The gaming industry is fast becoming the dominant cultural medium in the world, creating everything from mobile mega-hits to the all-powerful Virtual Reality headsets. Gaming is no longer seen as a childish activity, but a respected and profitable profession.
With research firms, Newzoo and Statista reporting that 2015 saw an increase of 9.4 percent; the global gaming market currently sits at a whopping $91.5 billion and continues to grow.
Long gone are the days of the Nintendo 64, where your game was a greyish, rounded cartridge made of plastic that you jammed into the console like an oversized Lego.
Suddenly, your television screen would light up, and stand there was a four-foot plumber in a red cap and blue overalls ready to save a princess from an overweight turtle/dinosaur, and depending on the game you might be asked to race them in a miniature go-kart.
Now, things are slightly different. Games are available at the mere click of a button; blockbuster titles like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are generating as much money as Hollywood fare.
Let’s not forget the indie game scene, it’s thriving as of late with corporate juggernauts Sony, Microsoft, and Valve, commissioning small teams of developers on a regular basis hoping to find the next mega-hit like Fez, Minecraft or more recently, Rocket League.
We spoke with Kahoot Studios about all things gaming, and discuss where Ireland fits into this culture phenomenon.
Eoghan O’ Donovan, CEO at Kahoot Studios, first fell in love with the industry during the Sega Mega Drive era, spending his evenings playing Sonic the Hedgehog and Bomberman; he designed his first game at the age of ten. Although he describes it as being quite “basic”, he sent it to Microsoft, who were quite impressed with the aspiring developer’s Age of Empires inspired card game, but sadly they didn’t commission it, “I must get back in touch with about it,” he laughs.
Despite Microsoft blindness, Eoghan was eager to make a name for himself in the gaming industry. While studying Computer Science at UCD, Eoghan met his Kahoot counterpart/co-founder, Erik Roche Farrelly.
“Computer Science is a broad field with a lot of different paths to take afterwards, but we both knew going in that our goal was to become game developers,” Eoghan said.
Following the pair’s graduation, they began working for a game development studio called Open Emotion Studios. Their newly equipped skills were put to use immediately, developing games for PlayStation Portable (PSP).
For the young developers, however, the opportunity was too good to be true, when the Limerick based studio closed down in 2013.
So, instead of giving up and going their separate ways, Eoghan and Erik decided to create their own studio. Pooling their experience from the various studios and start up programmes – and Erik’s affinity for the letter K – Kahoot Studios was born.
“We decided it was time to start our own studio … once we decided we’d be “in cahoots”, Erik somehow came up with the name Kahoot Studios. I’ve a feeling the “k” came from the fact that, due to the spelling of his own name, Erik thinks everything is cooler with a k,” said Eoghan.
Kahoot Studios have been developing games for around 4 years with 3 games under their belt, the team are hoping to emulate the indie success of Rocket League and Stardew Valley; both games have defied expectations and garnered an enormous following since their release. While Eoghan acknowledges these indie success stories, he ensures he and his team keep their feet firmly on the ground.
“The games industry is a hit-driven business, and for every great indie success, there are a lot more who make less than a cup of coffee. There are many things you can do to improve your game’s chances of succeeding, making a great game being the first, but as a business, you need to plan for some of your games to fail,” he said.
Rocket League, currently, has a total player community of around 12 million people across PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. In terms of actual sales, the number stands at nearly 4 million, Psyonix marketing executive Jeremy Dunham said in February.
As for Stardew Valley, according to Steam spy, the indie farming sim Stardew Valley has sold over half a million copies on Steam alone since its release late last month.
“I’ve been inspired by Stardew Valley, which is not only a great game but was developed by a single person, which makes it all the more inspiring.”
As America continues to embrace and nurtures the ever evolving medium, Ireland is still reluctant to adopt the same mentality towards the gaming industry.
However, the team at Kahoot have seen glimpses of national success over their six years, as Ireland has seen a larger group of people making games across the country than ever before.
“We have some larger indie studios developing here now, such as Digit Games, and a huge amount of start-ups in the space. I think we’re definitely on an upward trajectory and there is a lot of interest being generated,
That being said, we’re improving all the time and there are so many exciting things going on. We have the guys over at Gambrinous who are doing really well with Guild of Dungeoneering, we have John and Brenda Romero who have recently set up a studio in Galway and we have a relatively new association for game developers in Ireland called Imirt … but, as a whole we’re still waiting for one really successful game to come out of an indie studio here to put Ireland on the map internationally,” added Eoghan.
Despite the national enthusiasm, developers are struggling to find funding and support for their innovative projects; Eoghan refers to other countries like the United Kingdom and Canada, who “have far better incentives for setting up a game development studio than Ireland.”
“Organisations like the Irish Film Board do a lot of great work for the Film and Animation industries and it would be really nice to see either games getting integrated or having their own similar organisation,” said the Kahoot CEO.
A major reason behind gaming’s new found success is largely because of internet services Twitch.tv and YouTube. Both platforms have initiated the new online pastime, in which people log into a website to watch their favourite streamer play video games.
Twitch is a free service where viewers can chat, donate, and play games with these internet superstars, who get paid a handsome wage packet, depending on viewer traffic and their generosity.
The team at Kahoot are definitely in favour of the dedicated gaming streaming outlet, both as a developer and a gamer, and hope to have their own channel up and running soon.
“As a gamer and a consumer I might watch anywhere between 2 and 8 hours of Twitch a day. For a long time, I watched less and less terrestrial television … what Twitch has done for me, and consumers like me is give me an enormous amount of TV channels I can put on and pay as little or as much attention as I want to. It has also captured this incredible experience where you can interact with the streamer,
As a developer, Twitch and YouTube have incredible potential in terms of marketing and building a community around your game. And what’s even more impressive is that it’s the YouTubers and Streamers who are advertising your game for you. There’s also a growing space for developers who create their own YouTube or Twitch content,” said Eoghan.
At Kahoot the primary focus is that the game needs to be fun, but choosing between gameplay and narrative, right now the main objective is gameplay.
As described on their website, Kahoot’s most recent game Milkyway Meow Meow embodies that vision with its continuous jumping mechanic and innovative stylised environments. The game follows Katsmonaut Mobo, who was minding their own business when the moon showed up and stole their milk, and from there the game begins.
“Milkyway Meow Meow is our current focus in terms of Kahoot Studios’ games and we’re in the process of getting into full production on it. Originally we were just messing around with a very basic gameplay prototype but once we teamed up with Tom Mathews it took on a life of its own. The more we worked on it, the more fun the game was and when we got to the point where we had a really fun game that also looked great we knew we wanted to expand on the idea and develop a larger game from the concept,” said Eoghan.
The thought of making a video game can be daunting, considering the almost endless list that accompanies it. There is code to write, sound design, music, gameplay, marketing, and bugs to patch.
From speaking with the team at Kahoot Studios, game development can be the most enjoyable profession there is, but the stories of success and failure paint a confusing picture for people starting out. It seems that either you become a victorious indie superstar or your game will fall by the wayside and its back to the drawing board.
The gaming industry is rapidly growing. According to GQ, in the UK alone, 20 million of people play some sort of video game, with 6.2 million playing every day. So, the next time you are sitting on a train or a bus, take a look around, you’ll soon find out that games are not just for kids.
Images courtesy of Kahoot Studios.