North Wales’ gathering of games developers at Glyndwr University last week was the largest of its kind ever in the region.
The area is becoming a hotbed for the arts and games development, especially in Wrexham.
Glyndwr University’s ‘Level Up’ event was extended in 2018 to spread across two days with the best of the industry arriving in North-East Wales. Founded 12 years ago developers and players alike mix to test out the latest goings on in the industry whilst finding contacts of their own.
Present at the event were a number of former students who have come through and benefited from the Business Accelerator Programme – a unique programme offered solely by the University. Winners at the end of their third academic year compete for a £5,000 grant and the opportunity to take their projects to the biggest events in the UK.
Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader for Computer Game Development Richard Hebblewhite said:
“We’ve been hosting events for our students for the best part of ten years and originally LevelUp, even before it was called LevelUp, started as a very small event which had just two exhibits, two small groups of students and that’s where we started and over the years it’s grown and grown along with our reputation.
“What we’ve wanted to do really is use the event as a focal point not just for the students work but more of a celebration of our field in general”.
For the degree programme, the main aim has turned to not just delivering a quality degree and learning experience, but to be able to offer more than just the topic of choice. Business is a vital part of games design but many of those enrolled likely do not think about that side of the industry at all.
“The business accelerator programme that we introduced two years ago is very unique in that we see our final year teams with actual business professionals who help them develop business plans and think in a more professional way, not just as a student but ‘what can I do with this when I leave’
“Many young people around the country develop brilliant work but they don’t have that business acumen or they don’t understand what to do with it when they get to the end which is a shame, because the things that they produce could be the next big thing.
“So what our business accelerator programme is all about is trying to solve that problem and helping students think in a more business minded and professional manner”.
Many of Richard’s Alumni are now working all over the globe with the biggest companies, but all of them remember where it started and are often regular visitors to the University now.
Its not just entertainment that plays a part in the industry, but education, fitness, medical and technological advances have all been made with the use of these designers. During the event students showcased a variety of these projects including a rowing boat mixed with virtual reality to aid the disabled and injured during recovery. Meanwhile others were creating Welsh language games and other educational tools.
“It’s a really good opportunity for us to tie all of those things [Education, Welsh Heritage and Technology] together” said Hebblewhite.
“The big push now is all about entrepreneurship aspect, where we go beyond the idea of having a final year project, and then going away to get a job and taking the work that you’ve produced on the programme and forming a company around that and building a career for yourself and helping develop the local industry, where instead you’d be reliant on trying to find jobs elsewhere”.
Static Shell are a company who two years ago graduated from the University having benefited from the Business Accelerator Programme. Now, they have their own games on sale and are in the middle of growing their business.
Environment Artist Dafydd John admitted that “Glyndwr has given us quite a few opportunities, the course itself is quite broad, I know a lot of other courses require you to specialise with one area but because we’ve had this broad spectrum then starting our own company like this we have a range of roles, so it’s worked out very well for us and been really handy.
“it’s been a good two years for us where we got in to Transfuser last year with another one of our projects and a game that we published this year which came off the back of a Game Jam game and it’s a good feeling”.
All passionate game enthusiasts, Static Shell were more than aware of the requirement to tackle the art of business to get themselves off the ground, and it’s paid off now with their work on the market and the company taking off.
“We focused quite heavily on it [business], and it has become quite a good skill to call upon, even though we’ve had those lessons within the course it’s still very hard to navigate around it but without it I don’t know where we would be”.
With an ever-expanding event and more and more alumni to call upon every year, North Wales’ industry is rapidly growing like we’ve never seen before. Companies and projects are popping up across the region with the best talent mixing their art and business together to create some real success.
“Our plan is to continue to develop the industry and our plan really is to overtake the south, to overtake Liverpool and all the regions to become one of the biggest and strongest places for game development in terms of industry in the UK” said Hebblewhite.
Ambition is high in the region, but when talent is being produced as rapidly as in North Wales, it’s no surprise.