As one of the most significant cultural forms of our time – the video games industry now generates more revenue than its more established film counterpart – games are a neglected but increasingly important part of our heritage. Estimates vary for the precise number of active ‘gamers’ in the UK, but the number of people for whom games are a part of their every day is in the millions.
As a creative industry, the UK video games sector – and, in particular, that in Scotland – punches well above its weight: as well as being the largest market for video games in Europe (and third in the world, behind the US and Japan) the UK is also the third most successful country in the world in terms of games software and hardware sales. This creative and financial success is built upon the UK’s gaming heritage and reputation for innovation and design in the games industry. From the release of the ZX Spectrum by Sinclair Research in the early 1980s and the generation of ‘bedroom coders’ it inspired, to the genre-defining software releases from studios such as Bullfrog (Populous), DMA Design (Lemmings) and Sensible Software (Sensible Soccer), and on to the development of hugely successful current properties including Tomb Raider, Transport Tycoon, Grand Theft Auto and Batman: Arkham City, this country has left an indelible print on global video game culture. This heritage is to be celebrated, and should be preserved for future generations – not least to encourage these generations to embrace the industry and ensure that Scotland and the rest of the UK retain their place at the top of the games development table for generations to come.
Scotland has enjoyed a long and significant relationship with the video game industry, which continues to this day. Dundee is perhaps most synonymous with video games in Scotland. The city’s relationship with the industry can be traced back to the manufacture of Sir Clive Sinclair’s ZX80 computer in 1980, and the legendary ZX Spectrum that followed. DMA Design – now part of Rockstar North – was responsible for the iconic Lemmings franchise (and the original Grand Theft Auto) while more recent successes include Bafta winners Proper Games (Flock!) and Denki (Quarrel). Other successful games development companies based in Dundee include Spiffing Games, Ruffian Games, Tag Games, Swallowtail Games, Guerilla Tea and Dynamo Games. Dundee-based development companies have also been responsible for porting several high-profile titles to alternative hardware platforms. The multi-million selling Minecraft – already a huge hit on PC and mobile – was ported to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 by 4J Studios, who also handled development of the Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) version of the immensely popular Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion title. Dundee is also home to YoYo Games, developers of the renowned and hugely popular GameMaker: Studio.
However, the industry thrives across Scotland with Rockstar North – developer of the wildly successful Grand Theft Auto series – now employing over 200 people in Edinburgh and dozens of successful smaller developers, often working in the growing mobile (phone and tablet) space, based in the capital (Interface3, Nevistech, Pixels on Toast), Glasgow (One Thumb Mobile, Chunk Games, Firebrand Games) and elsewhere (Chris Sawyer Games, Hunted Cow Studios).
The annual Edinburgh Interactive Festival is one of the largest game-related events in the UK and attracts keynote speakers from all of the biggest players in the business. Celebrating its tenth year in 2012, the EIF was originally founded by the CEO of the UK-wide games industry body TIGA with backing from Scottish Enterprise. It is currently led by David Yarnton, former Managing Director of Nintendo UK, with support from The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE). Established in 2000, Dare to be Digital is an internationally renowned video games design competition for university students and recent graduates, started by and held at University of Abertay in Dundee. Teams work together under a tight deadline to develop a functional game prototype over the summer, with the winning teams forming the nominees of the BAFTA ‘Ones to Watch’ Award.
Scotland is also home to a large number of leading games development degree programmes, including those based at The University of Abertay in Dundee, Glasgow Caledonian University and The University of the West of Scotland – all of which work closely with the country’s leading games development companies to ensure that Scotland continues to develop new talent. All disciplines associated with games development are catered for by such institutions, including 3D and 2D animation, game design, game production, AI programming and game engine and tool development.
The story of the games development industry in Scotland since its inception in the late 1970s is, as in the rest of the UK, sparsely documented. There are certainly parallels with the first few decades of the film industry, but whereas the earliest days of that venerable industry are lost to living memory, there currently exists an opportunity to record, from first hand sources, the successful development of Scotland’s unique game industry.
The timing for an examination of Scotland’s games industry is ideal: video games have never been more popular. The explosion of smartphones capable of supporting a huge range of high-quality games, coupled with the phenomenal success of platforms such as Nintendo DS and Wii, have dramatically expanded the market for video games since the turn of the century, and led to more people in the UK (and beyond) playing games than ever before. Growth in the mobile games sector, in particular, has helped sustain the 50+ games development companies currently operating in Scotland. At the same time, those developers who created the first video games are still here and – in many cases – still developing games.