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Expert Q&A: Exploring the Gaming Industry in the North East

By Newcastle University
A computer game controller floats on a colourful background

Our region is home to many gaming giants, with more innovative companies making the north east their home all the time. We spoke to Professor Graham Morgan, Head of Newcastle’s School of Computing and Game Technology Lab, to find out why we’ve become a hub of gaming innovation and excellence.

Thank you for meeting with us, Professor Morgan!

Could you tell us a little about your career in the gaming industry?

Of course!

Currently the Head of Computer Science at Newcastle University, I’ve worked, and led, industry-focussed research for over twenty years in the areas of distributed systems, cloud computing, real-time simulations (video game technologies), and digital healthcare.

I set up and lead Newcastle University’s Game Technology Lab, which hosts the industry-led Game Engineering MSc. This MSc has provided many global games companies (e.g., Activision, Creative Assembly, Rockstar North, NVidia, Ubisoft, Rebellion) with over 500 alumni since the course’s inception ten years ago, and has allowed student participation on many of the top selling video games of all time. I’m particularly proud of the Game Technology Lab's support of a wide range of activities to engage disadvantaged groups to encourage engagement with the higher education sector. This has included school visits, organising Q&A with the video games industry for school children, provisioning scholarships and bursaries with the aid of industry benefactors (e.g., Ubisoft).

At the moment, I’m currently researching pressing challenges facing the world of computing today, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and real-time simulations for modelling natural phenomena.

The North East is already home to many gaming industry giants. Why is the North East such a hot spot for the gaming industry?

In the 1980s, the introduction of computers into schools in the North East gave many children the opportunity to learn about and experiment with technology. This was a major turning point for the region, as it sparked a passion for video game development in a generation of young people.

As these children grew up, they went on to establish some of the most successful video game development studios in the region, such as Tynesoft, Zeppelin Games, and Reflections (but there are many more). These studios created some of the most popular and critically acclaimed video games of the time, and they helped to put the North East on the map as a global centre for video game development.

“Our region is home to a vibrant video game industry, and it is only going to grow in the years to come. The educational institutions in our region are playing a key role in nurturing and shaping the next generation of talent in the video game industry.”

The ingenuity, determination, and self-motivation of these individuals helped to shape the video game industry in the North East. As the studios matured, they employed more people. This, in turn, attracted more talent to the region, making it increasingly popular for other studios to establish themselves in our region. As a result, the North East now plays host to a wide range of video game studios, from large employers such as Creative Assembly, Ubisoft, and Sumo Digital to small independents such as Nosebleed Interactive and Wolf & Wood.

How does the gaming industry benefit our region?

The video game industry is a major source of highly skilled employment in the North East, and its entrepreneurial spirit attracts acquisitions from around the world. For example, Epic Games – the creators of Fortnite – acquired Pitbull Studios due to Pitbull’s talented programmers and technologies. This not only brings wealth and investment to the region, but it also reinforces our reputation as a global leader in video games.

The region's talent is in high demand, and skilled individuals no longer need to seek success elsewhere. This is such an exciting time, and opportunities for growth and achievement are right here in the North East, demonstrated by the positive influx of talent, investment, and enabling technologies that together sustain and grow our leadership in video game development.

Aerial shot of Newcastle University's School of Computing

Newcastle University's School of Computing is based in the Urban Sciences Building at Newcastle Helix.

And is the region contributing to advancements in computer game development?

In addition to producing many successful video games, our local universities and studios have also made significant contributions to the technological advancements in the video game industry. One notable example is the ground-breaking work carried out at Newcastle University in the field of distributed simulations of virtual worlds, which has influenced the development of online gaming technologies.

Continuing from our work into online gaming, our research has made significant contributions to the realism of video games. We have developed new techniques for rendering realistic graphics, simulating physics, and animating characters. These advances have made it possible to create video games that are more immersive and engaging than ever before.

The contributions made by our local talent, supported by esteemed academic institutions, have positioned our region at the forefront of video game technology development. Through pioneering research and collaboration, we continue to shape the future of the industry and cement our reputation as a hub of innovation in the world of video games.

Has your research in video game development benefited any other fields or disciplines?

It certainly has.

One of our greatest contributions to society is our pioneering work with medical professionals to transfer video game technology direct to the healthcare sector to benefit patient care.

Two notable successes relate to the diagnoses of children’s eye disorders through 3D gaming and helping stroke patients in their rehabilitation, and there are many more ways that our research can help people in the future, too.

The presence of a Russell Group university with an active research lab dedicated to collaborating with the video game industry has a profound impact. This ensures that we not only disseminate existing knowledge, but we also actively create new knowledge. This symbiotic relationship between academia and industry drives innovation, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in video game technology.

There seems to be such potential for video game development to cross over into other areas of teaching and research.

What are the benefits for students studying gaming in the North East?

The video game industry is a diverse and growing field, and it requires a wide range of skills to succeed. Fortunately, our region is home to several educational institutions that offer courses in game development, design, and programming. These courses provide students with the skills and knowledge they need to break into the industry.

"The region's talent is in high demand, and skilled individuals no longer need to seek success elsewhere. This is such an exciting time, and opportunities for growth and achievement are right here in the North East,"

As the industry grew, local universities recognised the demand for skilled professionals and began offering courses to meet this need. Today, there are several notable game development programmes in our region.

Student working at a computer at Newcastle University's School of Computing

Student working at Newcastle University's School of Computing

Could you tell us about Newcastle University’s Game Technology Lab?

Of course!

Our Game Technology Lab specialises in mathematical programming for video games and has delivered over 500 graduates into the global video games industry during its successful existence.

The programmes provide students with the skills they need to succeed in the video game industry. They learn how to create games from concept to completion, and they gain experience working on real-world projects. These programmes also help students build relationships with industry professionals, which can lead to internships and job opportunities.

The collaboration between academia and industry is essential to the growth of the video game industry. By working together, educational institutions and game developers can ensure that students have the skills they need to succeed in their future careers. This collaboration also helps to foster innovation and creativity in the video game industry.

Our region is home to a vibrant video game industry, and it is only going to grow in the years to come. The educational institutions in our region are playing a key role in nurturing and shaping the next generation of talent in the video game industry. By providing targeted education and fostering industry connections, we are helping to create a vibrant ecosystem that fuels innovation and facilitates the growth of the video game industry.

What international links and perspectives do we bring to research in computer game development at Newcastle?

Newcastle University is a global leader in video game research and teaching. Our work has had a significant impact on the advancement and accessibility of video gaming, and our influence extends far beyond our local region.

One of our key strengths is our active alumni network. Members of the Game Technology Lab maintain strong connections even after graduation, which facilitates career progression. This is especially valuable as studios often seek experienced programmers, and we can advertise senior talent opportunities more widely through our alumni network. With over 50% of our students coming from international backgrounds, it follows that over 50% of our alumni are also international. Consequently, through our alumni network we collaborate with game development studios worldwide, spanning countries such as the USA, Japan, China, India, and mainland Europe.

This international perspective brings substantial benefits to video game research and development. Collaborating with studios from diverse cultural backgrounds allows us to create gaming experiences that cater to a wide range of demographics. The rich insights gained from working with global partners foster innovation and ensure that video games are designed to resonate with audiences worldwide.

As a result of our work, Newcastle University is a highly respected institution in the video game industry. Our graduates are highly sought-after by game development studios worldwide.

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