Friday, 16 August 2013

Fledgling Games in Ireland

Games Ireland

I attended an event organised by Enterprise Ireland and Games Ireland last Wednesday.

I had a bit of an experience getting from the overflow car park to EI HQ. Suffice to say I am a grown man and I would not walk down that tumble weeded lane way at any time of day. We are where we are. I presume everyone else was from Dublin and got public transport directly to the building or walked. The idea was that a few successful Canadian’s from a thriving Quebec Games scene would talk about their experiences growing a gaming industry and give their insights into how Ireland might replicate their success. Also some interested parties from the local games scene. Those Present were

Guest Speakers

- Gary Leyden - Director at NDRC LaunchPad

- Serge Landry - CEO Canadian Interactive Alliance, CEO Miralupa, Gen Sec Alliance Numerique

- Emmanuel Wall - Director at Strategy First - Indie Publisher

- Jean-Francois Arseneau - Business Development - Hibernum Creations

- Richard Barnwell - CEO Digit Game Studio

- Moderator: Paul Hayes - Games Ireland

Pity about Serge I like what they are doing in augmented reality games at Miralupa

Topics for discussion ranged from

How and when to show your game to a publisher?

Consensus was sooner rather than later. But read the small print and don’t marry the first one that comes along just cause they asked.

Which should you do free to play or one of the pay first models?

Richard  Barnwell was of the opinion that free to play was the only way with the larger games companies adopting the model and relying on DLC for revenue. Emmanuel leaned towards the other side of the fence but if he pays for it it had better be good. But opinions and developments in the crowd were 50/50. Personally I think that Games are a unique software artefact. What makes them unique is that they are entertainment, art and stimulation rolled into one and you can either chase the buck or produce something interesting and see if “they will come”. What makes games development interesting to me is that it is a visual embodiment of the interaction of code. The ultimate UX experience. The matrix. Free to play or not lead to a discussion of advantages and disadvantages of the free versus the paid model and in the wider context of software. There is a saturation of the market with free stuff, so much so that if you create anything of note, how would anyone find it free or otherwise. Gary Leyden interjected that this why from the outset young games companies need to have their business processes in place. Being in the software business myself I’d have to say I agree but it such a “suit” thing to say Gary Smile

I asked has the educational landscape adapted in the Canada to the new industry? This lead onto a brief discussion, well more like a lecture from Richard Barnwell, on what is wrong with education.

It would seem not as quickly as the games companies would like. Richard Barnwell of Digit thought that those teaching games were not really qualified to do so. He may have a point but I would counter that and maybe say that those who work in games are not necessarily the best to teach or preach for that matter. It’s one thing lecturing to a room full of top quality people who are hanging on your every word. It’s another to take an aspirational 17 year old adolescent and produce the “Final Product” from him or her. Now Richard only wants the best and he wants it now. Which is fair enough and Digit’s (nice website by the way) ideal’s are highly ambitious. I would like to take a moment to reply to Richards brash attitude to education. It’s a typical opinion held by those who don’t understand where education fits into the picture with respect to the needs of the software and by extension the games industry. I have over 23 years of experience in producing graduates most of which have gone on to have great careers in software development of all facets (games being one of them). It takes a while to produce the “final product” that Richard and others want to employ and it depends on the raw materials you have to work with. Some get it straight off the bat others as I like to say are “slow burners”. But patients and effort gets them there in the end. I suggested that maybe some project work instigated by a company would be beneficial. Not enough for Richard. I think the Canadians, quite on this point, might support the same view. The Canadians also expressed the view that educational institutes in Canada are struggling to keep up.

Industry wants education to produce graduates to meet their (usual immediate and changing )needs. Every company has different needs. How can education cater for every need? Technology moves fast, and yes it is true that a lot of educators don’t move with it, some are lazy, some are not. There are many reasons why educators may be slow to move with a technology. The process of changing a syllabus is slow and resistant to rapid change. It takes a lot of time to explore new technologies and then package it in a way that can be clearly understood by a wide audience. Education is for everybody not just the gifted and elite.

