Wales, at the top of its game - Why the gaming industry in Wales is on the rise
The gaming industry is forged on the vivid imaginations of its creators. Where storytellers work in tandem with coders, animators and video game music composers. Where consumers escape to parallel worlds for hours on end, living the narratives of heroes and villains, sports stars or film characters. The UK market for video games, consoles and related products is valued by some analysts at more than £5.11billion, and is experiencing rapid growth year on year. And some of its most exciting players – indie developers, blockbuster title producers and influencers – are driving that industry growth and innovation from right here in Wales.
Wales Interactive, an independent video games developer and publisher based in Pencoed, Bridgend, is a prime example of this. The company is an officially recognised developer for PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo and has created more than 20 games across the platforms, many of which have received critical acclaim. It has been nominated for more than 80 awards since its inception in 2012, including the prestigious BAFTA Cymru Games Award which it won later that year. In March 2018, it was one of seven companies to represent Wales for the first time at the world renowned Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. The annual event is attended by 28,000 industry professionals from around the globe.
In June 2018, the company’s co-founder and managing director, David Banner, received an MBE for services to the video gaming industry. At the time Banner told Wales Online: “Being based in Wales works as a big plus for us. Over the last six years the company has been from a local talent pool. We’ve tapped into graduates to make high-quality games for all formats, and we’ve sold over two million games and counting.”
In five years, Wales Interactive has gone from the attic room of its founder’s house to a state-of-the-art games studio in Bridgend’s Sony UK Technology Park, with an expanding team and games portfolio.
Tiny Rebel Games is another success story of the industry’s growth. Founded by husband and wife team Lee and Susan Cummings in 2016, the independent developer is a sister company of Tiny Rebel Brewery (a company reaping the benefits of another industry that has boomed in recent times).
The company achieved early success with Doctor Who Legacy, a mobile role player game for iOS and Android based on the popular BBC television series, which is filmed in south Wales. The game has attracted over 2.5 million players since its release in 2013.
Tiny Rebel Games’ next major project, Doctor Who Infinity, is being released as five self-contained episodes. The company secured £300,000 in funding from the Welsh Government, alongside investment from the British game developer Double Eleven to aid the game’s design and production. The technical aspects of the game were developed in collaboration with the Taiwanese firm, Seed Studio, although Tiny Rebel Games also views the project as an opportunity to showcase the creative talent in its home country.
The company sourced a group of Wales based writers, actors, technical staff, and comic book artists that had previous experience working with the Doctor Who series as well as projects for DC and Marvel.
Susan Cummings said: “It’s not a new idea: if you were going to cast a film in Wales, you wouldn’t necessarily have an all-Welsh cast. But by putting it all together here, we’re helping core competencies to grow, which makes Wales a better environment for games – and will lead to more projects being done here.”
And Wales is not only attracting talent to its video gaming industry; it is producing talent too. The University of South Wales, which has campuses in Cardiff, Newport, and Pontypridd, offers an undergraduate degree in Computer Game Design. The University’s industry links provide students with opportunities to enter the field – Tiny Rebel Games hired one of its graduates as a technical artist – and many of its alumni now work in or run their own video games development companies.
Mike Bithell, a graduate of the University’s BA in Computer Game Design, was voted by gamesindustry.biz as one of the top 100 most influential people working in the British games industry in 2017. His independent project, Thomas Was Alone, was described by The Telegraph as a “wonderful indie puzzle-platfomer bursting with personality”. The game was originally released as a flash-based browser game in 2010, before eventually being released on PC and numerous PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo consoles in April 2013 to further critical acclaim.
One year later, Bithell announced on Twitter that Thomas Was Alone had sold over 1 million copies, not including free downloads of the game. His latest development, text based science fiction adventure Quarantine Circular was released in May 2018 – 89% of its reviews on the Steam gaming platform have been ‘very positive’ to date. He regularly features on industry podcasts offering insights from his experience in the field.
So what next for the Welsh gaming industry and beyond? Wales Interactive has been credited with ‘bringing back’ FMV (full motion video) games, which use pre-recorded video featuring actors rather than animations. Advances in technology have facilitated the production of interactive movies that run in high quality on games consoles. The company’s next production (out in Q4 2018), noir murder mystery The Shapeshifting Detective, will allow gamers to play as a shapeshifting detective in an interactive thriller. And with the development of emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality drastically improving the possibilities for future game design, the industry’s growth doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon. And in Wales, game companies can find the talent pool, industry contacts and financial support needed to fully exploit their growth potential.
Video credit: Doctor Who Infinity, Tiny Rebel Games.