THE games industry is big in Scotland – and globally – and it’s only getting bigger. The phenomenal growth has surprised even key industry figures, like Chris van der Kuyl, founder of Dundee-based 4J Studios, the developer of the Minecraft series or consoles.

“It’s quite incredible, even from the inside,” he says. “If you’d talked to me a decade ago I would have said the industry has grown so big I don’t know how we’re going to grow bigger. It’s transformed into something I don’t think any of us could have predicted.”

According to figures released by Tiga, the games trade body, earlier this year, the industry in Scotland grew by 27 per cent in 2016-17, with direct and indirect revenues of more than £170 million. Games market researcher Newzoo, towards the end of last year, reported that the global market was set to hit £80bn in revenues, up 10.7 per cent from a year earlier.

Van der Kuyl believes that the industry remains culturally under-appreciated, both in Scotland and across the world. Many people, particularly those over 40, don’t appreciate quite how big it really is. “They don’t understand it’s the biggest form of entertainment in the world. They don’t understand that 70 per cent of all videos on YouTube are people playing video games. But the people who play them do.”

The latest Scottish Tiga figures, are “signs that the industry is coming into maturity now,” says Professor Gregor White of Abertay University, which runs the top games design courses in Europe. Bad times have been left behind. The collapse of Dundee-based Realtime Worlds, which went into administration in 2010, causing the loss of several hundred jobs, is starting to seem a distant memory.

"That was a catastrophic event in Dundee’s recent history. But out of the ashes came these start-ups and new studios that are now, eight years later, very well established and doing some really great work. I think we’re seeing the fruit of that labour coming to fruition now. We’ve got well established companies doing very well and able to recruit people and make a decent profit, and that’s been reflected in the figures.”

Among the relatively new studios that shape the Dundee games landscape is Outplay Entertainment, set up in 2011 by brothers Richard and Douglas Hare, and currently the fastest-growing independent studio in the UK. The developer, which creates free-to-play mobile apps, like Craft Candy, Angry Birds POP and Mystery Match, reported a 1,904 per cent growth in revenue since 2013. These are games designed to be played while on the go.

The shape of the industry, says White, is changing. One feature of this has been a move away from big, established studios creating for consoles towards many smaller independent studios, self-publishing onto mobile and tablet. “These kind of start-ups tend to do well with family-friendly, good fun, bright, colourful games for the phone or tablet. They seem to be the safest way to go in terms of getting something up on the app store or on iPhone.”

But it’s not just about the indie studios and the new faces. Recent years have also seen, as White puts it, “the return of the big beasts”. Van der Kuyl’s 4J Studios has been producing the award-winning Minecraft console editions. Dave Jones, the former creator of Grand Theft Auto and founder of Realtime Studios, set up Reagent Games, which has Crackdown 3 in the pipeline, as well as cloud games company, Cloudgine, which he recently sold to the mega-games company, Epic, developers of Fortnite.

There’s also a great deal of anticipation around a new, unnamed studio set up by Leslie Benzies, the former lead producer of GTA and president of Rockstar North, who left the studio two years ago in a bitter feud with his colleagues. The mysterious, open-world game (where players explore a vast virtual world) the team are working on is called Everywhere.

Rockstar North, which released GTA V two years ago, continues to work away on the franchise. Rockstar is widely considered one of the most stable and successful companies in the global game industry. The money GTA brings in is eye-watering. According to Benzies’ 2016 lawsuit over his breakup, revenues generated by GTA V were by then in the region of £2.1bn.

There are also changes in the wider global industry that are likely to impact on what’s developed here. Van der Kuyl observes: “The big thing we’ve seen is in the world of core gaming is that formats have appeared and that within a year are generating revenues of $100m a month now.”

When he looks back on the past year he observes two major shifts. One is that, with the release of the hugely successful, Player Unknown Battlegrounds, the phenomenon of people watching rather than just playing the game hit a whole new level. “More people,” he says, “were watching the game than playing it.”

But also, the arrival of Fortnite, a game very like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, but free – showed how a different business model could work. The game, created by Epic, made its money through the selling of add-ons that weren’t essential to the game.

