Stewart Gilray of JAW
Stewart Gilray, founder of independent game development studio Just Add Water (JAW), gives us an insight into life as a gaming entrepreneur in Yorkshire…
Yorkshire has firmly established itself as a gaming hotspot over recent years with A-listers such as Rockstar and Sky Betting and Gaming investing in the region.
And it’s not just the major corporates which are helping put the region on the map, as a number of independent studios are also driving the sector forward with their innovative thinking.
One such company is Just Add Water (JAW), an independent studio based right in the centre of Leeds at Arena Point.
The company was launched in 2006 by Stewart Gilray, a career developer of almost 30 years, who decided he no longer wanted to work for other people and set up on his own.
He told BQ: “I started creating video games in 1988, making 2017 my 29th year in the industry. During this time, I’ve worked for the likes of Psygnosis, Bullfrog, Grolier Interactive, Revolution Software to name a handful.”
Gilray, originally from Aberdeen, decided to set up the business in Leeds as it was where he was living at the time. He added: “I left Aberdeen in 1993 as there was no games industry there at the time, in fact, I was the games industry.”
“We have a massive community here in Yorkshire with indie stars all the way to AAA teams such as Rockstar Leeds,” he adds. “As a network, we always help each other and are there to offer advice and support where required.”
But aside from the strong network of gamers, you might be wondering what challenges JAW has faced since opening its doors 11 years ago?
After all, up until recently, Yorkshire was never known to be a tech hotbed and JAW was one of the very early companies to set up shop here.
Stewart said: “I think in part there is a stigma to some of those in the London area about “the North” I mean after all we don’t have t’internet up here yet do we?
“In all seriousness though, I don’t think there are any serious challenges being here. There are some in the London area who think we’re far too far away, but it’s just 2hrs on the train or an hour on a plane.
“What I’m trying to say is, we can’t see any issues with being here, but perhaps some in London think there is an issue because we’re not in London.”
And being based in Yorkshire has certainly played to JAW’s benefit. Since its launch, the company has worked on a number of top games, such as Micro Machines and Abe’s Oddysee, and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Gilray said: “When I started the company back in 2006, there was just me. We grew to 18 strong by the summer of 2014, since then we’ve paired back a little due to the normal post project attrition, and we’re now hiring a few more people, this month alone we have four new employees, and this will continue for the next month or so.
“Our first projects netted us around £50,000 in the first year, now we’re much, much higher than that. From a company standpoint, having done this for almost 11 years now, we’ve grown in terms of how we do business, and those we work with.”
Unlike businesses in other tech industries, Stewart and his team have also yet to be affected by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and he believes this will remain the case.
As the region has such a rich talent pool of staff and an already established industry, he feels it is well placed to weather any potential economic storms that might come its way.
When asked how he had been affected since the vote, he said: “To be fair, not really, and I don’t think it will going forward, at least not that I can see.
“We work primarily with UK companies in Sterling, so the Brexit result and the subsequent drop in the pound hasn’t had any direct effect on us. We don’t currently employee any EU citizens so that angle doesn’t affect us either.”
So, what’s next? He concluded: “Looking forward, we’ve just started two large scale projects, which will lead to others. That linked to our recent office move has given us the feeling that we’re having a bit of rebirth.
“I would like to see us taking on three roles as a company. Firstly, with the creation of new projects for clients. Secondly, us converting work for clients to consoles from other platforms, such as PC.
“Lastly, JAW self-publishing its own developed titles as well as titles for others that perhaps don’t have publishing relationships with the likes of Sony and Microsoft.”