is Scottish. The car and crime franchise, Grand Theft Auto, has made Rockstar North the developer many gamers think of when asked about Scotland.

Grand Theft Auto is not the only gaming innovation to come from Scotland Picture: Jane Barlow
Grand Theft Auto is not the only gaming innovation to come from Scotland Picture: Jane Barlow

But, that success has not come at the cost of innovation elsewhere in the country.

TIGA, the trade association that represents the UK games industry, reports that Scottish contribution to GDP from the games industry went up about ten per cent last year, an increase from £99 million to almost £108 million in 2014. Impressively, there’s been a similar boost in jobs in the industry with over 1,000 people employed last year.

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It’s not all about the money, either. Companies like Edinburgh’s Blazing Griffin want to grow with a commitment to ethics too. The developer was the 100th sign up to the Scottish Business Pledge which commits the company to the Living Wage and avoiding zero hour contracts.

Scotland has a diverse future of gaming
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Blazing Griffin, like other Scottish gaming companies, have made use of the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to assist the development of expensive games. Kickstarter allows gamers to pledge financial support early in a game’s life, often to receive a copy of the title with perks in advance, and this allows studios to raise money.

While Kickstarter has allowed studios to tackle bigger projects the website creates an emphasis around marketing at the earliest stage of development. This can be a challenge for the smaller studios. As such, being a good employer and a recognised name, makes financial sense to developers. It won’t be surprising to see more sign the Scottish Business Pledge in the future.

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The launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have benefited some Scottish developers but creating console games can be especially expensive. It has been the rise of the smartphone, a much cheaper alternative, as a gaming platform that has been a big help in Scotland.

Dundee based Outplay Entertainment enjoy a staggering one million downloads each week for their free-to-play Alien Creeps. A partnership with Angry Birds publisher, Rovio, resulted in Angry Birds Stella POP! launching in March. We can’t be sure there’s still fuel in the Angry Birds tank but Outplay’s track record puts them in good stead for the future.

Just how big could smartphone gaming in Scotland get? Last year, the Internet Advertising Bureau revealed that nearly 70 per cent of the UK population played computer games and that more than half of gamers are women.

Smartphones will not be the pinnacle of gaming technology. One possible new breakout area is virtual reality. Facebook splashed $2 billion on Oculus Rift in a bid to put VR headsets in living rooms around the world in the very near future.

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Scottish gaming companies are already in this space and at the 360D conference in Glasgow in September VR was discussed along with freemium publishing models and the streaming of AAA titles via a “Netflix of Games” style solution.

Charlie Czerkawski, Chief Design Officer, of Guerrilla Tea, independent games company in Dundee, spoke to me about how work in Scotland on VR games may expand to areas beyond gaming. “There is a lot of scope for the use of virtual reality within training applications and we’re keen on exploring new VR based methods of solving problem.”

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“For example, being totally immersed in an environment has a wide range of possible applications to any industry which involves working in dangerous environments, such as the energy industry and its various sub-divisions. There is a vast scope for what we can achieve here and it can be tailored to suit specific needs.”

What is the future of gaming in Scotland? The future is diverse. The hobby is booming and even though the financials are tough and life as an independent games developer can be rough there is both the ambition and expertise in Scotland.

Andrew Girdwood runs Geek Native - a blog for gamers and covers a range of geek friendly interest areas. @AndrewGirdwood