Gaming is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. Whether we’re talking about PC, console, board, online casino, VR, AR, or any other type, games are both played and made worldwide. That being said, some countries and regions tend to have much more developed gaming industries than others.
One of the most noteworthy countries in that regard – especially on a per capita basis – is Ireland. So, let’s look into Ireland’s history of game development and some of the top Irish game developers to watch out for today.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Ireland’s Role in the Development of the Video Game Industry
Irish developers have played a huge role in the evolution of the video game industry over the past half-century. Ireland-based companies and individual Irish developers and entrepreneurs living abroad have helped shape one of the fastest-growing and arguably most exciting industries of the last several decades.
If we take even a brief stroll back through history, we’ll see most of the biggest developers in the world doing some of their best work in Ireland and with Irish leads. Such examples include Atari developing its first game consoles in the 1970s in Tipperary and Limerick, Microsoft doing a lot of its work on Halo in its Dublin office in the early 2000s, and other industry giants such as EA, Activision, and Riot Games moving their offices to Ireland to tap into the local talent.
Many great Irish game developers such as Artomatix, Havoc, Digit Games, and Demonware have also been acquired by industry giants such as Activision, Intel, Microsoft, Unity, and others. And, if we look at individual developers, we’ll encounter industry greats such as Michael Finucane, who started Gamesworld, later acquired by GameStop; Hugh Reynolds and Steve Collins, who created Havoc Games; Brendan Green (aka “Player Unknown”), who founded PUBG; Sean Murray, who started Hello Games (the team behind No Man’s Sky); and countless others.
Modern Irish Game Developers Making Waves
As for contemporary Irish game developers, there are several exciting new names in the industry worth paying attention to. As Ireland (particularly Dublin) is considered a major European tech hub, there are more names than would fit in a single article, both in the indie sphere and on the large stage. That said, here are four Irish game developers on the up and up:
1 – Gambrinous
Famous for the 2015 turn-based dungeon crawler Guild of Dungeoneering, Gambrinous is a Dublin-based indie developer led by Colm Larkin. The studio specializes in creating digital games inspired by tabletop board games. It also developed the 2019 hit Cardpocalypse.
Gambrinous prides itself on creating accessible and affordable games with nostalgic ‘90s aesthetics, proving that excellent games don’t require high budgets, AAA price tags, or “realistic” graphics.
2 – The Unit
The Unit is based in Dundalk, Ireland, and has established its main delivery centre in Ukraine. This studio specializes in sports betting and iGaming more so than in PC or console video games and works with clients to create specific gaming software for online casinos, betting centres, free-to-play mobile games, and more.
Depending on the client’s needs, The Unit can provide both backend and frontend solutions, continuous support, product vision and strategy development, testing and QA, and other services. For a great example of their work, PlayStar Casino can be found on native iOS, Hybrid Android, and the GIG gaming platform.
For other iGaming products that The Unit may have played a role in, take a look at this all-inclusive list of new sites to explore.
3 – DreamFeel
DreamFeel was created in 2014 by Llaura McGee and released its first game, CURTAIN, that same year. McGee’s success during the first couple of years of DreamFeel’s existence earned the studio an Amaze Berlin Grand Prize as well as a Writer’s Guild of Ireland award, which was a first for a video game.
Soon after, McGee was joined by artist Liadh Young. After several more years of hard work and multiple prototypes, the duo developed the famous 2020 hit If Found, which earned them many more awards and acolytes, such as the 2020 Imirt Awards for Best Game Narrative and Game of the Year, the 2021 Gayming Award for Best LGBTQ Indie Game, and the 2021 Pégases Best International Mobile Game.
4 – Keyword Studios
Ireland isn’t just the home of small indie studios and iGaming developers, of course. A great example of that is Keyword Studios. While it’s listed in London, this developer is both established and headquartered in Dublin.
Created by Giorgio Guastalla and Teresa Luppino in 1998, Keyword Studios works on game development for various multi-billion gaming studios, including Activision Blizzard, Sony, Electronic Arts, Riot Games, Ubisoft, Supercell, Nintendo, and Warner Bros. Over the years, Keyword Studios has helped create titles such as Halo 5, For Honor, NBA 2K17, Watch Dogs 2, SMITE, Mortal Kombat X, Mass Effect Andromeda, Minecraft, Gears of War 4, and more.
Chances are that we’ve missed someone’s favorite contemporary Irish game developer, but that’s inevitable, especially if you’re reading this at a later date. One of the biggest challenges for newer indie game developers today is the overabundance of competition. However, this will inevitably motivate some to create better games that may one day be considered classics. Another is the high likelihood of a swift acquisition from a larger studio.
This generally translates into rather short lifespans for many game developers in Ireland (and anywhere, for that matter), especially if they are really good. So, tomorrow’s list of the most exciting Irish game developers to watch out for might be quite different from today’s, but that’s part of the game development game too.