If you don’t have a teenage son, you may not ever have heard of the video game Grand Theft Auto (GTA).
In fact, few would realise that the five versions of GTA have, since the first game was launched in 1997, sold over 355 million units worldwide.
In fact, the fifth version has generated over $6bn in sales, higher than top grossing films such as Avatar, Avengers, Titanic or Star Wars, making it the most successful product ever to be developed in the creative industries sector.
Despite this, the games industry remains one which has been largely unappreciated here in the UK even though it contributes £2.9bn to the economy, supports nearly 50,000 jobs and has 75% of its revenue from international sales.
Bu what about the video games industry in Wales and given the global potential of the sector, is there scope to make it a significant contributor to the knowledge-based economy?
Two of my colleagues at the University of South Wales have recently mapped the development of the Welsh video games industry and the subsequent report (Games Survey Wales 2021) by Richard Hurford and Ruth McElroy not only provides a detailed analysis on the businesses that make up the sector, but also highlights some of the major challenges they face.
The research identified a total of 69 active video games companies in Wales with the numbers having more than doubled since 2014. They are largely to be found in two clusters around Cardiff and north east Wales with an smaller cluster emerging in Swansea.
However, with very few significant players in the industry and the vast majority of businesses employing less than ten people, the report suggests that impact of the sector on the wider UK games industry is not as high as it could be as the businesses are unable to take on or develop projects of a significant scale.
In fact, whilst all firms in the study were working on developing their own games products for both PC and mobile platforms, over a third reported that in order to generate income, they had to undertake contract work for external clients.
The limited resources of many of these small video games firms also presents challenges in having the resources to recruit staff which, in turn, could present a threat to growing the talent pool in Wales.
Another disappointing finding relates to skills development within the industry with little evidence of in-house training being undertaken by firms and a lack of specific training providers for the industry, both of which could be solved through the creation of a Welsh games academy to bring educational providers and industry closer together to sole this problem. There was also very little take-up of business and funding support by the sector despite the opportunities for growth.
So what should be done to address these deficiencies that are holding back the industry? The authors make a number of suggestions that could turbo boost the potential of the industry over the next few years.
For example, with universities producing graduates with video games qualifications, there needs to be further bespoke talent development for these individuals so that they can apply the knowledge learnt on their courses within the industry.
For those who may be considering taking the plunge and creating a start-up, there needs to be support that is appropriate to the industry especially in accessing funding.
Indeed, the low interaction of Welsh video firms with business support may suggest more bespoke help focusing on investment and production funding as well as ensuring the development of novel IP for export to global markets.
Given the massive potential that exists in the games industry, the sector here in Wales needs to be provided with the same level of focused support that television and film producers have received over the last few years.
And with a global games market that is expected to be worth $200bn by next year and over 2.9 billion players around the world, such support cannot come soon enough for the Welsh games industry.