Gaming is pretty mainstream these days; even your mum has Candy Crush on her phone which she plays every time she gets a chance to. The game development scene in Yorkshire is becoming increasingly vibrant, with meetups across the region including Leeds Games Toast
and the brilliantly named Humber Bundle
over in Hull.
Jamie Sefton, managing director of Game Republic, believes Yorkshire is one of the key regions driving the UK’s burgeoning gaming scene.
Game Republic has been going for 16 years. The organisation was set up to support and encourage gaming companies in the region, and is one of the only associations of its kind outside of London. They organise events and networking to help boost the profile of the industry across the region. Another key component is the work that they do promoting ties between business and academia.
There are 60 members in the organisation, and 800 in the associated Game Makers Yorkshire.
“We’re really blessed in Yorkshire,” Jamie says. “There are lots of great colleges and universities doing courses in this area. Hull University, for example has a really well known and respected course where students are really getting their teeth into C++. We’ve got some amazing companies here as well, with Rockstar over in Leeds and Sumo Digital in Sheffield.”
To ensure that there’s a good pipeline of students going into gaming, Game Republic helps to organise the Yorkshire Gaming Festival in Bradford.
“The Yorkshire Gaming Festival is a real highlight for us,” Jamie adds. “There’s a great turn out, we have a school days so that young people can get information about what it’s like to work in gaming. There are so many different pathways to get in and schools often aren’t knowledgeable about all the new jobs that are out there.”
There’s also two industry talk days where students, graduates and people that work in the industry can get together and talk about the latest developments. One thing that Jamie ensures is that there’s rich diversity in the speakers.
“This year we had four out of nine women speakers but next year I want the ratio to be even better,” he says. “More needs to be done to encourage women to get into gaming and into development roles. There’s already an issue when it comes to private schools, where programming is often not on the syllabus in all girls schools.”
Jamie started out as an actor and comedy writer. After he hit 30, he felt that he was getting bored of waiting for the next role by the phone. He became a staff writer at Arcade Magazine in Bath, going on to write for some of the top games columns and magazines.
He moved from Bath to London and then up North and the opportunity to run Game Republic came up when he was here. It was once the gaming arm of Screen Yorkshire, who are one of the leading voices behind the move to bring Channel 4 to Leeds.
“Channel 4 moving to Yorkshire is going to be huge,” says Jamie. “It’s put a real spotlight on the region and we want to help to capitalise on that, driving more creative and digital businesses to move and to start locally.”
It’s not the first time that the spotlight has been on the region when it comes to tech. Back in 2009, the Eurogamer Expo was held at the Royal Armouries and we had people on BBC News talking about the region and about gaming.
“Gaming is so mainstream now that even Opera North had a game on their homepage recently to advertise one of their shows. Everyone is a gamer.”
However, Jamie admits the idea that everyone is a gamer hasn’t always been well received by the community. In recent years, there has been a backlash from some people who feel frustrated that their once niche hobby is now something for everyone.
“Gamergate is the worst thing to ever happen in gaming,” says Jamie. “It was the testing ground for the deeply unpleasant politics we’ve seen come after.”
“Thankfully it didn’t directly impact many of the devs I know. Maybe if anything it encouraged them – and me – to do more. People are so lovely in this industry and the work that we do is hopefully making a difference. It’s about education and raising expectations. It’s about showing what is possible to everyone.”
Jamie is passionate about putting Yorkshire on the map when it comes to gaming. He says: “There’s as much opportunity in Yorkshire as there is in London. In fact, there’s more – London is too expensive and people can’t afford to be there.”
“Yorkshire is so much more than just cycle races and sheep. We’re cutting edge. There’s loads of amazing stuff happening in the region and despite some of the issues that we’re seeing politically, we’re forging ahead.”
“I love London but it’s not the be all and end all. We need to be better at shouting about how great we are in the North.”
Games Republic are taking part in the Leeds International Festival with their Get into Gaming event on 11 May at L19 Cube at the Tetley. You can get your tickets for this family day out here: https://www.ticketarena.co.uk/events/Get-Into-Gaming