The creator of the original Grand Theft Auto (GTA) has said there is “no limit” to the future prosperity of the games sector as he prepares to chart the incredible worldwide impact of the franchise 20 years on from its release.
1997 was a year of innovation in Dave Jones’ hometown of Dundee, marking not only the birth of cultural phenomenon GTA but also of the world’s first degree in computer games at Abertay University.
On Saturday November 25 this year, Abertay will host a free discussion panel event marking the finale to a year-long programme of 20 Years of Games celebrations, featuring Jones among a group of industry experts who will look back at the achievements of the last two decades and forward at what’s to come.
Jones, who was instrumental in setting up the first games degrees at Abertay, said the mainstream acceptance of GTA – the latest incarnation of which is the fastest selling entertainment release ever to reach $1bn – shows the incredible pace of evolution.
“GTA is still the pinnacle game for Open World Gaming and trying to make a gaming environment as realistic as possible,” said Jones, whose Reagent studio is still based in Dundee.
“I still think GTA is the one game that shows how far the industry has come and what it went through was a phase of acceptance of the medium in the same way as music and movies had to.
“Initially all games were for kids and because of the technology people weren’t thinking of the graphics and story.
“But then equilibrium was reached where games became like any other form of entertainment and we now we accept it.
“The aspect that still strikes me is how GTA has become part of everyday life.
“I remember sitting seeing a movie at home and there being a line, ‘don’t go all GTA on me.’
“That was a surreal moment.
“GTA is now a part of everyday culture and one of the best things about any game is that it can have that level of impact.
“I suppose it’s an aspiration for people who want to make games, to have that lasting legacy and impact on the world when you produce something really great.
“And these things continue to happen – just look at Minecraft for example.”
Despite the exponential growth of the games industry since the release of GTA in October 1997, Jones still believes there’s unlimited potential as unexpected new markets continue to emerge.
“Games touch everybody’s lives and even though we’ve been doing it for what seems like a lifetime I still think we are in the very early days – particularly in terms of technology,” he said.
“We like to think we create these stylised virtual worlds, but in some ways we are still in the stone-age and the limitations of technology can block the ideas we have.
“Virtual Reality has been through a cycle and Augmented Reality is about to go through a cycle, then there’s streaming and YouTubers.
“There are so many changes that just catch the industry unaware everything three or four years – but that keeps it interesting.
“Everybody is looking at Artificial Intelligence just now and I think that will have an impact on gaming as well.
“Gaming is normally quite insular and we use our own technologies, but when companies like Google are spending billions on AI research there’s no way the gaming industry is not going to leverage that.
“I see so many things happening in other sectors that are going to have a direct impact on gaming and there are technologies on the periphery of gaming right now that will be absorbed.”
The free Abertay University finale panel – Next Level: A Conversation on the Future of Games - will also feature CEO of Ukie Jo Twist, CEO of Playmob Jude Ower, industry journalist Will Freeman and Computer Arts lecturer Lynn Parker.
In addition to GTA and future technologies, an array of other topics are on the discussion agenda including creative industries funding, media relationships, games education, esports, YouTubers and new business models.
Jones, who also created smash-hit Lemmings, will reveal what has kept him motivated after achieving such major success.
He said: “If I stuck with stuff too long it would have been the safer route, for example I could have stuck with GTA forever, but that’s not me.
“Gaming is one of those industries where there’s definitely no recipe for success – you’ve got to try things and see what works and what doesn’t.
“If I hadn’t tried the first two games before Lemmings then that game wouldn’t have happened and then GTA wouldn’t have happened.
“So it’s easy to look back and pinpoint success and failure, but ultimately everything leads to learning and fixing what went wrong.
“I’ve never made more than two or three versions of a game because I’ve got to keep pushing forward otherwise I would stagnate.
“You definitely need a bit of luck – right time, right place, right idea - but there’s always got to be that element of quality.
“A lot of the time the stars do align, but getting to that point is all about creative spirit.”
Jones said there’s no limit to what can be achieved in the sector and praised the “nucleus” model that has proved the blend for success in his native Dundee.
“In Dundee it’s the network effect of everybody knowing one another over the years,” he said.
“It’s having that nucleus of a combination of experienced industry people, strong academia and support from local enterprise.
“We all cottoned onto it in the early days and if you get those three things right then it really helps.
“I’ve seen others get two of the three and it hasn’t quite had the same effect.
“I travel to a lot of other countries and I’ve never seen anything yet that I thought we couldn’t do in Dundee.”