Game over for British talent if digital firms are forced to look abroad

EXPERTS in Scotland’s gaming industry are warning of a skills shortage less than two years after the collapse of Realtime Worlds, formerly the country’s leading light in the digital media sector.

Companies such as Denki and Serious Parody of Dundee, Edinburgh’s YoYo Games and WeeWorld in Glasgow are just a sample of those currently recruiting.

With further firms also known to be setting up, Euan Mackenzie, from the Scottish arm of industry trade body UKIE, said staffing has become a constraint on growth.

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“We are desperate for people in Scotland – the universities can’t push them out fast enough for us, which is why a lot of recruiting is now going abroad,” he said.

Another firm expanding is Edinburgh-based, which was set up ten years ago by Peter Roobol and James Flowerdew.

A specialist in 3D-browser games played over the internet, the two founders have produced more than 100 titles that pull in some two million unique players every month.

However, the launch of paid-for versions of key titles Russia’s Army and Fly Like A Bird for download on Android has sent the pair in search of their first employees. “We have been in touch already with Abertay and Napier,” said Roobol, adding that the company is looking to hire at least two people “as soon as we can”.

Gamevial – which has traditionally relied upon revenues from adverts that run alongside its free-to-play games – expects turnover to at least double this year to some £200,000.

However, the company has already sold more than 1,000 of the £1 versions of its Android games in the three weeks since launch, with that extra revenue coming on top of the anticipated doubling in turnover.

Gamevial is typical of the new breed of game developers that has emerged since the shift to the mobile internet sent ructions through the industry a few years ago, consigning “boxed” games to the history books.

“The market has totally changed,” UKIE’s Mackenzie said. “It has gone from major products on major platforms to a much more dispersed model. Distribution has changed dramatically with mobiles, so small companies that get it right can do well, and what we have now are multiple small studios that are profitable.”

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The collapse of Realtime Worlds in August 2010 was a dramatic blow to the Scottish sector, with the loss of some 200 jobs at home and a further 50 in the United States.

However, industry veterans such as Russell Kay, who left Realtime earlier that year to become chief technology officer of YoYo Games, point out that nearly everyone affected found new jobs “within a few weeks” of Realtime’s demise.

“As Realtime Worlds went down, there were an awful lot of talented people looking for jobs at a time that we were looking to hire,” he said of YoYo, which has grown from one to 20 staff in the past two years.

2010 was also a traumatic year at Denki, which was forced to slash its staff of 25 down to a skeleton crew of six after struggling to find a publisher for Quarrel, its “Risk-meets-Scrabble” game that has since gone on to critical acclaim and took a top prize at this year’s Bafta Scotland awards.

The company is now reportedly landing as much work as it can handle and is rebuilding employment levels as a result.

Current job advertisements include the newly created post of “player champion”, whose job will be to ensure that Denki’s critical acclaim is honed into commercial success.

It’s a sign of growing maturity within the industry, which UKIE reckons includes nearly 80 pure games studios.

Taking in companies that deliver games-related work, the ranks of the Scottish sector swell to more than 100.

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Mackenzie highlighted the growing contribution of companies such as GamesAnalytics, which itself has grown to a staff of 18 since it was founded in Edinburgh in 2010.

It works directly with developers to help bring in and retain more players, while also converting users from free to paid-for games.

“That shows you how the industry is developing, when a company offering those kinds of services can grow so quickly,” he said.