According to figures from UKIE, there are over one hundred game developers and publishers based in Yorkshire. The Northern Powerhouse trope appears to be alive and well when it comes to the UK games industry, as companies like Rockstar Leeds, Sumo Digital, and Team 17 have made their home in Yorkshire. But these globally recognised studios are one small piece of a much larger picture, made whole by the thriving indie development scene.
Yorkshire has a long history of both formal and informal game developer networks that have helped bring more opportunities to the region. Game Republic was one of the first major developer networks in the UK, established in 2003 and funded primarily through Screen Yorkshire. When the government pulled funding from screen agencies in 2008, most regions lost their game support networks. However, Game Republic survived after Jamie Sefton stepped in as director and transformed it into a member-supported network. Today, Game Republic now has over 50 companies signed up as paying members, from Rockstar to indie developers working out of their bedrooms.
Thunkd is a Leeds-based one-man operation founded by Andrew Crawshaw, and most recently released The Magnificent Truffle Pigs on Steam last year. In 2011, Crawshaw launched a similar free network with Ga-Ma-Yo (Game Makers Yorkshire) for indie developers. While Game Republic was aimed at companies, Ga-Ma-Yo catered more towards individuals. Ga-Ma-Yo has since grown into the largest regional network of game devs in the UK with around 1,000 members and holds twice yearly events attended by hundreds of people.
Crawshaw has since handed Ga-Ma-Yo over to Game Republic, and it is now run by Emma Cowling who also runs Women in Games York. Yorkshire also benefits from smaller, city-scale networks like Shindig in Sheffield, Hud Dev Field in Huddersfield, and Leeds Game Toast, which Crawshaw founded and still runs to this day.
“That long history of having formal and informal game developer networks has really helped bring opportunities to the region for local developers – including indies,” says Crawshaw. “Game Republic is a great way for other organisations and schemes to reach out to developers – and so we find the likes of Creative England and Indie Lab trialling new support programmes in the region. And universities develop schemes – like XR Stories – that bring academia and game developers together.”
That new Indie Lab support scheme is Games Export Lab Leeds, revealed in June this year, and aims to support game studios in the region as they prepare for international business.
Responding to the announcement Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire said: “It’s brilliant to be able to support such a wide range of people in these fantastic games businesses across West Yorkshire. Through the opportunities, experience, and open discussion these programmes offer, it means that we are building the right foundations not only for these businesses to achieve their growth goals, but also to create a network that will live on, beyond the end of each programme.”
Beyond helping to attract funding and giving the region a bigger voice, networks like Game Republic are nurtured by their members to share and collaborate for the benefit of the entire Yorkshire games industry.
“There has always been a real spirit of collaboration and of sharing information in Yorkshire,” says Game Republic director Jamie Sefton. “I remember doing an interview with an industry publication ten years ago, and they were really surprised by the fact that like Sumo would lend equipment to other companies, and they would talk to each other and share contacts and things like that.”
Yorkshire has, Sefton says, always been a very supportive place for people coming into the industry and “able to ride out a difficult time by having a strong, mutually supportive network.” When ill-fated Activision studio The Blast Furnace shut down in 2014, Game Republic was there to arrange interviews for most of 47 staff who were made redundant by the closure – many of whom secured jobs and stayed in the region to found studios like Kaiju which was recently acquired by XR Games.
“We really do have a very supportive community here,” says Sefton. “People are very open and willing to share contacts and help and I think that's just lovely.
"We don't think like that in Yorkshire. It's more like, we help each other out across the whole North as well; we talk to companies in Manchester and Liverpool and Newcastle and Middlesbrough and further south Derby and other parts of the UK. We don't think of each other as rivals really. We just think it's us against the world really. It’s all about more business and more opportunities.”
There is no shortage of opportunity for indie developers in Yorkshire. Working at larger studios like Rockstar and Sumo can provide a strong starting point for developers looking to break away and establish their own outfit. Homegrown Yorkshire companies like Sumo Digital and Team 17 have seen tremendous success in the region with recent respective IPOs of £145 million and £200 million. Perhaps beyond the scope of most indie developers, but it speaks to the fertile environment of the Yorkshire game industry which has grown and changed substantially over the years.
