The last couple of years have been a little tempestuous for Dundee, with some terrible lows – goodbye Realtime Worlds – countered by a few notable highs – hello Outplay.
However, the development sector in Dundee, far from disappearing, has evolved, adapted and grown in a variety of new ways.
This flux and uncertainty has mirrored that found in much of the global games industry, where the focus has shifted from the triple-A console titles, onto the smaller multi-platform casual, social and mobile games.
Yet the overriding feeling around the city’s development studios is one of optimism, confidence and excitement.
A NEW ERA
Thanks in part to the closure of some of the larger, console focused studios, many companies around Dundee have been turning their attention on the new non-dedicated platforms over the last few years.
There are already several dozen games from Dundee companies live on Apple’s App Store, the Android Market and Facebook. Whilst these may not grab the headlines in the same way as major console releases, they are significant new channels for developers.
Although the viability of some platforms and business models are still being debated, developers in Dundee are already taking advantage of these to create new games.
“It feels like the flux which affected much of the industry over the last couple of years is settling down now as each company finds its focus and starts to make headway in its chosen markets,” says Colin Anderson, MD of developer Denki. “We’re definitely through the worst of it.”
According to David Hamilton, the MD of local outfit Digital Goldfish, this focus on digital channels will only get more significant.
“The digital download market is growing exponentially, and with the extremely low barriers to entry there really are huge opportunities for smaller companies to start creating innovative games,” he offers. “On iOS alone there are a number of Dundee devs who have enjoyed global success this last year.”
BIG IS FRUITFUL?
Yet the suspicion remains in some quarters that Dundee has lost something with the disappearance of its larger studios.
Early in 2011 the BBC reported on the Dundee cluster, but considered the lack of a sizeable business in the area problematic. 4J Studios’ Frank Arnot however, says the growing number of small devs is a distinct advantage.
“The presence of a ‘super-developer’ is an oft-used but incorrect marker for excellence,” insists Arnot. “What Dundee has now is a cluster of smaller, talented development studios who pack a punch way beyond their individual size, and who collectively produce more creative and exciting work than any single super-developer ever could.”
Alongside the smaller, more agile and creative studios, Dundee also has a number of other advantages which makes the city’s future in gaming very bright indeed.
Abertay University is finally getting the global recognition it deserves as a pioneer of games development, and a growing number graduates are staying on to work locally.
“There’s so many ambitious companies here,” says Serious Parody founder Dan Hinkles. “If you want to work on triple-A, licensed, social, mobile or augmented reality games, you can in Dundee. Where else could a talented developer find so much variety? “
The city council and local MP are keen supporters of the industry, providing help and support for games-related events as well as a voice within the Scottish parliament.
So what does this mean for the future of the industry?
Mark Ettle, the MD of Cobra, looks on the bright side: “In 2012 I think you’ll see a new wave of ultra-high quality titles come out of Dundee on a huge variety of platforms and genres. That’s going to make people once again recognise Dundee as the creative hotspot that we locals know it really is.”
And Richard Hare, the president of Outplay Entertainment is even more enthusiastic. “Dundee has an incredible range of developers, from young start-ups and small independent studios, through to very well established and highly respected companies which have been creating games for many years,” he says.