In this series, we ask key figures in the region and from our core sectors to share their insights.
We spoke to Bobby Thandi, Founder and CEO of award-winning game development studio XR Games, about trends in the sector and opportunities he sees for inclusive growth across the Leeds City Region.
What are the current trends in the games development sector?
The combination of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technology is taking game development to new levels and for us is ensuring we develop relationships with global partners, such as Sony Pictures, Meta and Microsoft.
We were delighted to be invited by the Department of International Trade, along with twelve other UK companies, to showcase its “Made in Britain – Sold Worldwide” campaign. The project focus is helping to demonstrate the strength of the sector and emphasise the huge opportunities for business development and growth in this country.
Why has Leeds and the wider region become a particular hub for growth in games development?
We’re surrounded by great universities which have excellent computing courses, so there is a steady stream of graduate talent who are taught and live locally. They make friends here, so they tend to stay in the area. That has drawn several successful games studios to set up and scale up in the region.
We also have great support from Leeds City Council, who are keen to champion local success stories, which again helps recruit more talent and attract more businesses here.
What I want to see is a much wider reach for the incredible job opportunities which exist in our industry, encouraging more people from diverse backgrounds to consider careers in the sector.
Your XR Futures campaign was set up to address that issue – what do you hope it achieves?
The inspiration was very much from my background. I loved playing video games and made money selling second-hand games in the school playground, but I didn’t know anybody in the video games business or have any contacts in the sector.
It always felt to me to be an aspirational thing like wanting to be a footballer or an astronaut. But I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, so I embarked on a BA honours degree in business studies to give me the tools to support my passion.
Ironically, the rapid success of XR Games meant I had to park that ambition to focus on the growth of the business.
XR Futures is all about rectifying that situation and encouraging people from many different backgrounds to study and work in the industry to enjoy its rewards. I speak at schools, colleges, universities and events to spread that message to encourage other businesses and sectors to do the same.
What advice would you give to anyone considering setting up their own business?
To align the work that you do with the passion that you have in life – then it won’t feel like work! If you don’t, it will be a hard slog.
You should also ask yourself, ‘what is my why?’ One of my favourite games as a child was a cooperative video game called Bubble Bubble 2, which me and my friend Steve would play side by side. The game strategy, visuals, narrative and sound effects were only half the fun – the other half was high-fiving each other on reaching a new level or play-punching in the ribs if one of you had messed up.
The first time I put on a VR headset, I could immediately imagine how these could become multiplayer games. Steve and I could step into the game and even if friends are scattered all around the globe, it still feels like we’re in the same room together. This was my ‘why’ when I decided to establish a games studio – making memories through immersive AR and VR play.
What part do communities such as Nexus play in helping businesses to scale up and thrive?
Innovation hubs are all about meeting like-minded businesses; CEOs from other companies in a wide range of sectors, with whom you can share best practices and scaling tips. Building contacts and widening your networks is essential for any business owner and I’ve enjoyed being a speaker, panellist and interested observer at many Nexus events.
We also have strong links with the Digital Screen Campus innovation hub at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, which aims to foster and attract creative tech and digital screen industries to the region. We have launched our first games studio outside the UK in Christchurch, which is the start of our planned growth programme both in the UK and internationally.
Explore more insights from our ‘the view from here’ series:
The View from Here – Mark Casci
We spoke to Mark Casci, award-winning business and features editor with the Yorkshire Post for 14 years and now Head of Representation and Policy for West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, about what he sees as the major opportunities and challenges for our region.