Mapping Scotland’s Videogames Industry

How many game developers are there in Scotland?

Serious question. Right now, how many studios and games creators do we have? 10? 50? 100? 250?

According to the last official research from UKIE, as well as SGN company directory, we had around 115 studios creating games, making it the fourth largest cluster in the UK. However, that data is from 2016. In a sector which evolves as rapidly as videogames, how accurate is that five years down the line?

As lockdown kicked in, I started to take a look at the videogames sector in Scotland and what I found was a little worrying. We don’t know. We don’t know how many developers are out there. We don’t know how many freelancers work in or support the games sector. We don’t know how many non-game-developing companies are out there, who nevertheless work in the games industry.

We now have six universities producing games graduates, while almost every college across the country now offers games at HNC and HND level. So where are they all going?

Videogames Companies Scotland

From a quick rundown of the SGN Company Directory in February 2020, it looks like we’ve shrunk from 115 studios, to around 40. That’s a drop of 65% in the last five years. That seems worrying.

I’ve spent the last three years or so working in the wider ‘tech’ scene in Scotland, as well as the startup communities around Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow. In that time and despite the huge buzz around tech startups, I’ve only seen one or two developers pop up. That’s worrying too.

Unless the market has evolved and there’s a whole underground scene that we’re missing? Or maybe a lot of new companies are focusing on areas like AI, applied games, esports, or VR/XR and we’re just not paying attention?

The problem is we don’t know. Nobody has a handle on this and none of the recent research takes into account the videogames market in all it’s weird and diverse reality.

A lot of the lists, the resources and the maps which are out there are, to be frank, not hugely accurate. They either focus on a very narrow and exclusive type of business (limited companies, which use specific SIC codes), or they’re focused on capturing businesses, but then can’t/don’t remove them when necessary. Or they’re created by people who are not close enough to the industry to make judgement calls on whether something deserves to be recognised as part of the (rapidly evolving) games industry.

There is a Solution

The Connected Innovators programme is run by Creative Edinburgh and is a part of the Creative Informatics R&D programme, which looks specifically at how the creative industries and digital technology worlds can collaborate more successfully.

Connected Innovators offers grants to industry experts/leaders, to let them explore new approached to their work.

I applied – and was approved – with a project to map Scotland’s games industry. Starting next week, I’ll be looking at the ‘videogames and interactive industries’ in Scotland in their broadest definition, so we find the edge cases, the emerging markets, and the areas of the market which have never been captured – freelancers, university and college courses, the games being released and the business models being used.

What Will be Researched

Over the next six months, I’ll be talking to everyone. The developers, the tech companies, the freelancers, the companies which are using games tools, technologies and techniques in other areas (screen, education, health care, tourism – etc.)

I’ve already opened discussions with many of the organisations and groups who work with and support the games sector in Scotland to get their buy-in and to ensure that I pull in their experience, expertise and input, so that the whole project helps as many people out there as possible.

The resulting data set will be open sourced and made freely available to everyone who wants it. The goal here is to produce something of value to the sector and help us – as an industry – make more informed and strategic decisions about our future.

The deliverables for the project are:

  • A list of videogames-related companies currently operating in Scotland, along with basic company information
  • A list of freelance and independent creators and practitioners, working in and supporting the videogames sector
  • A list of games created and released by developers and creators in Scotland
  • A database of games-related college and university courses available in Scotland
  • A database of funding sources, support organisations and support for SMEs within the games sector
  • A list of technologies, markets and business opportunities identified by businesses and freelance practitioners as key priorities in 2021-2025

I’ll be contacting all of the businesses, all of the indiviuals, all of the organisations and institutions that I know in the next couple of weeks.

Why This Matters?

The games sector has always been a little isolated and insular. It’s never really considered itself to be a part of the tech/software scene, or the wider creative industries.

This starts to cause problems when the wider ecosystem doesn’t know what the games industry is all about. In Scotland, we have a general sense that Rockstar North is there and 4J are doing great things, so everything else must be fine.

As I’ve noted above, that may not be the case. If we can’t accurately outline the basics of the industry, then we cannot expect any of the support organisations out there to be able to provide appropriate help, or help them to understand where they best fit within the value chain.

The Logan Review

A few weeks ago, an astonishing and bold review of Scotland’s tech ecosystem was released, which aims to transform Scotland’s entirely digital future.

The review was accepted in full as part of the Programme for Government (PfG) for the next 12 months.

This is hugely significant for Scotland’s technology industries (which can and should include the videogames sector). But if we don’t even know the extent of the games community, where it’s based, or what it does, then we’re not going to be able to participate effectively – if at all.

In addition, the 22nd recommendation from the review noted that ’emerging clusters’ should be supported in to provide the sort of expert insight and support required in order to understand rapidly evolving industries such as games.

I’ve already started lobbying the government and public sector to support the creation of just such a cluster, to put games on the same level as areas such as fintech, data, cybersecurity, transport and digital healthcare.

(more on which later…)

How You Can Help

I need to find the companies, people and organisations, that I don’t yet know. So your help in spreading this message, sharing the project and passing on contacts you think are relevant, would be much appreciated.

I’ll be creating a dedicated page on the SGN site later this week, and contacting all of the companies and contacts on the SGN Company Directory in the near future.

You can find out more about the Connected Innovator programme here:

Part of Scotland’s Digital Future

Scotland’s games industry has a fantastic legacy as a pioneer and innovator. My hope with this project is that we build a foundation which enables it to produce more world class games, world class companies and more opportunities for ‘games’ to become a far more recognised and understood part of Scotland’s growing digital future.

If you have any questions about this research project, would like to pass on a contact, or let me know about your business/company/group, then do please get in touch directly: brian.baglow@scottishgames.net.

I’m really looking forward to finding out more about the reality of this amazing industry we love.

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