It’s not often that you go into an interview with a list of questions and have them all answered, more or less, in one uninterrupted 20-minute response. Unless, that is, the interviewee is on their third coffee of the morning and happens to be Scottish Games Network’s founder and director Brian Baglow.
The subject of our rather one-sided chat is Scottish Games Week, which is set to start October 24th and kick off a nationwide program that includes an industry conference, education symposium, an awards evening, and much more besides; taking place from the borders to the highlands and islands. Aside from how it aims to be all-encompassing, what is remarkable is that it will be the first significant event of its type in Scotland for a generation.
“This is something that I’ve had in the back of my mind for almost 20 years,” says Baglow, who founded Scottish Games Network in 2004 when it started out as little more than a Yahoo group. “From 2004 to 2008, we had the Edinburgh Interactive Festival or Edinburgh Games Festival, depending on which year it was. But that took place during the Edinburgh Festival.
It was a mishmash and, being honest, it was a bit of an excuse for folk in London to come up to Edinburgh on expenses during the festival. It never really hit the mark and it certainly didn’t showcase or involve the industry in Scotland. I’ve been trying to change that for quite some time.”
A veteran of DMA Design and Rockstar Games, Baglow has been on something of a mission to raise Scotland’s games industry profile beyond that of its most foundational and successful studios and to connect all the many touchpoints of the industry in Scotland together.
“We’ve got all of these different funds and different opportunities coming up through the tech sector, but also within Scotland’s creative industries. And as it stands right now, the games industry has no way of connecting. So my goal with this is really to use Games Week as a catalyst for change and to build a proper games ecosystem-wide cluster, because I think that’s where we can innovate and pioneer.
“My pitch with all of this to the government, public sector and the Scottish media is that games are Scotland’s secret weapon. If we can just connect the game sector up more effectively, we’re going to be doing something that no other country in the world is capable of. Getting games in education from the earliest days, looking at games in terms of health care, social inclusion, mental health and well being. We’ve got so many opportunities to innovate and pioneer, but we need to be at the table. We need to be part of the discussions. And so that’s sort of the bigger picture for the whole of Scottish Games Week.”
WHAT THE TECH
The catalyst for Scottish Games Week came in the wake of the 2020 Logan Report, which offered 37 recommendations to the Scottish government for building a more successful tech ecosystem, based around infrastructure funding and education. In the process of accepting all the recommendations, a fund was set up specifically to help establish events to promote the tech sector north of the border.
“It might surprise people, especially those in the games industry, that games is part of the tech industry. It’s also part of the creative industries. But, in the UK as a whole, we tend to not really see ourselves as part of either – games is something alone. But anyway, I applied for funding to build a stupidly ambitious event, which I pitched as Scottish Games Week. And lo and behold, I got it. So I then had to go and build a stupidly ambitious programme for Scottish Games Week, which I now have in place.”
MORE THAN GAMES
The headline events of Scottish Games Week include More Than Games, in Glasgow on October 24th, “My big pitch here and what I’m doing in Scotland, is to emphasise the ecosystem rather than the industry,” says Baglow, who believes the games ecosystem in Scotland is five times bigger than might be calculated, certainly bigger than the 2,000 people that make up the 125 studios across the country. “As an example, we’ve got Access, an animation giant in Glasgow. They’ve got as many people as Rockstar.
They’re hiring Unreal developers like it’s going out of business, because the real time animation team is using game engines. You know, more and more of the companies in the screen sector are reliant on games technologies like Unity and Unreal, and so on. So More Than Games is the opening event very specifically to pull people in from all areas of the digital tech world, all areas of the creative industries and say ‘games are relevant to you’.”
THE WEEK THAT WILL
The focus for Tuesday’s events is on Edinburgh, for the week’s Education Symposium. This aims to look at the teaching of games and how games are used in education, specifically in Scotland, but also across the UK. “The teaching of computer science up here is absolutely screwed,” says Baglow. “We don’t have enough teachers, the people who want to study computer science can’t, and I think as an attempt to address this, games have a very big role to play”
That evening, members of the Scottish Parliament are being invited to see for themselves the importance of the nation’s games sector and how it might help power the rise of its tech sector as the government aims to become a top five nation in the realm of fintech. Wednesday is when Scottish Games Week will go nationwide, with game jams, esports events, and local conferences and workshops in every region. Then on Thursday and Friday the spotlight will be on Dundee for the main conference, what Baglow says will be the closest the week will come to being Scotland’s answer to Develop in Brighton, and which will end with the first ever Scottish Games Awards. “It’s long overdue,” says Baglow while remembering an awards ceremony in 1995 that was never repeated.
“We have an awful lot of very talented, very skilled and very creative people working in Scotland, but you hear about them all too rarely, because you tend not to see them on stage at GDC or Develop. They’re not always the first to put themselves forward.”
The highlight of the conference for many will be its line-up of speakers, an array of which will front not just the conference, but also More Than Games and the Education Symposium. Unsurprisingly, many of those set to speak during Scottish Games Week are either based in Scotland or with deep ties to the country, such as programmer Graeme Devine, of id Software (Quake 3), Microsoft, Apple and Ensemble Studios fame. “He’s now running his own studio, but he’s a Glasgow boy,” reveals Baglow. “He’s coming back to speak in Scotland, I think for the first time ever.”
The response to Scottish Games Week has been heartening for Baglow, not just from those happy to speak, but from participants at all levels and others wanting to get involved to ensure that there’s not just a Scottish Games Week in 2023, but that it helps to further the cause of Scotland’s gaming industry, not just in and of itself, but as part of a growing tech and creative sector that Baglow insists gaming is intrinsically linked to.
“We need the discussions and the topics and the themes from Scottish Games Week to continue on after the event in a much bigger context. Internally, the games community in Scotland is incredibly strong, really friendly, very helpful, …reasonably social. But we need to forge those links outside the sector, and make sure that we have this opportunity for games to reach out, but also for all of these other sectors to understand more about how to reach in.”