Was the 1980s the Golden Age for Game Developers in the UK?

The 1980s marked the beginning of the booming video game industry that is now worth $159 billion in 2020. It took a few decades for it to reach this stage, and in the early days, there were hundreds of developers all tussling for supremacy. The 1980s could be considered one of the best periods for game developers in the UK, as it was relatively easy back then for indie companies to get their creations onto the various consoles that were emerging at the time.

Nowadays, it is much harder for these small studios to gain recognition. For this reason, it may be wiser for them to move into online casino development where indie companies can break out.

Thriving Game Developer Scene in the UK in the 1980s

Looking back at the 1980s, there were a vast number of opportunities for game developers at the time to gain recognition. This was way before the days of the Sony/Microsoft dominance of the console market, and there were several devices around at the time. This gave developers a wide range of options when it came to choosing which platform to develop games for.

Some of the notable consoles that cropped up throughout the 1980s included the Intellivision from Mattel Electronics, the Commodore VIC-20, the Cassette Vision from Epoch, and the Atari 5200 Super System. UK manufacturers also entered this console race with a few releases throughout the decade. Sinclair released the Sinclair ZX81 in 1981 as a follow-up to the ZX80. It had numerous flaws, though, and was discontinued in 1983 and replaced by the Spectrum. Another early UK offering that same year was the Philips Videopac G7200, which was also known as the Odyssey 2.

Just as with any bourgeoning industry that creates a lot of buzz and excitement, this new console sector led to related companies cropping up all over the place. In the UK, one of the earliest registered game developers was Argonaut Games in 1982. The London-based studio was responsible for Star Fox for the Super NES.

In 1983, there was the famous video game crash in the USA, which had a big impact on the industry in the UK. Many companies saw their chance to capitalise on this and the likes of Virgin Games, Acme Software, and Ubisoft Reflections were subsequently founded. Some other hugely important developers to emerge throughout the decade were Rare Limited and Codemasters. The latter is one of the oldest British game studios that is still active today.

The 1980s could be said to be one of the most thriving periods for AAA game developers in the UK because the industry was still going through its formative years. At the time, no powerhouses were gobbling up the smaller studios, and there was no clear winner in terms of the most popular console. This was a good time to be a developer in the country.

Online Casino Developers Now in a Similar Situation

The console industry has settled down somewhat, but there are other, younger sectors of the gaming industry in which developers are finding success. The online casino sector is a prime example of an area in which smaller studios can gain recognition quite easily in the current climate.

Because of the incredible popularity of online slots, there is a massive demand for the constant creation of new titles in the genre. This has led to a great number of developers making a name for themselves in the online casino industry. The list of software providers is vast, with giants like Playtech and NetEnt existing alongside smaller developers like Spadegaming and Lightning Box Games. Players will often get to know their favourite developers, and then seek out online casinos that offer their games. Even then, sites such as this help players find the best developers and make a strong case for why you should follow software providers.

Indie developers often find that the more established mammoths of the industry can actually help propel them to greater success. This was seen recently with the NetEnt acquisition of Red Tiger Gaming. The smaller company is now one of the emerging players in the slots market.

Some UK-based developers gained recognition by identifying emerging trends in the online slots sector and pouncing on them early. Northern Lights Gaming, for example, is a slot studio founded in Manchester which has had some of its retro games licenced at online casinos.

Should AAA Developers Switch to This More Attractive Option?

In the AAA developing scene in 2020, the market is dominated by giants that have spent the last three decades making their mark. Some of the best-known behemoths are the likes of Activision, Ubisoft, Rockstar Games, and Capcom.

With games from the titans getting much more attention than those from smaller studios, it’s hard for independent companies to make it. Developing a game can be a long and arduous process that takes a vast number of people. The risk that a game will not be able to recover production costs is one that a lot of developers simply can’t take.

Developers could look at the slots industry and see many parallels between this and the console market of the 1980s. The online casino games are amazingly popular, but it doesn’t require teams of thousands of people to create them. Indeed, small groups of less than ten programmers could easily collaborate to manufacture many games.

By making as many games as possible, indie developers would then have a better chance of at least one of them getting picked up by a recognised gambling site. It may not be what a lot of start-up gaming companies had envisioned when they began, but it could be the best way to start building the foundations to turn the business into something much bigger later on down the line.

The golden age of AAA game development in the UK may well have been the 1980s. However, current indie studios do still have a chance to get recognised as easily as their ancestors did three decades ago. For them to do this, it may require their switching genre for a while to make slot games first.


2 thoughts on “Was the 1980s the Golden Age for Game Developers in the UK?”

  1. Joe Thurgood

    “Was the 1980’s the Golden Age for Game Developers in the UK?”
    Proceeds to not mention any of the big players, bar one and then blathers about online casinos.
    And Reflections (later Ubisoft Reflections) were nothing the 80’s bar the late entry of Shadow of the Beast in ’89 – the 90’s were their stomping ground, a decade that saw UK developers launch Lemmings, GWA, Tomb Raider, Golden Eye, Worms, Populous, Theme Hospital and Micro Machines. And though some of these franchises have fallen out of favour their impact on the industry is just as potent as Final Fantasy, Super Mario Bros or Street Fighter

  2. Think a very important fact is that the ZX Spectrum and Acorn Electron were making hardware affordable here which at the time shaped the uk market. It gave these companies startup capital (many of which were teenagers in their bedrooms, and I mean that in no derogatory way, these are the people that made the games I love).
    There is no “very British” home computer any more which means you no longer have such a captive market for it. Now access to similar/same hardware is global, the hardware is massively more powerful meaning there’s only so much one person can do before they can call themselves a software publishing house in the capacity of todays technologies. doesn’t help that our schools would rather teach latin than code.

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