I personally spend a lot of time researching and exploring new technologies. The educational system imposes restrictions on what I can change and I cannot change mid stream. You can respond rapidly to change if you have complete control of your business process. There are quality criteria to be met when making changes in syllabi. It’s hard to keep up when you are teaching several technologies to learners with different needs and abilities. But we do try. In summary if education was driven by the latest technology needed by the various software companies then it would be in a constant state of flux and that would not be maintainable for educators or learners.

OK. Well here are some suggestions as to how we might Improve matters.

  1. We write our computing courses to technology agnostic. We do this at the moment, but the underlying principles change also. Let me give an example. I teach 2D games programming. I teach it to year 2 games students. They have one year of Game design and introductory programming behind them. They barely know what an object or a class is. There is a shift from single platform to multi-platform. So I’m looking at mono this summer for multiple platform deployment. We’ll still develop a 2D theme and concepts in c# (our language of choice for all our programming – rationale being that more than one language can confuse weaker students) but we’ll want to cover more than one platform with the same code base. Not everyone writes their modules technology agnostic. Resistance to change is everywhere.
  2. If (the games) Industry want specialisation that suites their needs then they need to have a stronger real input in terms of time, imparting skills back into education and even possibly finance. Especially when education is under such financial strain with increased numbers of students and less resources. The model for funding education is also changing towards bums on seats. This impacts on quality. I know the likes of the Khan academy, UDK, Unity video libraries are out there. But these tools are for highly motivated, intelligent and experienced learners. So as well as chasing the buck lets spend some time to build and sustain.
  3. Industry needs to lobby the government more effectively. The government do not respond to educational lobbies in the same way. The Canadians made it clear that the Quebec government made a conscious decision to court and attract development companies. These are the manufacturing sector of the Games industry. The government here are hiding behind the term “Knowledge Economy”, when really large multi-national games and software companies are only moving their support services jobs here to Ireland. The numbers and name dropping announcements look great for the press, but these services  jobs will not grow a games manufacturing industry.  

Gary Leyden announced that as part of their new Launchpad (if I’m reading the announcement right?) initiative, 5 of the companies will be game based.

Applause. This is a small attempt by some dedicated individuals who can see benefit of as they say in Australia, “giving someone a go”. The only problem I have is that as usual it’s based in Dublin. Surely in this digital connective age we can see an even bigger picture. There should be incubation initiatives supported by government funding springing up all over the country. We provide this option to work placement for those games people who want to follow their dream in year 3 of the Games Development Degree. It would be nice if they could get paid while doing it. Actually they probably can but Social Welfare rules are unbelievably complex at a glance

So what did the Canadians bring to the discussion and how will their advice affect those in the room? Jet lagged as they were. 

Emmanuel Wall will publish your game. JF won’t. They have been successful, but no clear indications as to how or why really. As with a lot of things, hard work, fail early, get lucky, don’t be despondent, follow your dream, adaptability, be careful of ruthless business people (publishers, VCs, other suits) seem to be the themes. Oh yes and get the Government on board. Adaptability is very important for me. In Games development at IT Sligo we try to ensure that every graduate can program business applications as well as pursue their dream of being in the games industry. The dream isn’t facilitated by the industry yet. The Canadians indicated that they were making a living but not getting rich quick. JF of Hibernum Creations mentioned that they do a combination of in-house developed games and work for others, but mainly people that they have worked with previously. Emmanuel Wall of Strategy First seemed to be approachable and have a love for the creative nature of Game Development. JF of Hibernum Creations came from a more artistic animation background (I hope I’m not doing a disservice there) and his company is more in the social games, casual games, animation and digital art arena. But I think everyone is advocating cross/multi platform development.

What was refreshing was to see the young Irish gaming entrepreneurs in the room. Would be nice to hear successful stories from them in a few years time. I envy them their youth and I wish them well.