The Importance of Being Funded (at the prototype phase)

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This is the big one.  This is the one game developers in Dundee have been trying to make happen for over a decade now:

Scotland’s computer games industry has been boosted by £2.5m of investment by the UK government… which will help games companies create and develop new projects.

It’s public funding targeted specifically where it can make the most difference – concept prototyping.  And it also happens to be a great example of why strong links between industry, education and government are vital in a knowledge economy.

It’s hard to run any games business, but the absolute hardest thing is creating new concepts without bankrupting the company in the process.  The reason is that those who understand the value of prototypes (i.e. game developers) don’t normally have the money to create them.  Those who do have the money (i.e. investors) have other, safer places to risk their cash.

It’s been a Catch 22 situation for as long as I can remember – game developers want to build original games, but don’t have the funds to create compelling prototypes; investors who want to invest in new games, don’t see the high quality prototypes they require to be convinced it’s a worthwhile investment.  There’s a gap.

Denki jumped this gap the spectacularly hard way.  We did six years of work-for-hire graft and squirreled away every spare penny we could, to create a pot of cash with which to create high-quality prototypes.

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And it worked – we were able to find investment in Quarrel as a direct result of the compelling prototype we built.  I won’t go in to details of exactly how hard that was to achieve, but suffice it to say it was so hard that I wouldn’t wish the same process on Denki’s harshest critics.

Simultaneously, I’ve watched the UK pump a lot of money in to a myriad of support schemes for the games industry over the years.  Well intentioned, they have all been helpful, but none have made the sort of difference everyone really wants to see – many more new, successful games and games companies being created here in the UK.  Every time I’ve been asked what would actually make the difference I’ve always said the same thing: prototype funding.

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So, at last, it would appear we have it.  What a coup.  I take my hat off to those who were able to successfully bring this about – in particular Paul Durrant at the University of Abertay who facilitated it so expertly.  Paul and I have enjoyed many conversations about the possibilities a fund such as this would bring, and so I’m very pleased to see it finally happen.  It’s the type of support that industry recognised the need for years ago, but it would never have happened without the support of our education sector who also recognise the substantial difference it would make to the training offered to students.

But ultimately it’s only when those in a position to make this level of funding available actually recognise the value that things can really get moving.  And that’s what has finally been evidenced today.  The hard-won experience of Dundee’s games sector, coupled with the ambition of the University of Abertay’s new Centre For Excellence and supported by a government now recognising the unique opportunity we have in the UK (and Dundee in particular) in the face of stiff, international competition.

The responsibility now lies with those of us who have experience of delivering successful prototypes, to impart that knowledge to those tasked with structuring the process and courses around it.  This will ensure it becomes the beacon of worthwhile investment those of us involved know it can be.

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At Denki, we’ve already documented our Dragons’ Denki process and will be campaigning to make sure it’s adopted as the template for how this funding is allocated.  Why?  Because we worked so hard to create the opportunity for ourselves in the first place that I doubt there’s a more thoroughly considered practical process for creating game prototypes to be found anywhere.  We left nothing to chance.  It’s not just a list of what we think might work – there’s a hard-won,  real-world lesson behind every single step.

None of that process is vanity – it’s all about getting results.  And results are what we all want to see.

– Colin (@denkicolin)