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  • Ian Ritchie : Business AM

Driven to despair as millions from ‘our’ smash hit go west

The next global blockbuster highlights another missed chance for Scottish talent

AS YOU MIGHT already know, this week sees the launch of what will undoubtedly be a massive global blockbuster. Originally devised in Edinburgh, this series of entertaining titles has built up a huge following among young people from all around the world who find them fantastically exciting and totally compulsive.

The latest sequel has been eagerly awaited for months, will earn millions of dollars of revenue worldwide and will top the charts around the world for many weeks to come.

No, I am not talking about Harry Potter. I was thinking of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City , the latest in the phenomenally successful Grand Theft Auto (GTA) computer game series. GTA3 was the world’s biggest selling computer game last year, with more than 8m copies sold. At about $50 a copy, this amounts to a global 'box office' equivalent of more than $350m, bigger than all but the biggest film releases.

This latest release, Vice City , is estimated to have already sold 300,000 copies in its first weekend in the UK , more than half of all the games sold in the last week. That adds up to about £12m in a few days, and the Christmas market isn’t even under way yet.

The fact that such computer games are a popular phenomenon comes as no surprise to the curators of the National Museums of Scotland. At least not now that they are staging the biggest exhibition of computer games ever held.

'Game On' features more than 120 playable games, plots the history of the genre and provides an Aladdin’s Cave for hands-on gaming enthusiasts. The exhibition runs until February and is causing a whole new young audience to find their way to the Royal Museum in Edinburgh.

Naturally, GTA features strongly in the exhibition, but it is not playable there because of its 'adult' content. For Vice City is not for the faint-hearted. Like previous versions of this game series, it is based on the reprehensible formula of stealing cars and driving them around a crowded city full of drug dealers and prostitutes. The title therefore carries an 18 certificate, which officially means it cannot be sold to under-18 year olds. Unofficially, of course, you will be hard pressed to find a 14- or 15-year-old gaming enthusiast who isn’t planning to spend most of this weekend ram-raiding around the virtual world of Vice City .

The surrounding environment in Vice City is set in 1980s Miami and it provides an incredibly rich, creepy, metropolitan background redolent of gangsters and drug-runners. As you drive around in your stolen car, you can dial up hours of music on the many stations on the car radio.

Surprisingly, this blockbuster product was entirely devised and produced in Leith by Rockstar North, the games studio formerly known as DMA. Despite its authentic US atmosphere, it turns out to be every bit a product of Scotland as shortbread or whisky.

But unfortunately, although this block buster will earn hundreds of millions of dollars, only a small fraction of this money will find its way back to Scotland . This is because DMA Design was bought many years ago and is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Take Two, a New York games publisher.

Given that the fast-growing publishing revenues earned by the computer games industry have overtaken those of the movie industry and are closing fast on those of the music industry, and that world-beating development talent is available in Scotland, you might be wondering what the Scottish publishing industry is doing about this great opportunity.

Well, SMG blew a couple of hundred million buying Virgin Radio and is consequently so indebted that it is being forced to flog the Herald newspapers. Observers also wonder whether its Scottish and Grampian television franchises can survive as ITV consolidates south of the border.

Fifty years ago, some of the world’s biggest children’s entertainment products were published in Scotland . These days, the publisher of the Beano and the Dandy, DC Thomson, is so dozy, it is almost catatonic.

The talented games developers in Leith who created Vice City demonstrate that Scottish creativity is alive and well. They prove that we can lead the world in producing highly attractive blockbuster entertainment.

What a shame we don’t have the publishing talent to exploit it.

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