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How Dundee became a world gaming hub

By Christopher Sleight
Tayside reporter, BBC Scotland news website

The UK government is investing £2.5m in a video games centre at Abertay University, Dundee. There are more than a dozen gaming companies based in the city. How did it become such a hub for the industry?

Dundee's links to the gaming industry began with the Lemmings.

The hugely popular computer game, released in 1991 for Commodore Amiga, was written by Dave Jones - a resident of the city and graduate of Abertay University.

Grab from the computer game "Crackdown" (Pic from Realtime Worlds)
There are more than a dozen video games companies based in Dundee

The game involved guiding lemmings around obstacles to an exit. It instantly hooked millions of people.

Lemmings was produced by DMA Design, the video game company founded by Mr Jones founded in Dundee in 1988.

A few years after the Lemmings success, DMA went on to develop Grand Theft Auto, which cemented Mr Jones' reputation as one of the most respected games developers in the industry.

He is now the creative director of Realtime Worlds, another Dundee-based gaming company.

His colleague Colin Macdonald, Realtime Worlds' studio manager, says Mr Jones is widely recognised as the reason video games are such big business for the city.

"Dave is the 'grandfather' of the gaming industry in Dundee - though he wouldn't like me saying that as he's quite young", he says.

"There are 14 or 15 companies other gaming companies in Dundee at the moment.

"There are also a lot of related companies - accountants and lawyers specialising in the gaming industry. But it all started with Dave Jones."

Dave Jones
Dave Jones developed the popular Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto

Recognising the success of Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto, Abertay University became the first university in the world to offer a course in software engineering for video games in 1996.

Mr Macdonald - himself a graduate of Abertay - says there is now a "symbiotic" relationship between the university and the city's games developers.

"There are some cracking graduates coming out of the course," says Mr Macdonald, who has been with Realtime Worlds since 2002.

He says there is a healthy competition for the graduates, who are usually able to find work with one of the companies in Dundee if they want to stay in the area.

The UK gaming industry has so far also appeared to be recession-proof, growing by 12% this year - the same as the previous two years.

Mr Macdonald points to the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which smashed UK sales records on its first day of release, as an example of the growing popularity of video games.

The studio manager believes this is one of the reasons politicians - and graduates' parents - are beginning to take notice of the sector.

"There was always the question from the uncle you hadn't seen for ages: 'Haven't you got a proper job yet?'

"Games are still not accepted as being a proper industry or as a proper job. But we're beginning to get through to politicians and parents", he says.

"These are the products that are making billions of dollars - to ignore that is crazy."

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