UKIE's Jo Twist on raising the profile of UK game development to politicians and the rest of the world
The BAFTA Games Awards celebrated the finest in interactive entertainment this week and I was very proud to be on one of the judging panels this year.
Getting to judge games is one of my favourite parts of this job because it gives me the ideal chance to see the whole range of diversity present in our game industry. And it gives me an excuse to spend more time playing.
It's this diversity in the craft of game making that makes this industry one of the most fulfilling to work in, and it was gratifying to see new talent and smaller studios scooping up the plaudits, including Unfinished Swan, The Room, and Journey.
With these kinds of titles cutting through, it's time to make sure we are shouting loudly and proudly about interactive entertainment and the incredible people behind the code and art. Of course having the BAFTAs recognise games as a key part of the creative arts is extremely important – but I can't help but wonder how many people outside the industry know about them.
Raising political awareness
Last week I had to appear in 'Leveson Enquiry' style at a Select Committee hearing to give evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Select Committee.
Select Committees can be very influential (it was this CMS Committee that did much of the grilling of people over the phone hacking scandal), so to appear in front of one is the perfect opportunity to tell senior politicians all about how fantastically creative and economically important our industry is, as well as to plant some seeds in their heads about how we can all work together to grow the UK’s games businesses and digital economy as a whole.
I am not afraid to say I was a little nervous, but I was lucky enough to be joined by our UKIE Vice Chair Ian Livingstone, and by Tiga's Vincent Sheurer and Richard Wilson.
We talked about skills, and the change that the UKIE member-funded Next Gen Skills campaign, led by Ian, made to the English school curriculum. We talked about the tax breaks, on which we expect to hear feedback from the EU any day now, and we talked about protecting IP. We took them through the challenges small businesses in particular have getting finance, and the importance of clustering.
We’re exploring what the elements are that games businesses need to grow a thriving cluster: whether it’s cheap rents, super-fast broadband or just having like-minded people sharing knowledge and connecting.
Much of this relies on research and mapping of which games businesses exist, where they are, what their connections to talent pipelines are, and what their informal and formal networks are.
We are gathering together anyone who is interested in helping to build up and map this picture, and we expect the research will have many uses: helping us to understand where politicians can best intervene, giving games businesses an idea of the where networks already exist and helping us to promote the industry to investors.
Although attitudes are very much changing in political circles when it comes to games, there is still a huge job to be done to raise the profile of the industry and the people in it. It is clear that there are still decision makers globally and at a European level who have no idea how the industry works and how, or even why, it is transitioning.
Last week saw the appointment of the BFI to administer the games tax relief. In an ideal world we would have had our own game-specific body to administer the test but given the current culture of cuts this was not a realistic option.
Given BFI’s excellent track record in servicing the film tax relief, we’re confident that they’ll do a good job. They’re also recruiting two game experts to make sure that they have a full understanding of games and how they are made, so get your application in.
Aside from the CMS Select Committee, we've made real progress in getting lots more politicians, at the very highest level, to sit up and take notice of the game industry, and in the last three months we’ve met with three Cabinet Ministers as well as many backbench MPs and Shadow Ministers.
Whilst we don’t have a big policy campaign like tax breaks or getting computer science on to the curriculum this year, there is plenty to be done politically. We’ve got a list of issues that we’re constantly speaking to politicians about : access to finance, crowdfunding, immigration, data protection, consumer rights and privacy, protecting children and educating parents about IAP.
These are all issues that can affect how UK developers do business and therefore we’re always fighting the industry’s corner on them.
So with the key elements of tax breaks and skills being addressed we also told the Select Committee about the need to promote what UK developers can offer the rest of the world. Canada’s been shouting about what it offers for years and we now need to do the same and shout about the UK being the best place in the world to make games.
There are now lots of opportunities for investors and we want to talk about the sector with confidence and promote it to a global audience.
it’s not just about persuading one of the big players to open a super studio here (although we’ll certainly be trying to persuade as many of them as possible to set up more development studios here).
There are many different potential sources of investor that are interested in games (Angels, Angels in waiting, VCs, brands, ad agencies and recent entrants like Gree to name a few), that need to see the UK as the place to come and invest. We’re working with key government departments (DCMS, UKTI and Number 10) and other partners to do just this in 2013.
We continue to push on all these issues and to promote the industry to investors, politicians and the wider public.
Much of the work that we, do such as our campaigning for improved skills or tax breaks, benefits the whole industry, whether you’re a member of a trade body or not. So come and talk to us, tell us how we can raise your profile and raise our game.