With Brighton booming for games development and the city’s Develop conference looming, we gathered key staff from the leading games companies in the area to find out why the South Coast has become one of the fastest growing hubs for UK talent – and how it could develop in future…
Andrew Eades: The co-founder of Relentless has worked in the southmost UK games hub (Brighton) and its northmost (Dundee)
David Amor: Relentless’ creative director and co-founder – and the only person on our panel who actually grew up in Brighton
Algy Williams: Non-executive director of Babel Media, and the first to set up a games company in Brighton, in 1999
Ben Hebb: Zoe Mode’s art director says his earliest memory of Brighton was “getting really drunk here, and just loving the place”
Jay Scott: The new head of development at NCsoft Europe. And a Canadian
Tony Beckwith: Founded Climax Racing months after Babel opened. His studio has since been bought by Disney
Ed Daly: Another member of the class of ‘99, the head of Zoe Mode started in Brighton by founding Wide Games
What are your thoughts on Games Up and the call for better support from the government? Surely the boom in Brighton would prove that financial support isn’t needed…
Jay Scott: There is a danger with subsidies in getting this race to the bottom. But we’re competing here in Brighton with places like Montreal, where a company like Ubisoft is tripling its workforce because of the local government support. That’s pretty black and white for those looking to compete. So I think subsidies would help introduce some parity to that situation.
Algy Williams: I’m a beneficiary of the Montreal tax breaks; our office there has shot up to 300 staff in a short amount of time because of the subsidy and we chose to open a team there because of that subsidy. It’s an enormous boost, you can be more competitive and pass over some of your cost savings to clients. I think if we had those subsidies here it would help the overall games industry in the UK and certainly helps us in Brighton.
Ed Daly: From an industry standpoint it would be great to have a level playing field in terms of talent and so on but I can’t help but think, as a taxpaying British citizen, if giving money to the games industry should necessarily be a priority for our Government.
Andrew Eades: If there was a better tax environment for the UK games industry then we’d generate more revenue – that’s a net gain for the economy.
Algy Williams: The games industry is one of those net contributors to UK PLC – and games up have shown that if there were subsidies it would greatly up that contribution. So it’s not just a subsidy, but a Government-level investment to gain more revenue.
JS: Particularly at a time when new IP is in short supply, having a subsidy in the UK would help offset publisher’s fears of investing in the already-expensive market here.
As the industry expands, can you see more companies heading to Brighton? Are they welcome?
Eades: I think the hard thing is that, if you’re starting a new studio, you have to pick your genre well. Back in 1999, for Tony it might have been more obvious or easy to choose racing as a specialism. Now there are lots of opportunities but risk associated with them all.
Beckwith: But for us specialising then was actually a first. If you look at all the other studios that were based around here, Wide Games and Computer Artworks, they were developing any kind of game – but we were insistent on driving games. We turned publishers down when they asked us to make action titles. And that’s something not just us, but which Relentless proves – specialisation is key. Same for Zoë Mode. I would say Brighton can help support that. Some start-ups would do better here than in other places because it has that vibrant online community and talent base – Second Life and Club Penguin have UK offices here.
Scott: I think that whenever an area reaches critical mass, which is where Brighton is heading, you will see lots of people split off from big companies and join in with their own studios – we’ll see more of that here in Brighton. When you have that many companies together it can’t help but spur growth.
David Amor: I have a question for the rest of you – do you think that Brighton impacts staff retention? I’d love to think that there were company-specific things that kept our staff at our studio, but our staff retention is amazing, so I would attribute some of that to the fact we’re based in Brighton as well.
Daly: We certainly don’t have many people leaving – it’s people coming in rather than out.
Williams: Our staff, by their very nature, aren’t very location-reliant. But the reason they come to Babel, and stick around, isn’t just because they like the work environment, but they like living here. I bet the staff retention rate at all our businesses is a hell of a lot better than the one in Guildford.
Is there much staff swapping between the studios?
Daly: I always thought there might be, but it turns out it doesn’t happen as much as you’d think.
Beckwith: What helps for the studios in Brighton is that our businesses are all really complimentary. We make racing games, not social games like Zoë Mode or quiz games or MMOs.
Eades: It’s inevitable that some people move between studios, but so far the numbers of people that do that is relatively low.
Amor: And I think all of us here are smart enough to know that it’s not good for the industry to cannibalise each other’s workforce.
Scott: I think games studios as a whole haven’t done that well, historically, to give their staff a reason to stick around. But we’re beyond that now, and issues like quality of life are now a huge part of the package when it comes to recruiting. That’s why being in Brighton helps.
So can Brighton compete shoulder to shoulder with the San Franciscos, Tokyos and Montreals of the world?
Beckwith: I’ve always loved the San Francisco quote, that Brighton is ‘the San Fran of the UK’. I think it’s possible to have that status – we certainly have the lifestyle and employment culture to match.
Daly: Internationally Brighton doesn’t have the profile those cities do, but in many respects those things are gained over time. Montreal’s games industry existed long before Brighton’s, for instance. But Brighton is definitely a hot spot within the UK.
Eades: Montreal is on the map because of its games talent – of course it’s helped by the subsidies – but I went to their conference a few years ago and was very impressed with the quality of people there. There’s nothing stopping Brighton achieving the same status.
Daly: Especially with things like the Develop conference, which is comparable, that adds to the profile of the city.
Eades: Currently the only thing that could really hold us back is office space. That’s a Brighton issue – but I’m sure we’ll solve it.
Williams: I think, on the office space issue which we’ve all mentioned, what will happen is that we will in time move out of the centre – it’s already happened for us, and I can forsee other people doing the same.
Scott: Speaking as someone from North America, the other advantage Brighton has over competing studios in San Francisco is the problem with visas – it’s actually very hard for a UK-born coder to get a job in the US because of the visa issue. With its location in the UK, and the UK being in the EU, Brighton has a huge advantage. There’s some great games coming out made by all the studios in this room, too – that will help a great deal.