Old making way for the new

Recently, there was some disappointing news when it was announced that OysterWorld, a games company supported by Welsh government to relocate to Wales, has had to call it a day and lay off approximately 50 members of staff.

OysterWorld were initially awarded £1m in financial support to create highly-skilled jobs in the region, and reportedly received an additional £400k later on to help support the creation of even more, taking the total jobs due to 60.

But maybe the departure of OysterWorld could be a time for optimism and hope, rather than another lazy attempt to attack the Welsh government’s investment strategy.

Ecosystems need both life and death to exist healthily, to create space for the next generation to enter, and for the incumbent to release some of the energy it has absorbed.

At ICE, we have already seen former employees and leaders throughout the OysterWorld team get in touch to explore starting a new business in the games industry, and others willing to offer their experiences and lessons as mentors to help new companies avoid making the same mistakes. The gap left by OysterWorld has created a space for learning and new adventures.

One of these companies is Runwild, a studio of six experienced developers and designers who are looking at opportunities with the advent of VR and other emerging technologies, trends that we are seeing a lot of ICE members take advantage of. Here are Serious Datum, Bomper Studio, DW Studio to give you an idea of the standard in Wales already.

With the video games industry said to be worth over $80bn globally this year, this isn’t a bad market to build capacity for at a local level.

In the wake of OysterWorld’s demise, Wales’ tech scene could see 50+ hungry, talented and more experienced people return to the talent pool with scars and stripes earned through their time working with clients such as LucasArts, BBC Worldwide, and Ubisoft, and on the challenges in developing and successfully launching original IP.

This isn’t the first time that we have seen a company full of promise for a new digital dawn in Wales fail to deliver. At the turn of the century, Yes TV had announced a £23m global development and integration centre which was set to double their Welsh-based workforce to over 400 by 2005, with support from the National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Development Agency, and were looking to publicly list the company.

Unfortunately, this didn’t quite work out, but the demise of Yes TV inadvertently led to further investment in the region, and innovative new companies took the place of Yes TV to take advantage of the talent that was at the top of its game, and now looking for new opportunities. Companies like Sorenson Media, Xumo, and Specific Media, amongst others, were able to fill the new void, and Sorenson Media are continuing to invest in the local tech scene. Yes TV continues to employ people across the world.

The challenge is how those who decide to start their own businesses in coming months can receive the kind of incentives that companies relocating to Wales receive to create jobs. It is clear to me that the investment was well placed in OysterWorld, but local start-ups rarely benefit from those kinds of rewards.

OysterWorld hit all targets set, created jobs as planned, raised significant investment from private sources, secured projects, and developed their workforce in Wales. If the objective of the Welsh government is to create high-value jobs that upskill our workforce, and for that investment to have a longer term impact on our economy, then I’d argue that has been achieved.

Nobody will be glad to see OysterWorld’s demise, and there will be a lot of pain for those workers and creditors who are set to lose out on the company’s reported £2m debts. But with that being out of our control, it is now important to look at the opportunities that come from the change.

For those looking to start, the support of things like the Finance Wales Seed Tech Fund, private funds like the Inspire Wales Fund, the Accelerated Growth Programme, and other activities coming up between now and the end of the year mean that there will be plenty of opportunities for those new emerging companies to have a good chance of surviving the early stages of development with the damage of two months without pay or redundancy, but it is important to ensure their needs are being heard.

For us, as taxpayers, I think we need to understand what questions we are asking of these investments. How do we truly track the impact of the investment made into the companies, and should we treat it more like an investment in the person rather than the company? Funding the training of the Welsh workforce through companies giving opportunities to grow and develop through real workplace experience.

And perhaps most importantly, how can home-grown start-ups receive the same support and endorsements to grow at the same rates? What support is there for the 50+ talented people who won’t all be able to walk straight into work locally, to keep them as assets for the local economy? What should that support look like, and how should it be accessed?

Gareth Jones is the CEO of Welsh ICE, an enterprise and start-up incubator based in Caerphilly.