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Fleadh: Games industry fears new crash

Wednesday, March 12 16:33:18

The games development industry is at risk of chronic-oversupply 30 years on from its last crash, the annual Games Fleadh at LIT Tipperary's Thurles campus heard today.

Irish companies' capacity to survive the current market saturation, much of it by sub-standard and repetitive games, will largely depend on its ability to put satisfactory supports in place for start-ups, not least on the digital marketing side, said organiser of the event and Head of Department of Technology and Flexible Learning at LIT Tipperary Seamus Hoyne.

"The video game industry crashed 30 years ago this year because there were too many consoles on the market at that time," he said. "We are now verging on the same problem again because there are so many games, across so many platforms. There is huge optimism for game developing here because of the undisputed raw talent but companies need to really stand out if they are to succeed in this very crowded space today."

"What is not helping them is the level of specific industry support available here and that is largely why Ireland has not had a big international hit in games development. Marketing has been a particular weakness. When you are a start-up company, ordinarily you have a local market to break but not in this sector. Therefore, we need specific supports for start-ups but, regrettably, don't have them.

"Our games industry start-ups are essentially export companies from the off and in the most crowded of global markets. Without the appropriate supports, trying to break this market can overwhelm them. Marketing for this sector is a specialised activity but we don't seem to have invested in that specialism."

Stephen Byrne, of game development company exgamers Studios, said that Ireland is falling embarrassingly short in terms of the stated ambition in the 2011 Forfas Action Plan for growth in the industry by 2015. This foresaw Ireland, by next year, being recognised as a dynamic and internationally connected hub of innovative games development and advanced game servicing.

"Ireland has delivered in servicing but not in games development. We are way behind here in terms of the goals of the action plan for the sector. We can make games to beat the band but where we have trouble is on the marketing side. Our market is not Ireland but Asia and the US. As a company we are fortunate in that we have a publisher now but a lot of game developers don't get that far."

"We got support from a number of programmes but the problem we had is that they weren't specific enough to games as this sector has unique marketing challenges. Very few products produced by start-up companies have to go straight into a global market and breaking that market is a huge challenge," said Mr Byrne.

"Games is an entirely different beast and needs a specific programme. If you look what happened with Flappy Bird; that earned $50,000 a day in its peak from advertising. That's what can happen if your game becomes a hit but it will not happen for Irish game developer companies if marketing supports are not in place."

The Games Fleadh, sponsored by Microsoft, is the leading annual Irish gathering for up and coming computer game programmers. Today's event was attended by over 200 of the country's young programmers and games developers, as well as representatives of leading companies in the digital gaming industry.

This year's event was themed around the iconic Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy game, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. The event also included the Games Pro seminar in which industry experts advised budding entrepreneurs on how to transition from being a games developer into a successful start-up business.

Among the speakers included were Steven Mesekly, original developer of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy game, who spoke by video link about the making of the game and changes in the industry.

The event also saw the return of board game developer from the 1970s Brian McCarthy, who at last year's event managed to secure a partnership with the support of Microsoft and game developers Atom Split Games to have his 1973 classic 'Power Game' translated onto digital platforms. His game has since been translated into five different languages and is available on Microsoft, Android and iOS platforms.