In My Opinion: David Thomson: Scottish computer games industry in transition, not crisis

AS you may have read, the Scottish Affairs Committee visited Scotland last week to investigate the country’s computer games industry.

Despite some of the media coverage to the contrary, I don’t believe the Scottish games industry is in crisis. I don’t believe there are any ‘panicked’ companies about to up sticks and move wholesale to another country.

The Scottish games industry is in transition.

Companies have been trying to move away from the ‘traditional’ model of the industry, where a publisher funds the development of a game.

This is a good thing. Companies like Cobra and Digital Goldfish have had success on iPhone, with their own and licensed titles, while Tag and Dynamo have recently received commissions from Channel 4 for public service games.

As much as we’d like it to be otherwise, not everything tried has been successful.

Denki took a different funding model for Quarrel, it’s innovative and highly anticipated game for Xbox, but the eventual lack of a distribution route for an unique experience was an insurmountable obstacle.

And Realtime Worlds took on a couple of projects of massive scope and scale, that haven’t panned out the way anyone would have liked.

Aside from that, this year Ruffian launched Crackdown 2, the sequel to the multi-million selling original (in turn, created by Realtime Worlds); Proper released a new version of the classic Final Fight – for Japanese giant, Capcom – and the downloadable content for Crackdown 2; Cohort have a PlayStation 3 Move launch title for Sony; Firebrand have the best-selling Wii racing game behind Mario Kart; and Digital Goldfish were just included in the Guardian’s Tech 100 list for the second year running.

Dare to be Digital, the hugely successful games design competition, in which student teams the world over fight for a chance to take part, and ProtoPlay – held during the Edinburgh Festival to celebrate the end of Dare and also to showcase the Scottish industry – were both once again huge successes. Amongst the universities, Abertay are managing a £5 million prototyping fund for the UK, Glasgow Caledonian continue to do great research and host the popular Scottish Game Jam (where teams gather to create complete games in just 48 hours), and West of Scotland are also conducting useful research.

Ready Up and Square Go are terrific online games magazines. There are a number of companies doing great work and having success in niche markets and/or ‘unglamorous’ platforms – who knows what paths they will take in the future?

But let’s be clear – we’ve stumbled this year for one critical reason. We’re failing to make money.

Perhaps some of you reading that think I’m being crass in saying that. I’ve paraphrased Walt Disney on this before and I’m sure I’ll do it again in the future: “We don’t make games to make money; we make money so we can make more games.”

That’s all there is to it; but right now we are lacking it.

It’s obviously the key to creating a sustainable games industry, which is part of what is needed to have a strong Scottish sector.

The Scottish games industry is in transition, and it’s not something that can be solved overnight.

The public sector, government and media are going to have to adjust their expectations, though, because the new measures of success are not going to be job creation and new company registrations. The new measures will be based on wealth creation, rights ownership and social contribution.

The public sector can certainly provide support, whether through project funding, skills development, improving the country’s infrastructure or perhaps even tax breaks.

The mainstream press could try being cheerleaders for the industry, though they’ll need the industry to talk to them first in order to do that (something that historically the industry has been terrible at).

But this transition was started by the industry itself, and I believe it will be completed by the industry itself. It won’t happen overnight, it won’t happen without a few more stumbles, and it sure as hell won’t be easy, but the ambition is there. The belief is there.

David Thomson founded games laboratory Ludometrics in early 2010, having spent over ten years in the Scottish games industry with creative innovators Denki, Slam and as founder of the pioneering mobile games developer, The Games Kitchen.