Sector trends

How Dundee’s video games sector powered up

Dundee’s fast-growing gaming industry belies the city’s relatively small scale. What is its secret for fostering world-class tech firms?

Think of global technology hubs and Dundee might not be the first place that springs to mind, but this city of only 150,000, perched on the Firth of Tay in eastern Scotland, is a gaming industry goliath.

The city’s successful transition from an industrial economy to a technological one happened gradually over the last four decades. Notable steps along the way have included the launch of the ZX Spectrum home computer in 1982, which was assembled and packaged in a local factory.

Another step was the founding of Acme Software, which, following a few rebrands, eventually became Rockstar North, the company behind global bestselling console games Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. Its first headquarters was above a French restaurant on Perth Road, which runs south-west of the city.

Orfeas Boteas is founder and CEO of Krotos, a successful start-up supplying audio solutions to the gaming and entertainment sectors. Based just down the road in Edinburgh, Boteas started his business while at university and has enjoyed support from government bodies and investors. He says this part of the country is fertile ground for gaming industry start-ups.

“This area has good universities and support institutions like Scottish Enterprise,” he says. “There are bodies that support technology projects and it’s possible to secure investment from business angels in the sector, as we have done.

“Scotland is a small place, so recruitment can be a challenge, but the universities produce graduates with relevant skills and we have built on this with a handful of remote workers in places like Birmingham and Brighton.”

Investing in potential

Dundee’s early promise was seized on and a series of large-scale investments solidified its status as a focus for technology in Scotland and the UK. From this has grown a string of successful gaming companies such as 4J Studios, which brought the block-building game Minecraft to consoles; Denki, a game developer that has worked with brands including DreamWorks, Disney and Nintendo; and Ruffian Games, creator of the Crackdown series.

The gaming scene has also been fuelled by the growing international reputation of Abertay University, an institution with a focus on helping to foster new industries. In 1997, its computer science department was the first to launch a degree covering the study of computer games. Today it offers a suite of courses including game development, design and production and the university produces hundreds of graduates each year. Notable alumni include David Jones, the co-founder of Acme Software; and Chris van der Kuyl, chairman of 4J Studios.

A source of rich talent

Last year, 4J moved into its new headquarters in Water’s Edge, a huge warehouse development in the City Quay area spearheaded by van der Kuyl and co-founder Paddy Burns. The site will ultimately accommodate hundreds of professionals with a range of offices, co-working spaces and a 300-cover restaurant – tangible evidence of Abertay’s significant contribution to the local economy.

“The university has about 1,000 students in various degrees related to gaming and about 250 graduate every year, which is a rich vein of talent entering the market for local employers,” says Professor Gregor White, head of the School of Design and Informatics at Abertay. “This replenishes the industry every year and, along with support from institutions like Scottish Enterprise, the industry is a huge contributor to the economy. Our goal now is to build on the contribution of gaming by adding in related tech disciplines including cyber security to evolve into a bigger more traditional tech cluster.”

Abertay University has about 1,000 students in various degrees related to gaming and about 250 graduate every year, which is a rich vein of talent entering the market for local employers

Professor Gregor White
Head of the School of Design and Informatics, Abertay University

To this end, in September, Abertay announced the launch of a £9m gaming research and development centre in partnership with Dundee University and the nearby University of St Andrews. The Innovation for Games and Media Enterprise (InGAME) institution enjoys backing from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Creative Industries Clusters programme and the Scottish Funding Council. It’s a combination of academics, industry experts and businesses, and is predicted to bolster Dundee’s existing technology cluster of small firms creating digital content and larger, more established businesses with acclaimed product portfolios.

Responding to the launch, Dr Richard Wilson, CEO of the UK video games industry body TIGA, said: “This new research and development centre will promote innovation, creativity and productivity in our video games industry. Above all, it will bolster, enhance and strengthen the video games industry in Dundee, Scotland and the wider UK.”

A modern museum piece

Among the group of institutions supporting InGAME is V&A Dundee, which launched only a week earlier in September 2018. It is Scotland’s first dedicated design and the first V&A museum outside London. Its purpose is to promote design and creativity, much of which links into the local gaming industry.

An exhibition running from April until September is entitled Video Games: Design/Display/Disrupt.

All of this has brought together a major, growing games development industry in Scotland, employing more than 1,500 directly and almost 3,000 indirectly, according to the latest figures from TIGA. Research covering March 2016 to November 2017 revealed growth of 27% in the sector, meaning nearly 12% of the UK’s games developers are now based in Scotland.

So what, if anything, can derail this impressive growth? For Scotland, as for the rest of the UK, the implications of Brexit loom large. But with continued investment, more talented graduates, university spin-outs and faster, more efficient communications technology, Dundee will continue to serve as a magnet for top gaming companies and a constellation of related businesses that feed into the industry.

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

scroll to top