Companies win as free-to-play games take off

SCOTTISH games companies are taking advantage of a resurgence in the market as demand for free-to-play titles drives employment and ­creates new opportunities.

Reloaded Productions, based in Edinburgh, California and North Carolina, has successfully resurrected All Points Bulletin (APB), a “massively multiplayer online” (MMO) game, to become a top seller on a free-­to-play streaming site, outpacing games backed by global movie franchises such as Lord of the Rings Online and Star Trek Online.

The 2010 failure of the game’s original developer, Dundee-based Real Time Worlds, was a huge blow to the sector after its venture capital backers pulled the plug just weeks after it was released. The company’s collapse came after an estimated $100 million investment, sparking fears that the model for major games development – and the success of Scottish based developers –was waning.

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Michael Boniface, the European managing director, said since Reloaded acquired the game from administrators, it has grown from seven staff – a rump of former RTW employees – and now employs a team of 30. He said it was “tragic” when Real Time Worlds failed.

“It will always be a little bittersweet. A lot of people lost their jobs and that was hard to deal with. But we were able to retain the game and make it a success..”

APB, a high-spec game, requires users to download software from a specialist game site, Steam. It is estimated the free-to-play site has 54 million users worldwide – and APB is now among the top five most popular games on the site.

Boniface said the company is making significant revenues through selling extra bells and whistles to users. He said: “You can download the game and play it from end to end without paying a penny. The revenue stream comes from enhancing that experience. APB is highly customisable, and having an individual identity in the game is one of the things our players really go for.”

Another Scottish games company, Hunted Cow, are set to release a completely new MMO game, the fantasy-themed game, Eldevin, in weeks. The Elgin-based firm said it has 4.6 million regular users waiting for the launch.

Hunted Cow is unusual in that it has funded the £1m development cost of the game – available online through most web browsers – without the backing of external investors.

Andrew Mulholland, the company’s co-founder, said the game has been on the “backburner” for nearly ten years while the company developed smaller, more commercial games for use on tablets and smart phones. Mulholland said he didn’t want investors to “dictate” how the company ran itself, or risk losing its intellectual property.

Hunted Cow now employs 22 people. About three years ago, the company completely refurbished a town-centre building where employees now enjoy facilities such as a gym and a pool table.