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Chris van der Kuyl of 4J Studios sheds some light on doing business in Scotland and how Scottish Development International contributed to the success of the studio

Chris Van Der Kuyl and Paddy Burns of 4J Studios
Chris van der Kuyl and Paddy Burns
from 4J Studios

Creating worlds

Founded by friends Chris van der Kuyl and Paddy Burns, the 4J Studios is getting used to success. By bringing the demon-filled lands of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion to the Playstation 3, and Minecraft’s brightly coloured blocks to over 13 million Xbox 360 and Xbox One owners, they have demonstrated their ability to win over a broad audience.

In the past two years, Minecraft alone has won nine awards for 4J, including a BAFTA Kids' Choice Award.

4J Games’ 18-strong team celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, and chairman Chris said: “We’ve come a long way since we were established in 2005 – but we have even bigger plans for the future.”

Why do business in Scotland?

Although it has an office in East Linton, 4J’s roots are in Dundee, which is renowned globally as a hub of game design talent. Its name is even derived from Dundee’s history for success in the jute, jam, journalism and joystick trades. If asked why 4J are based in Scotland, Chris says there is a simple explanation.

“Scotland – and Dundee in particular – has a tremendous reputation as a breeding ground for exceptional game design talent. That hasn’t happened by chance,” he explains.

“We have an extremely strong game development community with a vast and rich pool of talent.

“Our higher education providers produce excellent candidates who could work anywhere in the world. For example, the University of Abertay in Dundee offers world-class game development courses.

“To be frank, we wouldn’t want to be based anywhere else.”

Brick by brick

Before working on Minecraft, 4J proved its worth with a conversion of Bethesda’s epic RPG Oblivion to PlayStation 3. Releasing Overlord, Raising Hell, further cemented the company’s reputation as a capable and talented studio, promoting Microsoft to ask 4J to work on versions of Banjoo Kazooie, Banjoo Tooie and Perfect Dark for Xbox 360.

“Because of the work we had done with Microsoft, Mojang approached us to make the console versions of Minecraft,” said Chris. “We had no idea it would turn into the phenomenon it has. It’s now one of the biggest selling games of all-time.”

Seeds of success

Chris says the company’s success may not have been possible had it not been for support from Scottish Enterprise (SE) and Scottish Development International (SDI).

He said: “SE and SDI have been extremely helpful over the years, not just for us but for the whole Scottish games industry.

“SE has been very good at helping us develop sector-specific strategy, also providing funding when we’ve needed it.

“By helping 4J and others like us go to conferences such as GDC and E3, SDI was key in helping attract work to Scotland and building our reputation as a centre for games development.

“Without the help of SE or SDI, we may not have worked with Microsoft or Mojang.”

Next steps

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