Everyone’s talking about… the UK video games industry

Richard Wilson on UK gaming industry

The UK’s video games industry contributes £1.5bn to GDP annually. In the month of the gaming Baftas, industry leaders discuss the opportunities

RICHARD WILSON (pictured), CEO of trade body The Independent Games Developers’ Association (Tiga), sees a bright future for British studios

The UK’s video games sector rivals the film, TV and music industries in its size, creativity and global reputation. Producing titles such as Fastlane, Snake Pass and Until Dawn, it adds £1.5bn to the economy each year – a sizeable contribution that’s set to increase.

Already the largest games development sector in Europe, it’s growing by seven per cent a year. Our ambition is to invest more and increase the number of studios and employees so that it’s contributing £2.3bn a year to GDP by 2022. Tiga wants the UK to become a global leader in games education and CPD too. To this end, we accredit the best undergraduate and postgraduate games courses. So far, 18 courses are accredited, but we want to make it 30 by 2022.

We’re close to making significant breakthroughs in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), which could be transformational. Just imagine experiencing new worlds through a VR headset – an incredibly exciting prospect. AR, meanwhile, is set to change how we experience our own world. As shown by the success of Pokémon Go, it has the potential to be hugely popular. The UK is already a global leader in mobile, PC and console games. We can be a leader in VR and AR too. But to achieve this we need to improve studios’ access to finance by introducing a games investment fund and ensuring a favourable tax environment.

Studios compete on skills, so we need to nurture homegrown talent and increase the proportion of people studying Stem and related subjects. We have to encourage more women to take Stem subjects and consider careers in gaming as well. Only 14 per cent of workers in this industry are women, but the gender balance on certain accredited games courses is nearly equal, which bodes well for the future. We must also enable the industry to recruit skilled people from the EU and beyond. About a fifth of our workforce comes from outside the UK. We’ll still need access to the best and brightest talent after Brexit.

We have an industry with great teams in great studios creating great games. Our task now is to reinforce our successful industry so that it leads the world.

Richard Wilson is a member of IoD Hertfordshire. He received an OBE in the 2018 new year’s honours list for his services to the industry

Jo Twist, CEO of trade body UK Interactive Entertainment

Our video games industry is a thriving ecosystem of world- renowned expertise, creativity and innovation. I’ve enjoyed working with people in this sector the most. They are highly creative, curious and humble problem-solvers who sometimes don’t realise their power. We like to say that the UK is the birthplace of the industry. The British teens who started experimenting with these things called computers in their bedrooms in the 1980s – who mostly remain active in the sector today – inadvertently built its foundations.

Making and playing games sharpens critical meta-skills that people living in an era characterised by big data, algorithms and uncertainty need in order to thrive. These skills are fuelling the fourth industrial revolution.

The video games tax relief has been in place since 2014, offering 20 per cent credit back on development costs across all platforms and business models. Prototype finance is also available through the government-backed UK Games Fund. This supports hungry early adopters, a thriving market and a sophisticated distribution network. The UK is therefore an ideal place to push the boundaries of video gaming.

Kish Hirani, Chair of advocacy group Bame in Games

I believe that gaming in the UK has always been an inclusive industry, yet its workforce remains unrepresentative of black, Asian and minority ethnic people, who make up about six per cent of the population. It also still doesn’t attract enough women. We should be looking to improve diversity in the industry and ensure that it’s appealing to all homegrown job applicants.

This has been a field that, until recently, hasn’t provided what many people consider to be “a real job” – a view that’s arguably been strongest among minority communities that stereotypically see a career in professions such as medicine and law as more desirable. But everyone’s got a game in their hands nowadays, while burgeoning technologies such as virtual reality are proving that video gaming is a credible industry to be investing in.

It’s not easy setting up your own company, especially in an industry where it can take up to a year to produce even a small indie game. But schemes similar to those offered in Canada, which offers tax incentives and has local government funds for projects, would be a welcome development and help to nurture new talent.  

Roberta Lucca, Co-founder and chief brand officer at Bossa Studios

I moved to the UK from Brazil 12 years ago, when the tech entrepreneurship ecosystem here was very new. London is an incredible centre of innovation, which lends itself to the creation of new gaming genres, that’s unmatched elsewhere in the world. Other industries can learn from this.

At Bossa we have been deliberate about how we create games and engage with our audience. We give our teams autonomy. Every other month we stop the whole studio and have a “game jam”, where we all collaborate to develop a playable game in two days. We kill off about 90 per cent of our games before they hit the market, but the other 10 per cent have a real future.

With Brexit on the horizon, I worry that international talent will reconsider coming here. We’re privileged that people from all over the world work with us – in our workforce of 70 there are 15 nationalities. Other European countries and Canada provide incentives such as visas and bigger tax credits to developers and publishers, so there’s a lot of temptation for companies to set up there. I would like the UK to offer a similar visa, which would encourage highly skilled people to continue coming here.

Jason Kingsley, Founder and CEO of developer Rebellion

Our industry is in good health, thanks to the video games tax relief and also to the restless spirit of the creative people who drive its innovations. Rebellion sells many of its games digitally and, while boxed product is important to us, digital is where we are seeing the biggest expansion. Excitingly, our global audience is growing too: emerging markets such as Brazil, China and India are developing fast. Playing games is an aspirational goal for many people in these countries.

As the digital shelves of the online marketplace are endless, getting your new title seen by players is one of the hardest tasks for any growing business. Throwing money at marketing isn’t a good plan. Standard methods are transmogrifying into player engagement via social networks. All sorts of non-traditional marketing activities are needed, including live streaming and social media personalities playing your game.

It’s an exciting and interesting time to be making games, albeit one where “exciting” and “interesting” have a whole spectrum of interpretations. One thing’s for sure, though: last year was different from this year – and next year will be different in a different way.

About author

Hannah Gresty

Hannah Gresty

Until she left the magazine in August 2019, Hannah Gresty was the assistant editor of Director. She previously worked on a local news website and at a fashion PR company before joining the Director team as editorial assistant in 2016.

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