What’s Wrong with the Scottish Games Industry?

In the last decade the Scottish games industry appears to have gone into serious decline. Despite having the skills and creative drive to create a number of successful titles nearly all of the big developers have vanished. How bleak is it really? There are stable companies operating and new start-ups growing but the focus has moved away from big AAA console and PC games to the casual scene. Handheld, mobile games and TV tie ins, along with porting and outsourced work seem to provide the bulk of the jobs in Scotland now.

Many of my friends and old colleagues have been made redundant multiple times and the majority have been forced to move elsewhere in order to stay in game development. There are definitely still development jobs here but if you want to work on a big, sexy console release then Rockstar North looks like the only remaining option. Actually Ruffian Games made Crackdown 2 but I’m not sure what they’re working on now.

I started working in games at VIS Entertainment which was started up in 1996. It grew to employ over 200 staff at multiple locations before falling apart and eventually filing for bankruptcy in 2005. DC Studios took over the development of State of Emergency 2 which kept a few jobs in Edinburgh but once it was released to negative reviews they packed up and moved out.

Just last year Realtime Worlds dissolved after the failure of APB with a loss of 200 jobs, and this year Cohort threw in the towel as well. Long before these losses companies like Visual Sciences, Red Lemon and Inner Workings fell by the wayside. Not to mention Outerlight where I also worked.

So what’s the problem? Well, ultimately it always comes down to cash flow doesn’t it? If you end up with a huge monthly wage burn and projects take months or years to develop before you can expect to see a return then you’ll go bust pretty damn quickly when the money runs out. Of course there are a multitude of other underlying factors at work, over-expansion, publisher hassles, mis-management and poor quality games, but they are subjects for another article.

Looking at the situation now I know people who have gone to work at VeeMee, they do a lot of work for PlayStation Home and it looks like they are moving into mobile phone games. Some of my old colleagues have been making Xbox Live titles as Haiku Interactive. There are also companies like Denki and Tag Games and the new start up Outplay have chosen Dundee for their headquarters and are aiming to publish games for social and mobile platforms. If you produce small projects you can get more things out of the door to create a revenue stream much faster. If you remain sensible and don’t expand too fast then there’s every prospect of creating a living making games.

The majority have moved abroad, down south, to the US, Canada, Australia and even Holland. If your burning passion is to make “big” games (and for most people it is) then the sad truth is that Scotland doesn’t have enough jobs to go round.

Scotland continues to produce potential developers and the desire to make games here remains strong but in the face of huge companies elsewhere and the kinds of tax breaks that governments like Canada offer to game developers the exodus looks likely to continue. The Scottish government has talked about helping out but has only offered limited support and in the current economic climate it doesn’t seem likely that they will do much more.

The media here doesn’t really help (with the exception of Scottish games ambassador extraordinaire Brian Baglow) they seem more interested in decrying violence in games than in pointing out the fact that they provide jobs for Scots.

The bottom line for people keen to work in games in Scotland is that there are still opportunities to do so and that’s definitely a good thing. It would just be nice if there were a few more opportunities.






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