Festival celebrates thriving Scottish games industry

Employment in the sector has grown fueling independent developers, full-time streamers and innovative collaborations.

Festival celebrates thriving Scottish games industry Malath Abbas via Biome Collective / PlayAway Festival via Tinderbox
Malath Abbas and Jane McGonigal both feature in the PlayAway Festival programme.

The Scottish gaming industry is thriving as lockdown sent droves of consumers online and a new festival showcases the creativity and diversity of homegrown developers.

As the pandemic forced thousands to move to working online there was a surge in people spending their free-time in virtual spaces too.

Malath Abbas, director and creative producer of games developers Biome Collective based in Dundee, said: “Consumption of games has gone through the roof, it’s been a 20 or 30% increase by some metrics.

“More people have turned to it being stuck at home. You can have a social time with your friends. I’ve heard of friends playing games with their parents.”

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Tinderbox PlayAway Games Festival is a result of wanting to make the most of the mass move to online, looking to the games industry for inspiration about adaptation and innovation.

Luci Holland, festival director of the PlayAway Games Festival, said: “Games, like films or sports, allow you to experience things in different ways. To connect, relax, find some escapism but also how to find new ways to collaborate with each other.

“A lot of the sector was quick to pivot to working remotely to keep their work going.”

Scotland’s games industry saw employment grow by more than 17% between November 2018 and April 2020 and the country has become the fourth largest cluster in the UK, behind London, the south east and the north west.

‘Games development is such a broad and diverse world, it’s definitely not just the commercial side of things that comes to mind immediately.’

Luci Holland
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Mr Abbas said: “Scotland has a rish heritage of games development, particularly in Dundee, going back to Grand Theft Auto.

“It has attracted people over the decades to come and make games here.”

Mr Abbas said that big employers, such as Rockstar Edinburgh, are vital part of an eco-system that allows for experimentation on the fringes delivery the diverse content he believes audiences desire.

The number of UK graduates in computer games subjects is also at an all-time high with development skills being harnessed in all kinds of sectors from health and education to the arts.

With a range of panellists from outside the gaming sector, including health, education, music and theatre, PlayAway features examples of the groundbreaking work happening in Scotland.

From gamifying learning to crossing the boundary between virtual and physical experiences, Ms Holland said there is far more to gaming that the commercial stereotypes.

She said: “Games development is such a broad and diverse world, it’s definitely not just the commercial side of things that comes to mind immediately.

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“There are all sorts of games and creative approaches that tackle all sorts of really important areas.”

Killbox being played at Game Think 2.0, February 3, 2017, University of Glasgow.
Killbox being played at Game Think 2.0, February 3, 2017, University of Glasgow.

One example is Biome Collective’s Killbox, an online game and interactive installation that challenges the nature of drone warfare.

The game is based on documented drone strikes in Northern Pakistan, giving the player the experience of using technology to extend warfare.

Crossing the boundary between game and art, Killbox seeks to ask critical questions about how virtualization abstracts the act of killing.

It also, Mr Abbas said, highlighted another major growth area in the industry – streaming.

“What we noticed was for everyone who played, there might be ten people who watch,” he said.

Streamers, using platforms such as Twitch, attract large audiences who want to watch and engage with them as they play.

‘I’m streaming, and because of your generosity, I can have a job that can pay the bills and give me money and things like that.’

Limmy

Scottish comedian Limmy, Brian Limond, announced he was quitting television in September to focus on streaming for his 225,000 Twitch followers.

He told an audience on his stream: “I’m doing something that’s successful. It’s not like I’m cuddling into a wee ball under my bed in a cardboard box.

“I’m streaming, and because of your generosity, I can have a job that can pay the bills and give me money and things like that. I’m not like ‘I need to get a real job now.’”

He said that streaming and playing games had stopped him feeling suicidal.

Jane McGonigal, games developer and author of Reality Is Broken, a book about the impact and future of gaming, inspired the the festival and will be appearing as the keynote speaker.

She said: “Games are a powerful, renewable source of positive emotions and social connection.

“We all need a boost of creativity and imagination right now, so I’m thrilled that the festival invited me to share my research.

“And in the past few years, game scientists have found that there are specific ways we can play to get the most benefits and the biggest resilience boost. I can’t wait to share what we’ve learned.”

The festival runs from Monday, February 22, until Friday, March 5. You can view the programme here.