It was 1995 and Dai Banner was at art college in the Rhondda. The co-founder of Wales Interactive could draw but didn’t know about software design or programming.
“It was a dream and ambition of mine, but it was something that wasn’t available,” he said. Despite the seemingly impossible odds stacked against him, the young art student wrote off to the address of Domark Software.
Banner was surprised to receive a reply and before he knew it, he was setting off for London. “I managed to get a break by designing games,” he remembers.
Within months of joining Domark, it was merged into Eidos Interactive, one of the giants of the gaming industry. It was a good apprenticeship for Banner, who learned various aspects of the industry and worked on some of the industry’s biggest games. But Banner had always wanted to set up on his own.
“My ambition was always to set up a company and bring it back to Wales,” he says. “I’m from the Rhondda Valley and I still live there [in Treorchy]. You haven’t got to be in London or Los Angeles any more. That’s the great thing about the digital era.” By 2012, after spending some years doing jobs in both industry and academia, Banner got his wish.
He set up Wales Interactive with Richard Pring, a friend and colleague. The pair initially funded the venture with their own cash.
“If you don’t put your own money in, you can’t expect anyone else to,” Banner admits. “Money unlocks money.”
Wales Interactive employs 12 staff at its studio in Pencoed, Bridgend, where it rents space from Sony UK. In just four years, Wales Interactive has produced 20 games and been nominated for 40 awards, including winning a BAFTA Cymru. It was behind the first game to be made in Wales for Sony Playstation, Master Reboot, and it makes games for all the big console manufacturers, like Xbox, Nintendo, Playstation and Wii.
Banner acknowledges the company would not have come so far, so fast if it wasn’t for the support it has received from the Welsh Government’s Digital Development Fund (DDF). Wales Interactive received £50,000 from the fund to help develop Master Reboot in 2013. Welsh language broadcaster S4C was also an investor in the game.
“Without it [the financial aid], it would have taken us longer than four years to get where we are now,” he says. “There was nothing like the DDF outside of Wales. So, Wales had a bit of an edge.”
Master Reboot was not a blockbuster, but it sold well enough so that Banner could repay the loans. “It’s always nice when you make the money back that you said you would,” he says.
Wales Interactive has since won a second tranche of funding from the DDF to help develop Soul Axiom, its latest game.