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Can new financial measures due next year, make Ireland a global leader in video gaming?

On 17 June last, SIRO brought together a range of experts from the Irish video gaming industry, as part of our webinar “Gaming for Growth”. With diverse speakers from game development, eSports promotion and the IDA, the event explored if and how Ireland can grow the sector here further.

The context to asking the question was important.

The global video gaming industry is huge, valued at €140 billion annually. This makes it’s value twice that of the music, TV and film industries combined. It’s also an industry experiencing unprecedented global growth; up to 10% year-on-year.

These numbers alone should make all stakeholders focused on economic growth and job creation sit up and take notice.

Financial muscle apart, video gaming growth is now pervasive; it’s immersion across society evident all around us.

Video games, already a significant consumer product before Covid-19, strengthened their market share of the entertainment sector even more during the pandemic. A recent Deloitte study  found that 87% of Generation Z, 83% of Millennials, and 79% of Generation X said they play video games on devices such as smartphones, gaming consoles, or computers at least weekly”.

Equally interesting is who are now consuming video games. Here again, traditional perceptions no longer hold true with a rapid increase in female gamers. A 2019 study in the U.S finding that 46% of all gamers in the U.S. are female.

A further key consideration about the industry’s growth is that it is now much more than just about mass entertainment. Gamification of multiple aspects of life, work or business is now standard.

Take retail, eBay were one of the first to push gamification across a retail eCommerce platform. It’s competitive bidding system, buyer-seller feedback, and power of seller statuses turned eBay into a gamified platform. Others have followed, with Amazon applying gamification components albeit more subtly, in areas such as rating reviews or trusted sellers.

Gamification is now also common in recruitment – used to test the aptitude of candidates or to give a better sense of the role with video simulation exercises. The U.S Army was one of the first to embrace this idea, providing would-be recruits with a gamified version of military exercises. In the UK, Asda trains staff with a smartphone game which simulates a store setting and customer conversations.

Gamification has social applications too, increasingly used in healthcare for everything from surgical training to mental health and wellness programmes. In education too, the use of video games is now well embedded as part of the overall learning experience.

These examples point to the diversification of video gaming stretching into expanding use cases. Add-in ever improving connectivity and reduced latency due to fibre broadband, as companies like SIRO roll-out high-speed fibre broadband, and the opportunity for Ireland to level up and grow the industry here further comes into focus.

Ireland is not starting from a standing position. We have performed relatively well in developing the sector. Several of the bigger global players are already here, names like Activision or EA, in addition to a community of homegrown game development companies.

Yet contributors at the SIRO video gaming event, noted the significant opportunity for Ireland to grab a much larger slice of the global video gaming pie. Key to this is supporting our indigenous game development companies to grow and scale.

A template already exists.

Internationally countries, such as France or Canada, who have rolled out ambitious national programmes have succeeded in creating world-leading domestic video gaming industries.

Positively, their efforts have not gone unnoticed.

As part of his Budget 2021 speech Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, announced that from January 2022 the video gaming sector would be able to avail of a tax relief scheme akin to the existing reliefs enjoyed by our film sector. The details are under discussion.

The latter has been hugely instrumental in making Ireland a destination of choice for the film industry, creating a thriving local film sector. The hope is that, for the video gaming sector, it could have a similar impact.

Though the proposed tax measures have been welcomed by the industry, a legitimate question has been raised by some industry players about the extent of the relief.

In Canada, it’s possible for smaller game studios to receive financial assistance to support up to 40% of employees’ wages during their formative years. It’s a recognition that early-stage game studios can often have a couple of years with little or no revenue, in advance of securing a publishing deal. A factor attested to by John and Brenda Romero of Romero Games during the webinar when they spoke about their experiences of establishing their studio in Galway.

The hope is that the Government’s proposal can be the starting point for further measures to grow video gaming development here. The return on investment for Ireland could be substantial not least because there are several factors which suggest the sector here is ripe to achieve to greater success.

As noted, ever improving fibre broadband connectivity, and the ambition to reach effectively almost universal fibre coverage, makes Ireland a very attractive location for digital industries such as video gaming.

Ireland’s position within the EU, as a Member State with a young, well-educated, digitally savvy and English-speaking population is another. Consider too the increasing range of creative, design and computing courses now available in our further and third level institutions. As the IDA’s Catherine Slowey pointed out a talent pipeline is key, and Ireland can point to a strong one. Yet with youth unemployment at 60%, many gifted graduates are struggling to find work right now.

Covid-19 has upended many of the sectors of the economy we relied heavily on, such as hospitality and tourism. As we look to move beyond the pandemic, Ireland has a unique opportunity to reset and focus on industries which synch with an increasingly digitised world, such as video gaming.

The attractiveness of Ireland to international and domestic video gaming players was best captured on the day by Brenda Romero, CEO of Romero Games, when she commented: “it made more sense to be here than it did to be in Silicon Valley…it made solid economic and solid creative sense to here [in Ireland]. We have zero regrets”.

Amanda Glancy, Director of Corporate Affairs, SIRO.