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Dave Cook finds Scotland’s digital gaming industry enjoying surprisingly rude health

Criminals, genetically modified super-cops and a bunch of kids sniffing out crime with their wisecracking Great Dane. When thinking about Scotland these aren’t the first things to spring to mind, but for game fans this is what we’re all about. Here in our backyard three of the top video game companies in the country are making sure our digital battle cry is heard all around the world. Rockstar North, Edinburgh-based producers of Grand Theft Auto, Dundee’s Realtime Worlds, creators of Xbox 360 hit Crackdown, and Denki, developers of handheld and digital TV games such as Scooby Doo (pictured) are presently turning heads in the industry.

Gaming website Next Generation recently posted the results of extensive research geared towards finding out who rules the roost in Europe’s gaming industry. To the surprise of critics, Scotland ranked a healthy third, losing out only to France and England. Nevertheless this is welcome news and bodes well for our thriving games sector. The scoring system takes into account the works published by the largest developers in each country. Many observers have expressed the view that if the criteria included our numerous and successful mobile phone game developers, academic coding courses and yearly industry showcases such as Dare To Be Digital (think X-factor for independent Scottish game designers) and the Edinburgh Interactive Festival then we would have scored much higher as a nation. Maybe next time?

Confusingly absent from the results, Denki has enjoyed great success, which owes a lot to a deal with American Digital TV service DIRECTV. The two-year contract means that the prominent 20-man team from Dundee will create titles for the service’s 16m viewers - a staggering potential audience. Managing director Colin Anderson is, as many of those within the industry are, overjoyed at the news.

‘This is good for business as it (gaming) is a hits driven industry,’ he says. ‘This gives us access to the embryonic digital TV service in the US, one that is more developed than any other TV network in the country.’ As with the music business, breaking the US usually means that you’ve hit the big time and more new industry players in the Scottish gaming sector are inching their way towards that goal.

The Scottish market is only now becoming so efficient and celebrated due to early trial and error. ‘Many early developers used weak business models then went into administration which was unfortunate but necessary for other new business to learn from,’ says Anderson. ‘I can see many new companies becoming very successful in 10 to 15 years time.’

It has taken our brightest gaming talent some time to shine but as a creative mass our country has finally reached a stage where it can be openly proud of one of its newest and most popular exports. In order to keep this trend alive for years to come, academic courses in gaming are becoming more common as each term goes by. Games Development at Glasgow’s Caledonian University and courses at Dundee’s Abertay University including Game Art and Animation and Computer Games Technology are just some of the ways wannabe game designers can get their foot in the door. It’s refreshing to see the professional and academic world take a serious interest in the potential of our games industry.

Abertay University further nurtures young talent through its Dare To Be Digital scheme. The annual contest sees teams of students face off against one another to produce the best fully functioning video game. The contest attracts key representatives from the industry such as Electronic Arts and students pitch their work to the kind of people they could potentially be employed by.

Anderson adds, ‘Dare To Be Digital has been around for eight years and has become better and better from the quality of entrants to the final product. In Scotland there was initially a real slowness to grab the contest’s potential. Now it has great backing and is an example of something else happening in Dundee that no one else is doing.’

It is refreshing to see the unsung digital heroes of Scotland enjoying the sales and publicity they deserve thanks to their outstanding contribution to the medium. New coders are also getting the academic help they need to make similar contributions one day. Forget the Euro 2008 football campaign - let’s host a European cup of gaming and show the rest of the continent how to win with style.

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