“We wondered,” says van der Kuyl, “if they will generate a decent revenue from that. And they did. As we understand it, it’s approaching $100m a month. That’s a multi-billion dollar franchise. “

New independent studios continue to surface. Among those making a big splash is Puny Astronaut, a studio set up by recent Abertay graduates, into which Van der Kuyl recently invested a six-figure sum. Their game under development is Skye, a magical, meditative experience, aimed at the family market. It wasn’t just the look of the game that appealed to van der Kuyl, it was “the philosophy”.

As Puny Astronaut’s MD, Cian Roche, points out, “To get where we are is incredibly difficult. We’ve worked for about a year and a half, grinding away in obscurity, paying ourselves a very low wage. But we’ve been very lucky that it’s paid off and someone took notice.”

However, for all its phenomenal growth, the industry is still hard for such young developers to make a break in. As White puts it, “The market is absolutely saturated. Especially at the apps and mobile level. Something like 2000 games a week are going up into these app stores. It’s very difficult to get seen and get noticed. For game studios it’s very difficult to make a living.”

The industry has also long had a reputation for being neither welcoming nor attractive to women. According to a 2016 study, women occupy only 19 per cent of jobs in the video game industry, despite the fact women represent half of British gamers.

White describes the games industry is still “incredibly undiverse”. He adds: “It’s mostly white boys. And that hasn’t changed much. There are not significantly more women yet and it’s still a huge challenge for the industry.”

Attempts, of course, are being made to change this. Women In Games, which promotes women in the industry, recently appointed Timea Tabori of Rockstar North as lead ambassador in Scotland.

Searra Dodds, chief creative officer at Jukebox Labs, has been in the industry for around 10 years. “I definitely think there are a lot more women coming in the industry, particularly here in Scotland.” But, she says, there is a long way to. “Particularly in trying to get more women further up the career ladder and into leadership roles and management roles and heading up studios of their own.”

Games We Are Waiting For


“Everywhere is very different from GTA,” according to Benzies. Anyone who is interested in games is speculating over the mysterious new open-world game being designed by his team. Its website describes it as: “A video game that simulates and fuses the real world with the virtual. Live your own stories as you live in ours.” But Benzies is only giving so much away “We’re going to give players the chance to really live out their fantasies,” he has said, “not just the limited fantasies that most games set up for them, and do in a deeply immersive way.”


A gentle flying dragon is the star of this game in which you can do nothing wrong – in which there is no pressure, and there are no timers or death states. It sounds like the perfect therapy for us all. Skye, by Abertay graduates Puny Astronaut studio, is predicted to be the hot new game. There are few games like it. As MD Roche describes: “We just thought there were too few experiences out there that are saying, ‘We’re just happy to see and kind of happy that you stopped by.’ We tried to be very holistic with the design. It all reinforces that deep sense of meditation and calm. It’s almost medicinal in that sense. Your heart rate lowers when you’re playing it.”

Crackdown 3

Reports keep saying it’s coming, and it keeps getting put back. The talk, however, is that the superhero game, which had been developed in Scotland by Jones’ Reagent Games and Cloudgine, is out on X-Box One soon. The reason for the delays? The sheer scale of it. The project is hugely ambitious, and pushes both immersive game-play technology, and the use of cloud-computing within games. Jones has said that the use of the cloud means that, “We’re hitting about nine times the power of the Xbox One here in this demo due to the way the guys are playing. I think 13 times is our record, though. You really can raze the entire city if you want to.”

Grand Theft Auto 6

Rockstar North may not even have given the faintest hint about anything to do with GTA VI, though it’s safe to assume that they are working on it. Nevertheless the internet seethes with rumours. A 2022 release date, a lead female character, an open world in which you can fly between cities? But is any of it true?

Recent Game changers

They Came From Space

Not a big commercial title, but a demo game, launched by Dave Jones’s Cloudgine last year, to show how cloud-computing could work within a virtual reality team-based multiplayer action game. As many as 10 players, wearing VR headsets, can participate in the same game world, a vivid, bright universe influenced by classic 1950s B-movies.

Stories Untold

Games don’t have to be fancy, graphically complicated shoot em’ ups. They can also be cool, 1980s technology inspired, text-based adventures and puzzle solving challenges. This is what Jon Mckellan and his team at No Code proved when they created Stories Untold, which last year went on to clinch a Scottish Bafta for Best Game. Think Stranger Things meets Choose Your Own Adventure.

Minecraft for Xbox One

One of the most popular games ever made, with user figures of nearly 75 million. And it was Van der Kuyl’s 4J Studios that brought it to console.