The Welsh video game industry has seen significant growth in recent years, with a passionate games community, supportive stakeholders, and cost-effectiveness compared to other UK tech hotspots. It has also seen a notable rise in the number of video game development companies. With the support of the Welsh government and organisations like Creative Wales, the Welsh gaming industry has a lot of potential to thrive in the coming years.
The video game industry in Wales is relatively small, with around 25 development studios. However, it is a growing sector with immense potential. According to Ukie figures from 2019, the Welsh industry is worth an estimated £90 million and employs approximately 800 people, including developers, artists, and designers. It is predicted that the industry will continue to grow, with job openings and investment opportunities on the rise.
Barclays Eagle Labs supports the growth of technology startups and scaleups in the UK through a range of services delivered by best-in-class partners. They work closely with founders from various industries, providing programmes and content through a virtual proposition and local partnership offering. In 2023, they received the Digital Growth Grant, which will allow them to provide more diverse and frequent programmes. One of the businesses they have supported is Skyline Studios Games, a team that came together for the Tranzfuser 2022 competition and developed action platformer Escalar.
Chris Skinner, ecosystems manager at Cardiff Eagle Labs, aims to provide support, networking opportunities, and a platform for founders utilising relationships with local partners like Tramshed Tech and Creative Wales. Eagle Labs is a virtual proposition that can be accessed from anywhere in Wales, and has a history of supporting the creative industries, including games.
“There is fantastic talent here in Wales in games and creatives,” says Skinner. “This stems from some great work at academic level with the University of South Wales, who have a very strong and supportive team.
“I believe the most significant challenge in operating in Wales is access to investment – more so for the Games and Creatives sector. As part of my role, I am working to drive more investment for the sector and having a national proposition of active investors who want to really shine the spotlight on what Wales has to offer. We are already seeing specific Welsh funding options to support Welsh founders in the industry. At Eagle Labs we also have our Demo Directory, through which we provide opportunities for aspirational businesses to demo their business to a selected group of attested investors.”
Despite the challenges faced by the industry in accessing investment, it's encouraging to see that the games sector in Wales is attracting more interest and support from a wider range of stakeholders, which could help drive further growth and innovation in the future.
“More recently I am seeing far more traditional sectors and investors engaging with the games industry,” says Skinner. “Here in South Wales, I am seeing a far more joined up journey with the universities collaborating with tech hubs like Tramshed and propositions such as Eagle Labs in supporting games founders to commercialise their passion.
“If we look at how education courses have evolved in recent years and how new learning practices are being adopted, we have such a talent pool of skilled individuals who can now be provided with the tools to commercialise the industries they are passionate about.”
One of the main challenges facing the Welsh video game industry is the recruitment and retention of skilled talent. The industry requires a broad range of skills, from programming and design to marketing and project management. It is essential to attract and retain talented individuals to ensure the industry's growth. Companies can work closely with universities to offer internships and job opportunities to students and graduates, ensuring a steady stream of new talent.
Another challenge facing the Welsh video game industry is the high level of competition from other regions and countries. Wales must continue to innovate and produce high-quality games to remain competitive. The industry requires consistent investment and support to ensure that it can compete with other regions.
Tucked away in Aberystwyth, West Coast Games is the most isolated game developer in Wales (if not the entire UK) and recruits staff “almost exclusively” from the Computer Science department at the local university. As such, employee turnover can be an issue.
“We would take a graduate, unteach a lot of what they had learnt about programming and bring them up to speed with gaming and then they would be attracted by the higher salaries and social life in the cities,” says founder John Jones-Steele. “If they have settled down and started a family in Aberystwyth, they tend to stay with us.”
Jones-Steele has been making games in Aberystwyth since 1981, working with companies such as EA, Microprose, Level 9 and Goliath Games. The partnership with Goliath Games collapsed in 1991, after which he continued working from home as Abersoft. Later, he set up Broadsword Interactive Limited and then West Coast, which continues today with three staff members.
Historically, communication links have been another major issue for such a rural developer. While that has changed a lot in recent years, the train to Cardiff still takes over four hours and involves entering England first. Despite being barely 70 miles as the crow flies.
“Trying to negotiate contracts with the big publishers down in London, we had to make sure that we never complained about the time it took to get there,” says Jones-Steele.
The Welsh video game industry is unique in that it is focused on producing games that reflect Welsh culture and heritage. Welsh video game developers like Wales Interactive and Evil Owl Studios are creating games that showcase Welsh mythology, history, and landscapes, offering a unique perspective on the gaming world. This approach has helped Welsh game developers gain recognition and praise, further establishing Wales as a promising hub for video game development.
