Construction companies are seeing an influx of game design graduates and ex-gamers, transferring their visualisation and digital design skills from the virtual to the physical world, reports James Kenny.

Late on a Friday night Tim Hanson is working alone in engineer Walsh Group’s office near London Bridge, poring over plans for the £250m Brighton Marina. Unhappy with his work, he removes various walls, destroying the entire project. With the touch of a few buttons he rebuilds the structure in minutes.

Hanson is of course on his laptop and works as a 4D visualisation technician at the company. He’s just one of a growing wave of millennials entering construction, swapping Xboxes for hard hats and blending the world of virtual reality and gaming with the built environment.

He says: “With gaming and animation you can bend the rules of design and use it for construction. I think the construction industry is just starting to realise the full extent of the talent it can tap into from the animation and gamers’ community, and how these skills can be applied to projects.”

The video game industry has undergone significant changes from the early days of playing Pong on the Atari. It now generates more revenue than the film and music industries worldwide.

According to the Association for United Kingdom Interactive Entertainment (Ukie), the only trade body for the UK’s games and interactive entertainment industry, UK consumer spend on games was valued at a record £4.33bn last year, up 1.2% from £4.28bn in 2015. Sales in the UK in 2016 also surged, increasing by 2.9% to £2.96bn.

However, despite these numbers and a growing number of UK-based game companies, many young game design graduates and ex-gamers are being lured by the bright lights of construction, where pay is better and the challenges can be greater and therefore more rewarding. With the emergence of BIM, augmented reality and other immersive technologies, the potential for those with a gaming background to influence real change is exciting, and is cited by many as the main draw for joining construction.

Damien Walton, a 4D VR specialist at contractor Mace, says: “When I first walked into the office and saw the way they worked, that was a big thing. I realised there was a huge technology gap – the designers doing everything in 3D, but then everyone else has drawings. I thought: we’ve got to be able to do something better than this.”

Walton joined Mace in 2012 after being talent-spotted while on a video games design course at Birmingham Metropolitan College. Joining originally as a trainee CAD technician, he is now a CAD 3D/4D VR specialist.

He cut his teeth working on Birmingham New Street station, where he worked alongside the planning and design teams to create 2D/3D visuals, all the while learning about the industry and management techniques.