The Irish gaming industry is set to grow exponentially in the coming years, revolutionary US games developer John Romero tells Craig Gallagher
Galway is perhaps the last place you would expect to find two titans of gaming, but after moving to Galway in 2015, John Romero and his wife Brenda have made Galway not just their home, but the base from which they run Romero Games.
Located just off the city centre in an unassuming building, Romero Games is everything you’d expect from a gaming company headed by the man who helped shaped gaming as we know it today.
From humble beginnings in Louisiana, John Romero’s id Software would go on to develop a number of genre defining and critically acclaimed titles such as the iconic Doom, Wolfenstein, Hexen and, perhaps most importantly, Quake, which really is where online gaming was perfected.
The couple first moved to Ireland after Brenda, who was this year awarded a BAFTA for her contribution to the gaming industry, received a Fulbright Scholarship to study the industry in Ireland. They spent two and a half months travelling the country and, John says, found that “the people were amazing” and the country was “more beautiful” than any they had seen.
“It was super safe and we have four kids in the house and we couldn’t even let them walk to school down the road, it was just too dangerous there,” says John of their former home in California. “We figured that this was the right place to raise kids and in 2015 we decided to sell everything and move to Ireland.”
It was not just the scenery that interested the Romeros. Ireland’s reputation as a technology hub has been growing and we’re slowly becoming a major international player with several global giants establishing bases here. But while most favour Ireland as a tech support and customer service base, John and Brenda feel that something truly special is brewing here.
“We got a really great feeling that Ireland is ready to explode…because there’s a lot of really great game developers and everyone wants everyone to win. Everybody is happy for everybody’s success here because everyone wants something great to happen. And we love being in that indie environment,” says John.“When you make games, you can do it anywhere, you don’t have to be in Silicon Valley…It doesn’t matter where you start so why not go to Galway.”
John also believes there is great talent in this country. “The country has a tonne of programmers. Cisco has 200 C++ programmers right down the road. There’s tonnes of people here who make games, there’s great art work and great artists here.”
It’s inspiring that one of the gods of gaming has such a high regard for Irish talent and Romero seems destined to be the one to help shepherd Irish game development onto the world stage. “Somebody has to really make it happen and just make some cool stuff to get it going. You just have to keep on working, which is what everyone in Galway is doing,” he says.
Romero Games in Galway currently employs 12 people and are looking for more artists. “We like really small teams,” says John. “I’ve had companies with 350 people in it where I’m making a game and I have 100 people on my game. It’s just nowhere near as fun as being around people you can joke with and you know really well and hang out with. You can be super selective with who you hire, personality matching and all that. That’s what we did here and everybody is just super great. Everyone likes everyone else and everyone hangs out with everyone. It’s real laid back, it’s not stressful. Game development is awesome here.”
We often hear that Ireland has a skills shortage but John believes that the raw talent is already here. “Everything we need is here,” he says.
However, because the games industry is only in its infancy in Ireland, new graduates tend to emigrate. “They get a degree and they leave and they build up a portfolio and do really well,” he says. “When you’re looking for someone with 20 years of experience you’re not going to find the person in Ireland as they’ve gone somewhere. If you’re looking outside the place for that level of experience, then you’re going to have to find someone in the EU that can do it.”
Romero wants the talent to stay in Ireland and feels that there’s a lot that the Government can do to help support the gaming industry, pointing to the supports in place in the UK and Canada, countries actively seeking to tap into the multi-billion dollar global games market.
From a developer point of view, John advises those with a love for games to get working on their own. “All we needed to do was get together and make some games and if they were good, we could afford to make more games. That’s basically how you start, you’re always going to be in a better position when you’re not looking for someone else’s money,” he says. “It’s hard to do but that’s what it takes to get independent and go do your own thing.”
While he’s not at liberty to divulge the details of the main game Romero Games is working on at the moment, the company recently released Gun Man Taco Truck, which was designed by his son Donovan, proving that gaming truly runs in the family. Available on Mac, PC, Android and iOS, Gun Man Taco Truck is the first game to come out of Romero Games in Galway and it’s just the beginning.
John believes that Irish game development is going to explode in the next few years, with games akin to Minecraft – a game that has sold over 100 million copies globally – set to be developed here. “There’s going to be a Minecraft, there’s going to be something happening in Ireland. Everyone wants something great to happen.” And with Romero Games here, Galway is set to be at the heart of it.