Trading places â?? part 1

Trading places â?? part 1

By Develop

March 31st 2008 at 8:00AM

At the end of January trade association Tiga announced it had appointed former Institute of Directors and Royal Academy of Engineering man Richard Wilson as its new head. A month into the job we have his first interview, a wide-ranging chat looking at every part of Tiga's remit, as CEOâ?¦

What drew you to work for Tiga?

I was previously head of business policy in the Institute of Directors, which is an organisation that represents many different types of businesses – large, small, medium, all sectors of the economy. Great job, but I always thought it would be extremely interesting to move into a specific sector and be a complete expert in that area. After that I went to the Royal Academy of Engineering as director of communications, and I learnt a great deal – but I wasn’t representing just businesses, it was a lot of academia as well. Then when I saw the opportunity to work with Tiga, it was fantastic – I’ve always wanted to work for a trade association, and talking to the people in the games sector is fantastic; I am interested in games and play them anyway. And I for me the areas that Tiga is interested are very exciting – taxation, regulation, education, schools, unfair competition.

So the short of it is: the range of issues are exciting, and I had a personal interest in the sector anyway. Games are a key part of the economy – there are excellent British automobile firms, excellent pharmaceutical businesses, but games are a really dynamic part of the British economy, and we are a world leader in the field.

What was your first impression of the industry?

The first thing that struck me – and this is not meant to by sycophantic at all, it’s completely true – I was struck by the creativity of the people. I met a lot of the Tiga members at my interviews and at the Tiga Awards. It’s a very youthful industry – the people are very dynamic and get up and go. It makes it very exciting, because it’s great to represent those kind of people.

Are there any important topics you want to push Tiga towards?

Tiga’s established vision - to make the UK the best place to do games business - is very inspirational and spot on, I would say. We’re the fourth largest in the world in revenue generation, with a great track record in creating world class IP, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t be in the top three. I think that should be the vision of Tiga and that’s what we should set out to achieve. Obviously we can’t achieve that on our own, and we have to influence Government policy.

So my vision statement for Tiga is two-fold. Firstly, to lobby UK, European Union and regional governments to create an environment in which developers in this country can prosper. And secondly to establish best practices so developers can rely on themselves to enhance their competitiveness. There are a lot of trade associations in the UK and they very in quality – I want Tiga to be one that adds real practical value for its membership.

There are thousands of associations – some of them seem to be old boys’ clubs, others just exist to issue press releases, and it is right to make comment but it should also be about furthering the members’ interests and enhancing their ability to compete and become world-beating businesses.

On that point: Tiga obviously isn’t the only trade association for the UK games industry, there’s ELSPA too. And some have speculated as to whether they clash – certainly there was some opposing views between the two on the tax breaks issue. As someone coming into this industry with fresh eyes, do you think having two creates any conflict? Should the two be merged?

Well, I’ve come into this industry with no baggage and have nothing against ELSPA – and indeed before I took the job I had noting against Tiga either! – so I’m completely objective. I’ve met people from ELSPA, and they’re nice people.

In terms of there being two trade associations – it’s no problem whatsoever. I’m very much in favour of competition, friendly competition. There are other parts of the economy where there are a multiplicity of trade associations. In the engineering sector, it’s worth mentioning, there are 37 different associations – in the chemical industry sector, there are over 20. So there’s plenty of room for two trade associations in the games industry. We’re not unusual – in fact, to have just two is a great position to be in. And of course we do represent different parts of the value chain as well.

[On points such as tax breaks] the fact we have two trade associations saying the same thing it reinforces the message. Paradoxically, having just one might make us overlooked. Going back to my IoD days, there are five pan-national business organisations and in fact we didn’t coordinate our policies or statements so much but when we did so it carried more weight when these separate organisations came together. If there had been just one I don’t think we’d have carried as much influence in government.

You’ve been in the job for a month – is there anything the Tiga members have asked you to do or prioritise?

Well it’s quite clear that Tiga’s members are concerned about unfair competition – from Canada in particular – and how the UK government supports developers in this country. It’s not the only issue, but it’s an important one. And because we’ve recently had the Budget it’s very relevant.

At the recent unveiling of the white paper for the creative industries it was very interesting to see one of the ministers make a strong hint in favour of tax relief to games developers. I was talking to [Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport] Andy Burnham and he didn’t back away from the issue – he said that due to the Budget it was a matter for the treasury, but he didn’t discount the issue of tax breaks for games developers. Of course we were disappointed not to see it in the Budget, but I think because the French government have introduced their measure I don’t think there’s anything we’ve lost by continuing the campaign. But I don’t think it’s the only thing we should concentrate on.

Do you think a tax credit for games production is likely?

I think it’s worth flagging up as an issue. I don’t think we should drop it by any means – it’s very pertinent and clearly in other countries it has come a key way to help their industries. It is an issue and we should campaign on it.

That said, we shouldn’t be a one trick-pony. Tiga must look to other things which will help developers enhance their skills and enhance knowledge transfer. I think we should keep ministers’ feet to the fire, though – they are starting to acknowledge games more. In the second sentence of Gordon Brown’s introduction to that creative industries document he is praising the games industry. Let’s keep that up. If they’re recognising us, they shouldn’t get away with not supporting us properly. There are a number of things we can flag up and focus on and I certainly intend to do so.

And the Government is definitely listening to the games industry now? Until recently some people thought they weren’t, and were willing to approach every sector – such as coin-op entertainment – with the ‘You’re important to us speech’ then walk off an do nothing…

Well I think some ministers and parliamentarians are listening and they acknowledge the value of our industry.
But you hit on an important point there – the multiplicity of the companies in the economy. Depending on their convictions to some ministers parts of the economy are more important than others. That proves to me why Tiga really has to raise its game, and keep proving that games are a really value part of the economy. And to make Government realise that in these difficult economic times ‘we want to support those industries that make a positive contribution to our balance of payment’. So the Government is listening – but we want to make sure it keeps listening.

And we always want to make sure the opposition parties know about our industries and listen to it. I’m really not sure where the Liberals are, but I think some of the Conservatives probably area. And we want the media to pick up on positive messages about the industry as well.

Is that media representation issue something your members should be more aware of; do they need to be more careful in creating content that could be picked on by the tabloids for instance, especially as the industry pushes towards this more mass-market and casual audience?

I think it’s important for studios to acknowledge they are operating in a market that doesn’t necessarily only include dedicated games players. And the way the industry is perceived by the press is important because it could result in damaging regulation. Ministers are under a lot of pressure from MPs, so even when ministers have a good impression of an industry they are under pressure to regulate. So I think it does behold our sector to at least bear in mind the kind of games they develop – that’s not saying they should self-censor themselves but they should be aware you could create and game and it could get lots of coverage, and not necessarily the coverage you want. I know Oscar Wilde said there is no such thing as bad publicity but I think we’ve proven that’s not the case – games can have bad press.

Part two of this interview- discussing Tiga's plans to enablebetter knowledge transfer in the industry, why game developers should get closer to educators and the value of strong studio management - will be published on April 1st.