Scotland's video games industry '˜healthier than it has ever been'

A multi-million pound commercial development in Dundee is the perfect illustration of the confidence that surrounds the city's video games industry.

A prospective student visits Abertay during an open day at the Dundee university, which is ranked as a world-leader for video game design. Picture: Alan Richardson
A prospective student visits Abertay during an open day at the Dundee university, which is ranked as a world-leader for video game design. Picture: Alan Richardson

Water’s Edge at City Quay is filled with office suites, co-working spaces, and even a 300-cover restaurant. The converted warehouse is the brainchild of Chris van der Kuyl and Paddy Burns, the founders of 4J Studios and developers of the Minecraft console editions.

4J will have their head office in the converted building and van der Kuyl is hopeful other studios will follow suit.

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“The games industry as a whole is healthier now than it has ever been,” he told The Scotsman. “There are a lot of opportunities and the sector is growing at an ever-increasing pace. We’re very bullish about the industry globally.

Chris van der Kuyl, chairman of Dundee-based 4J Studios

“As to Scotland’s position in that, we continue to punch above our weight by having franchises like GTA and Minecraft developed here.

“The independent sector is always tough - there’s a huge attrition rate, the same as independent cinema or independent music - but there are some great examples coming through.

“We have just invested in an independent studio called Puny Astronaut, who are only a year or so out of graduating from Abertay. Being Scottish is almost a side issue - we invested in them because we thought the game was incredible with huge global potential.

“The money is there if the game is right and you put the right team together.”

Chris van der Kuyl, chairman of Dundee-based 4J Studios

Van der Kuyl’s optimism regarding the video games industry in Scotland is backed up by a recent report which found the sector has grown by 27 per cent in less than two years and now employs thousands of people.

TIGA, an umbrella body for digital publishers and video games developers, said Scotland is the third largest cluster in the UK for video games, behind London and the south-east of England.

Over 1500 permanent full-time staff are now working on games development in the sector across 91 companies, with 2,800 employees in jobs that indirectly support the sector.

11.6 per cent of the UK’s games developers are based in Scotland, as the TIGA report showed growth of 27 per cent between March 2016 and November 2017.

“The global games industry is very buoyant,” added van der Kuyl. “There are more and more people playing games. Why Scotland? We have spent 20 years building the talent pipe-line from university and college courses through to existing businesses. The UK as a whole had benefitted from the games tax credit that is available. And there’s access to specific Scottish funds around the start-up scene.”

Recruiting the right people helps any business. So the was further good news for the sector when a computer games course at a Scottish university was last month named the best in Europe for the fourth year in a row in an annual college admissions survey.

The prestigious annual Princeton Review once again rated Abertay University as number one in Europe for undergraduate level games courses and within the top dozen institutions in the world to offer postgraduate degrees in the discipline.

Professor Gregor White, head of the school of design and informatics at Abertay, said: “The Scottish video games industry is enjoying a period of excellent growth at the moment, and that’s really pleasing to see.

“Abertay has always tailored courses in response to the demands of the market and our graduates go straight into employment with companies right across the world, ranging from smaller studios producing games for mobile devices to the major players putting out big budget Triple A titles.

“In the 20 years since Abertay launched the world’s first computer games degrees, the Dundee games scene has seen a rapid expansion to the point where it is now among the UK’s top clusters.

“So when the number of studios operating in Glasgow and Edinburgh is factored in, we are looking at somewhere in the region of 100 companies working in games development in Scotland, supporting around 1,500 jobs.

“But it’s not just about supplying the jobs market. There is a real entrepreneurial spirit in the games sector at the moment and it is fantastic to witness the recent success of our graduate teams – such as Puny Astronaut and Bit Loom – who go on to flourish commercially after leaving the University.”

Like all business sectors, the video games industry is cautiously waiting to see how it will be impacted by Brexit.

“Our absolute barrier to growth is finding the right people,” said van der Kuyl. “It’s about attracting people to come and live in Scotland and then inevitably means not just from the rest of the UK.

“(Brexit) is a huge concern for us. We have had a huge reduction in enquiries from abroad. We have been working to try and change the message that the UK may be less of an attractive proposition.

“Brexit is on its way and we are now asking the UK Government to create an enlightened immigration policy. Without it, it’s going to be very difficult to grow businesses in this country.”

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Abertay ranked best in Europe for computer games design