“Like the global indie scene, Yorkshire saw a huge explosion of indie game development between 2008 and 2018,” says Crawshaw. “The opportunities offered by the launch of Apple's App Store, the consoles launching digital stores, and of course, the continued growth of Steam… As these markets grew, the big players paid them more attention, and eventually a mixture of increased competition, and the lure of steady jobs meant that the indie scene shrank back towards the end of 2010s.
“We have more large studios than ever before, along with some great universities. With all those game developers in the region, we inevitably see new indies regularly starting new studios.”
Founded in 2019 by Steph Newton, Cosmic Boop is one of those newer Yorkshire-based studios. As a one-person outfit operating out of Sheffield, Newtown has found a few notable benefits to being based in the region such as the affordability of housing compared to other areas of the UK, “which can make it easier to try to start a business.”
“Yorkshire has a great game development community,” says Newton. “We have recently had some great local events to us as well as travelling around Yorkshire to attend numerous others. We have met a wide variety of great, talented developers this way and made some good connections… There is also beautiful countryside to escape to when things inevitably get stressful.”
The iconic Yorkshire countryside crops up a lot when speaking with people operating out of the region, and is a clear selling point for those who live and work there. Given the well-documented mental health benefits of getting outside and enjoying nature, it’s hardly surprising.
The lower cost of living and increased access to natural green spaces should not be underestimated when considering the benefits of Yorkshire as a base of operations for any indie developer. Yorkshire offers both large cities with a lot of cultural value and sprawling unspoiled countryside. When the average house price in Yorkshire is around £217,000 compared to £629,000 in London, the potential quality of life benefits are self-evident – especially when considering startup costs for a new development outfit.
“We are based in Sheffield on the West side right next to the Peak District, with the city close by and the countryside a short walk in the other direction,” says Lizi Attwood, technical director at Furious Bee. “It is peaceful and green with birds singing every day outside of our office window. Sheffield is right in the middle of the country with good transport links to London and further North and just the other side of the Pennines is Manchester Airport. So we are well connected to the world beyond.”
Founded in 2014, Furious Bee mostly was set up to be small and agile. The company itself is just the two founder-directors, but collaborates with other companies to complete projects and ramps up using contractors with the specific skills needed. Furious Bee mostly does work for hire, and the latest big game it released was Telling Lies, which it developed with Sam Barlow and Annapurna Interactive.
“The games industry is spread out around the country with a few clusters here and there, so during your career, when you move jobs, you often have to move to a different city at the same time,” says Attwood. “We were in Sheffield when we decided to stop moving around – and the alternative to moving around is to start your own company. So that is what we did.
“Now our business is quite international, with about 50% of our trade coming from the USA. Yorkshire is a great place to set up a game development company, there are quite a few studios in close proximity and we all regularly meet up at events like Ga-Ma-Yo in Leeds, which happens twice a year, and at other smaller events that happen more regularly at the various hubs such as Leeds, Sheffield and York.
“We are also surrounded by some excellent universities producing the next generation of game developers. Plus, it doesn’t cost the earth to live here, so people will find that their money can go a bit further.”
Of course, like any region there are some hurdles to consider. Attwood highlights that internet infrastructure in the region is not as good as elsewhere, with upload speed in particular being more of an issue.
“Upload speed is important to our business in order to deliver builds quickly to clients around the world,” she says. “Most consumers are naturally focused on download speeds so probably don’t really notice. If we were in London we would be able to rent a much faster connection that may also be more reliable. If setting up in Yorkshire, I’d recommend getting in touch with DiT (Department for International Trade) who have a dedicated Yorkshire and the Humber office and have helped us in the past.”
Access to experienced talent is also a little more limited – an issue which has been exacerbated by Brexit, according to Sefton. But there is no shortage of young talent thanks to the nearby universities, and the multiple networks present many opportunities to find the talent any indie developer needs.
Yorkshire presents many opportunities for indie developers, with extensive networks, a strong sense of community, high quality universities, and prominent global studios. That’s not to mention being home to cultural hubs like Sheffield, Leeds and Bradford, which was recently selected as the City of Culture 2025.
“Yorkshire tends to be a place where if something’s missing, we let's say ‘Sod it, I'll do it anyway’ and make it ourselves,” says Sefton. “Something has to happen… and that's how it's always been in this region. We rarely wait for handouts, we just get on with it really there's always more that can be done.”
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