The City of Dundee has been the hub of the game development community in Scotland for the past 20 years or so. It could be argued that DMA Design started it all off, as it was the first of the games studios in Dundee.
DMA made a name for itself as a successful games development studio which attracted a lot of big name publishers to take a look at the city to see if there were any other talented people ready to set up a studio and make great games.
This paved the way for Visual Sciences – set up by ex-DMA employees – and VIS Entertainment to start up studios and bring the game development workforce in Dundee to over 300 employees. For the past decade the owners and employees from those three studios have steadily influenced and grown the game development community in the Scottish city.
A lot of people don’t realise just how many studios have been formed in Dundee over the years. It’s a long list, considering Dundee only has a population of around 140,000.
DMA Design 1988, Visual Sciences 1993, VIS Entertainment 1996, Denki 2000, Realtime Worlds 2002, Dynamo Games 2004, 4J Studios 2005, Tag Games, Proper Games and Cohort Studios all 2006 and then there’s us, Ruffian Games 2008. I’m almost certain I’ve missed a good few off this list too, so apologies in advance.
Based on this level of growth across a number of different studios you would expect the game development community in Dundee to be thriving, but the past few years have seen a lot of these studios in the unenviable position where they have had to restructure, making a portion of their employees redundant to keep the studio alive.
And others have not been quite so lucky and had to completely close their doors, making their entire studio workforce redundant and then selling off their remaining assets to try to come out of the whole business without accruing major debts.
The first to be affected was DMA Design when it had to make a section of its staff redundant back in 1998. The next to be hit by was VIS Entertainment when it went into administration in 2005 and closed shortly afterwards. Then it was the turn of Visual Sciences which was no more by mid-2006.
More recently Denki had to make the vast majority of its staff redundant in April 2010. And then RTW – the largest game development studio in the history of Dundee – went into administration in August 2010.
And incredibly only a few days later Cohort Studios also had to make around half of its staff redundant. And while this must have been a terribly difficult decision, it at least made it early enough to ensure that the studio avoided administration.
This reads like an entirely miserable course of events, and when you’re in it yourself, it is. For some these closures were disastrous to their personal lives, to others they presented fantastic opportunities that may not have been obvious to them before.
Over the past few weeks Dundee has seen the biggest publishers on the planet send their recruitment teams to the city to talk to the hundreds of people who had been made redundant and many of those guys now have multiple job offers at fantastic studios.
So while it looks like a disaster there are normally some positives that come from these unfortunate events. Some people will move away to other studios outside Dundee, others will join the existing studios still doing well in the city, and some will be lucky enough to start their own studios and see if they can make a success out of this fickle industry.
I also heard that Realtime Worlds may have a speck of light at the end of the tunnel, with rumours flowing in about MyWorld being bought by Ian Hetherington – former chairman and chief strategy officer of Realtime Worlds – and also the possibility of APB’s fantastic customisation tools being worked into an already well known engine and franchise in the States.
Admittedly both of these are unconfirmed rumours, but many of the negative rumours over the past months have painfully turned out to be true. So I’ve got my fingers crossed that these more positive rumours also turn into fact.
The Dundee games development community has taken a battering over the years, but it always comes back stronger and I see no reason to believe that this trait will not continue into the coming years.