While Jones-Steele says one thing that makes the Welsh games industry unique is the “lack of support we have had since devolution,” other developers praise the work of the Welsh Government and Creative Wales – especially in supporting indie developers.
Black Dragon Studios was founded in September 2018, and has since released games on Oculus VR, Steam, PlayStation VR, and is currently working on their first Xbox Series X/S game called You're Doomed. The studio's founding members have a history of making small games together, and decided to start an indie game studio to avoid moving away from their lives in Wales. The studio has strong links with Welsh universities and has worked with them as visiting/guest lecturers, and for game testing, in order to help students leave with their names on released games.
“The Welsh games industry is dominated by small indies and broadly speaking we are all pretty much aware of each other and help each other out when we can,” says Julian Hainsworth of Black Dragon Studios. “It sounds a little redundant to say but I think that a lot of us started our indie studios here because we wanted to stay here and make games, but the job opportunities didn’t exist, so we made our own.”
Hainsworth says the thing that makes the Welsh games industry unique is the “sheer number of indies.” But the lack of large studios does mean a lot of talent leaves to find work elsewhere in the wider industry.
“We’ve long had a good University games education and training scene in Wales, and historically the graduates have then left to go and work for major studios across the border, but now they seem more and more to be staying here and trying to set up their own shop,” Hainsworth continues. “I think in part that’s due to the availability of development tools for indies now, but there’s definitely a culture shift there too, and the support from the government has really helped a lot of us make a success of it.”
Hainsworth says the Creative Wales team in particular is “incredibly dedicated to making the Welsh gaming industry a success". It offers a wide range of support to small and large studios alike including organising a delegation and stand at Game Developers Conference in San Francisco which “gives small indies like us the opportunity to pitch to the major players in person.”
There was also plenty of support when it mattered most during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The grant schemes were real life savers during that time,” says Hainsworth. “But the main change we’ve really seen is more small indies starting and a wider variety of games being made, people have become less precious too and are very ready to show off what they’re working on, get input from others, and even offer their help, which is absolutely lovely to see.”
The Welsh video game industry has many opportunities for growth. There are grants and funding available specifically to Wales-based companies, as well as local tax incentives and other support. The country's infrastructure is also receiving a lot of investment, such as the creation of the new International Convention Centre Wales, which should attract more video game conferences and events to the region.
Meanwhile, Welsh universities are also providing opportunities for the video game industry. Universities in Wales offer courses in game design, computer science, and other relevant areas. They also collaborate with companies to provide research and development opportunities and support the development of new technologies. By working closely with universities, the Welsh video game industry can attract and retain talented graduates and researchers, promoting growth and innovation.
This was echoed by the development team at Evil Owl Studios who noted that Creative Wales is a great contact for any game developer even without applying for available grants.
Evil Owl Studios is a team of four, founded in April 2019 during their Master’s course. They are currently working on a project called Ser based on Welsh mythology. The team graduated from the games development course at Wrexham Glyndŵr University, which provided them with feedback, opportunities, networking, funding, and encouragement to set up their company.
“The communities are mostly based around the universities,” says the development team. “There’s communities based in both North and South Wales. They do work together for the most part, but they are quite different.
“The talent grows outwards from the universities and often spreads across the country. The problem is less so attracting the talent, it’s more retaining the talent. One of the reasons we set up a business was because of the difficulties in finding a related role, due to the limited market in Wales and the highly competitive market in and out of Wales.”
Although there isn’t currently a lot of support in Wales for the games industry, it’s much greater than in previous years. But there are still no recognised hot-spots or uniquely Welsh gaming events.
“The same with funding opportunities, it’s commonly attached to the UK or England,” the Evil Owl team continue. “We tend to lose out more being a newer company, when linked with those that are more established. Otherwise, we need to go through a mediary, such as Games Talent Wales to promote ourselves, rather than directly."
Despite this though the Welsh games industry is “growing at a rapid rate” and that funding is increasing every year.
“Wales is getting more noticed as having a games industry hub. We imagine that a non-university hotspot will appear in the next few years, allowing for people to develop outside of a degree, and to establish yourself as a games company.
“The government is actively supporting it to grow, there are some good universities based in Wales which have a focus on developing businesses and skills for the games industry. There are a few well-established companies based in Wales, and are actively helping other companies get off the ground. They form a sort of close-knit community with the smaller companies, which we find to be quite rare.”
The Welsh video game industry is growing and has a lot of potential for future success. However, it faces challenges in attracting and retaining talent and remaining competitive in a crowded industry. But with the range of support in place, the industry can overcome these challenges and take advantage of the opportunities for growth.
The Welsh video game industry is a fledgling effort compared to the Yorkshire powerhouse or London's sheer variety. But it has a unique flavour and a lot of promise.
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