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Ever wonder what the Irish gaming industry looks like today? This map will show you

Hands up those who knew Atari had a manufacturing plant in Tipperary during the late 70s/early 80s?

IF YOU WERE asked to name as many gaming companies there are in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, how far would you get?

Outside the big players like EA Bioware, Activision Blizzard and Zynga setting up offices here, and middleware companies like Havok and Demonware, there are many independent game studios not only in Dublin, but dotted across Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The history of the Irish games industry goes back much further than you would initially expect. For one, hands up how many people knew that Atari opened up a plant in Tipperary in 1979, where it manufactured 2,000 cabinets a month for games like Gauntlet and Marble Madness until 1998?

Or that one of the earliest known games studios, Emerald Software, was based in Waterford (it was founded in 1988 and made ports of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker for the Commodore 64 and MSX among other 8-bit platforms before shutting down in 1991)?

The game development industry in Ireland is slowly growing in size and has been around longer than you might think. Yet despite the long heritage, it hasn’t really been clear what shape the industry currently is or exactly how many development studios there are.

It’s something that Jamie McCormick, who has been actively involved in the games industry in Ireland since the 90s and current venture is Scraggly Dog Games, is trying to change.

His latest project, GetIrishGames.ie, aims to shine a spotlight on the growing Irish games industry, and part of that project involves mapping the industry from past to present.

GetIrishGames Map A general overview of the map showing the Irish gaming industry. The interactive map aims to document gaming industry from both the past and present. (To see the map, click on the source link). Source: GetIrishGames.ie

While the mapping project itself is in its third year, it was really 2001 where it all began. Dr. Aphra Kerr, currently a senior lecturer of sociology at NUI Maynooth put together a project called ‘From Traditional Visual Media to Contemporary Digital Media: The Emergence of Digital Games‘.

From there, she and a few others within the industry founded gamedevelopers.ie, a service dedicated to supporting local companies, indie developers and freelancers in the industry. Part of that work involved compiling reports to show how the industry was progressing, the first was released in 2009 while the second was in 2012.

After McCormick put together the second report, he decided to take on the task of mapping the entire gaming industry in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, providing a clear view of the sector.

Source: State of Play/YouTube

It’s still very much a work in progress, but acquiring the information for all the companies – relying on public records as well as getting help from Ordinance Survey Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, and gamedevelopers.ie among others – took a significant amount of time to compile.

One of the main problems facing games development here was the lack of data about the industry. Since the Clustering Development Team, a group dedicated to increasing the number of digital jobs in Ireland, was created in 2012, it had been relying on old data which isn’t preferable when recommending new policies.

For the first time, they all have the same information so they could agree on something, and the second thing that they said to me is when the government makes a policy decision… they make that decision that’s based on data that’s two to three years out of date and when they do make it, it’s another two or three years before they can see the impact.Between the map and the timeline, we have a real view of the gaming industry.

Identifying the companies is only the first part of the task, with classification, more in-depth categorisations (currently a significant number of entries on the map have either hardhats or question marks companies) and profiles have yet to be compiled.

But what’s there already offers enough for those both in Ireland and abroad to understand how developed the industry is. Those looking at moving here can see what other companies are in the area so if their original plan doesn’t work out, they can have a backup, while those studying game design can see what opportunities there are.

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firBolag bitSmith Games is one of the companies included on the list. Its mobile game Ku: Shroud of the Morrigan was released on Steam on St Patrick's day. Source: bitSmith Games

McCormick is currently working on the project by himself, but is open to extra help and donations to the project.

While its primary aim is to help those in the industry, as well as those working abroad, understand the shape the industry is in, it’s also hopes to raise the profile of the local games industry among the general public.

While there are gaming events held regularly, McCormick says they’re more about “connecting developers with developers, whereas what we need to do is connect consumers with the games.”

But it also extends much further than that. Ireland sees €240 million spent on games and his aim is to see one per cent of that market (€2.4 million) going towards homegrown companies and developers. The obvious caveat is the games have to be good before people would buy them, but McCormick feels that if the project works, it will mean more traffic to the site, and hopefully more Irish games will be purchased.

For now, the focus is on raising funds for the project through on-site donations and events, with the possibility to apply for EU funding later on this year, to help speed up the project. Regardless of what happens, McCormick intends on finishing it and jokes “I’m at the point of no return, but what can you do?”

Those interested in helping out or donating to the project can find out more details here.

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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