I was a last-minute addition to a panel discussion last night in Dublin’s Digital Hub about the future of Game Development in Ireland. 

Ireland is a country where we have a publisher (Microsoft), some very strong middleware, but almost no international presence on the game development scene, unlike most of our neighbours: England, Scotland and France are all well represented.  So what’s the story?

I know firsthand that the necessary creative and technical talent exist in abundance here.  We have community interest and academic programs cultivating internal talent.  But the games business is a business, and Ireland lacks experience (and potentially core knowledge) pertaining to dev shop management - and particularly interaction with publishers.   In a hits-driven industry, this is an essential skill.  So there is a case for tax incentives etc to attract this knowledge into the country.

Mobile gaming offers strong potential for a hit.  Production costs are lower, the potential for innovation is arguably greater, and tools (e.g. the .Net Compact Framework) make it easier for smaller shops to concentrate on innovative ideas and content, and deploy games across multiple device platforms.

Managed DirectX is another tool that makes it a lot easier to get demos (or full games!) together for the PC platform.  ManagedDX makes good on the stat “98% of the speed for 50% of the code” – and again, this is firsthand, 60fps knowledge.  If you don’t have a striking demo and you’re arranging to meet with a publisher, you might as well save yourself the plane ticket.  So tools like the Compact Framework and Managed DirectX significantly lower the barrier of entry.

After last night's event, some local developers told me that they generally appreciated my point that trying to be “the next anything” is the kiss of death, and that in order to establish a Game Dev “beachhead” here in Ireland, we’ll need to start with a relatively inexpensive and highly innovative “Blair Witch” type hit.  (Which I happen to believe will happen in the mobile space.)

The big unasked question was “do we want to encourage an Irish Game Dev industry?”  Only a tiny fraction of the titles in production actually ever make it to the shelves.  Do we really want to be encouraging such a volatile industry in a relatively small economy?  Think of what happens to the folks pouring their hearts and souls into the titles that never ship! 

But that… that’s the subject of another discussion.

[Update: In regards to that final question, it was pointed out to me that most of the skills honed by the games industry - research into multimedia, middleware, content creation etc. - are quite transferable.  So, from an "Ireland Inc" perspective, the games industry is additionally a driver to further opportunities in the multimedia space.]