Games Survey Wales 2021 Startup/ Freelance impact.
Here at the Stiwdio, we forever have our ear to the ground, listening for tremors; be they footsteps or earthquakes- anything on the approach. So when USW played host to the Games Survey Wales discussion last week, we were eager to glean what this might mean about the local landscape. After all, the games industry hire from a variety of freelance sectors- animation, illustration, writing, music, coding.
Gone are the days when every game came with an instruction manual- thick wad of paper to browse over on the car ride home, a tangible tactile bible of tactics and tantalizing tit-bits to salivate over until you actually played the thing. Now it’s all digital. The days of paper seem are gone. Not so. When we arrived at the presentation, we were each handed a glossy booklet- 58 pages of lovingly compiled statistics, insights, and diagrams. Great care that went into this. It is appreciated; as you can see, we have used it as the thumbnail for this article.
So, after a week of perusal, what were the key takeaways?
Geographic distribution: Cardiff capital region and Wrexham area predominantly. Like dock leaves and nettles, scissors and glue, a shredded couch and a bashful puppy, game dev companies and game dev HE Institutes are always found together. Do the courses lead to companies, or the companies lead to courses? Do game dev students graduate and form their own studios nearby, or are academic institutions simply reacting to the industry on their doorstep? Probably, there are a range of external factors that influence both.
Cardiff is one of the hotspots, and given its transport links, proximity to Bristol, London and other gaming hubs, you can see why it might attract studios. Likewise Wrexham Glyndwr university and USW recently partnered with the Welsh Government to create Games Talent Wales- a program that provides grants and industry mentoring. Hence Wrexham and Cardiff are two of the growing Welsh games hubs. That; and the wifi can be as temperamental in the valleys. A strong connection is needed to file share on Github, download assets or even stream progress on Discord. Anyone living in remote areas of Wales will likely struggle to hold a conversation with their boss, let alone upload many GBs of data to the cloud.
Advice to Startups: Follow the money: Help is out there- money, space and networking, at your fingertips if you know where to look
MONEY Games Talent Wales have awarded £400,000 in funds. Your studio can apply for membership to bid for funding and industry mentoring.
MONEY The UK Games fund have run 8 rounds of funding since 2015 and are about to run another (details will soon be added to their website, so keep an eye out.) Although they award up to £25000, investment tends to be less than that, but include an element of mentorship and incubation, as opposed to a straightforward cash injection.
MONEY The UK Global screen fund hides in plain sight, with many dismissing it as a film and TV initiative, when in fact, it covers the Games industry too. Funding is currently closed but will open soon.
MONEY Although not covered in the Survey, as it applies only to USW graduates, USW Enterprise must be mentioned. Be it the Bright Ideas Den, to kick start your innovative company, or one of the integrated Business Wales competitions. It supports endeavors big and small, with grants from £250 to £5000. Subscribe to the mailing list or book an appointment to see what help you could receive.
NETWORKING Games scale up is perfect for those Startups who are a little more grounded and have already shipped a title, and have at least 3 members of staff. They invite members to networking events, introduce them to Angel investors and provide expert advice from everything from business to marketing and funding. It’s recommended you add yourself to the mailing list; that way you will be notified when applications resume.
SPACE/NETWORKING The Startup Stiwdio solves the wifi conundrum- with stellar speeds and an incubator space for teams to work. It also offers free tea and coffee, and opportunities to network with other professionals, as well as a space to bring clients. With 61.5% of respondents working at least partly on a work for hire/ commission basis, you will likely have clients to deal with. And there is no better place to deal with them than a meeting pod.
SPACE/NETWORKING The Arcade Vaults In the Cardiff High street arcade are not only a great place to eat, game and read long lost Nintendo Magazines from back in the day. They also stage regular game jams and quizzes, with a monthly meetup for those in the industry. The last Thursday of every month sees game dev, animator, concept artist and musician collide in 24-hour drop-in session of networking and talks.
Switzerland, Spain and the Baltic States all have international Games development programs and incubation schemes. As you can see from the above- there are some good UK wide initiatives, but more needs to be done in Wales to bring it up to speed with England and Scotland.
Rockstar, EA, Rocksteady and a plethora of international companies have studios in England and Scotland, while Wales and Northern Ireland have been largely overlooked. The titans of industry can afford to hire many more than indie companies, and provide entry level roles and apprenticeships, whereas there is nothing of the like in Wales.
Most local companies are small/ indie. 14 of the surveyed companies/organizations comprising < 50 employees ( small) or <10 (micro) 99.5% of the UK Games companies are indeed SMEs according to UKIE research, so this tallies with the findings. The longest lived Welsh games company is 18 years, while the average life span seems to be 6 years and 7 months, with 27% of respondents having yet to release a game and therefor probably not in a position to hire an intern.
As film and TV companies leave London in search of space, it has led to a booming production industry in Cardiff, one that experts predict could last for at least 5 to 10 years. With the same investment, the games industry could well follow suit. There were members of the Welsh government in attendance, who promised to take heed of the survey’s findings.
In order for Wales to become a great Games design behemoth, it needs Greater incentives for outside companies like Ubisoft or THQ. Scotland has Rockstar North, Wales must provide tax breaks or some other Government incentive to lure the big money in
Comprehensive wifi coverage; which is an ongoing challenge
Centralized games hub to organize expos etc
The future seems bright for games, with a set path and goals and a bank of grants to be taken advantage of, never has there been a better time to plunge into the games industry. No matter what your freelance skill, chances are there will be an opening in games, you just need to know where to look- and networking certainly helps with that.
A huge thank you to USWs very own Richard Hurford and Ruth McElroy for seeking the data and compiling the report, as well as Clwstwr for its continued focus to promote and facilitate creativity in Wales.