Game development clusters

Rugby scrum

30 years ago commercial videogames for home computers arrived in Liverpool when I brought a pile of Apple 2 games to Microdigital that I had bought at Computer Components of Orange County in California.  A couple of years later, in Liverpool, Bug Byte software was set up, one of the very first British video game publishers. From this, also in Liverpool, there came Imagine, Software Projects, Psygnosis, Denton Design, Jester Interactive, Bizarre Creations, Rusty Nutz etc

Then in the mid 80s I worked at Codemasters, just outside Leamington Spa in the centre of England. From this there are now has a whole pile of gaming companies in the area. This is not something unique to the gaming industry. It happened with shoes in Northampton, with bicycles in Coventry and with pottery at Stoke on Trent.

There are now lots of game development clusters around the world, usually created in the fallout from just one pioneer. In the UK we have cluster in Dundee, Guildford, Brighton and several more. In China there is one in Shanghai of at least 20 companies as a result of Ubisoft being there. In America there are lots of clusters, Austin, Texas has very many game companies as do Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston. In Canada Toronto and Montreal have grown quickly as the locations for many companies. And Seoul, Korea has around 60 companies.

From the point of view of a developer there are many advantages doing business in a cluster. The human resources and services are all there, geared up just right for running a gaming business.

From the point of view of an employee there are many advantages to working in a cluster. Job mobility without moving house and security of employment being significant advantages to anyone.

But a further advantage of clusters can be found in the pages of Adam Smith’s 1776 book, The Wealth of Nations. A cluster will support the division of labour with specialist companies forming to service the industry. For gaming this could be sound, QA, translation, motion capture, marketing and other technical services which make doing business in the cluster more flexible and effective.

And then there are the politicians. Political attitude has a huge bearing on the success of a company. So it is vital for a game business to nurture local and national politicians as well as the civil servants who do their bidding. When an industry employs several thousand people in one location it can exert considerable political power to its advantage.

This is just one reason why companies within a cluster should co-operate, even if, as is often the case, there is previous bad blood arising from business dynamics. The businesses have many areas in common that can be addressed more effectively jointly. There should be CEO level meetings of every company within a cluster every month.

And, of course, government can leverage these clusters to generate national wealth, something we have seen the Canadians do with startling success and something the British government has failed abjectly at. The game industry is already worth many tens of billions of pounds in economic activity and will grow to be a lot bigger still so this is of critical national importance.

So there we have it, if you want to start a game company then do it in a cluster, if you want to work in the games industry then you are best off in a cluster and, if you are already part of a cluster, ensure that you leverage it for your maximum advantage.

3 comments ↓

#1 Benoit Lelievre on 11.18.09 at 2:27 pm

Great article Bruce. I live myself in the video game cluster that is Montreal. Ubisoft, Eidos, Electronic Arts , Trapdoor and Gameloft are fueling this weird feud/symbiose which keeps the industry healthy with competition. I was first reluctant to see EA settle in because of their tendency to swallow smaller companies, but Ubisoft and Eidos are strong enough to stand their groud. In fact, Ubisoft is the main player in town.

It is still kind of a scramble though because as you pointed out, there is a huge management problem in the industry, so the momentum changes fast. I think Ubisoft keeps the main position in town because they run a tight affair. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think now would be a good time for start up affairs if managed closely!

#2 Mark on 11.18.09 at 3:45 pm

The big difference between Bruce’s clusters and the cluster in Montreal is the amount of taxpayer money it’s taken to bring all those studios to Montreal. At least the British studios stood on their own two feet.

There is a certain level of arrogance from Montreal right now with regards to its games scene, they seem to think they’re god’s gift to games. It’s a bit like a rich kid thinking his business is so awesome, when actually it’s being funded by his dad.

Just wait until the Quebec government decides that the Quebecois should stop paying for Ubisoft etc to be there, and you’ll find Ubi off to Asia quicker than you can say “Give me some Poutine” or “Habs for the Stanley Cup”.

Bruce’s clusters grew organically, Montreal’s was paid for by the taxpayer. In my opinion, there’s a BIG difference.

#3 Benoit Lelievre on 11.19.09 at 2:25 pm

We’re not all Poutine eaters, but thank you for caring!

Canada and Quebec specially are reputable for the insane amount of taxes. I don’t really see the problem if my tax money is financing a dynamic sector of business activity. Ubisoft and Eidos are hiring people with a shovel and a bucket. It’s a symbiotic relationship as they have over 2000 workers giving tax money to the government. That’s why I just can see the cluster of Montreal growing, they’ll never get cut.

As I agree with the arrogant attitude part, well for Ubisoft, I have yet to remember a moment where they didn’t deliver. Their last game with a bad score was like CSI Hard Evidence. I guess when you get good at something you get a little cocky. As long as they deliver, I’m ok with.

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