Do we need a British Games Institute?

Alex Calvin
Do we need a British Games Institute?

In the last few years, video games have come a long way in terms of working with government.

Thanks to the tireless work of certain members of our industry, UK video games have received tax relief (VGTR) since 2014. And thanks to the Livingstone-Hope report, we now have coding on the National Curriculum too.

Yet now, according to industry veterans Ian Livingstone (pictured, right) and Rick Gibson (pictured, far right), we need a new government body for the UK games industry. The duo in fact proposed such an organisation, dubbed the British Games Institute, to government at the end of January. It is modelled on the British Film Institute (BFI), with Livingstone and Gibson hoping that the BGI will achieve similar results for the games industry. Founded in 1933, the BFI is funded by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport and exists under Royal Charter to promote and champion the cultural, economic and educational impact of UK film.

 Livingstone and Gibson’s proposed body has a few aims. The first is the funding of 40 ‘cultural British games’ each year, with grants and loans to help studios secure investment. Secondly, this organisation will promote the contribution games make to the UK, both culturally and economically. Finally, it wants to develop games to use in education. 

But we have this already, don’t we? UKIE and TIGA have worked tirelessly to ensure that video games are taken seriously by our government, while organisations like the BFI and Creative England help out on the funding side of things. 

"I hope BGI achieves what the BFI has done for film."

Ian Livingstone

 

“We have two fantastic trade associations, but what we don’t have is an agency plugged into government that can support the industry, both culturally and in terms of funding,” Livingstone tells MCV.  

“We have seen the fantastic work the BFI has done for the film industry – film gets over £170m in public funding and an awful lot of movies are being made that would not have been made. At the same time, in the games industry, the total public funding is around £5m. There’s not a huge difference between the revenues derived from films and games, so we thought there’s a disproportionate amount of funding. We’re not trying to take away any money from film, But I’d like a more proportionate amount of public funding going into games, because the games industry is, after all, a great British success story.

“It plays to our knowledge of high technology and our natural creativity. It’s no surprise that some of the biggest blockbusters around the world have been developed in this country, and yet with very little support. We thought that the industry really deserved a separate agency and what’s why we came up with the idea of the BGI. We haven’t been alone in saying this; UKIE and TIGA have made similar noises previously. We’re not trying to claim ownership; we’re just trying to make this happen.” 

Thus far, the idea has had a healthy reception. Though there are certainly critics of the scheme – or rather, those demanding more details of how BGI will achieve its aims – more than 350 members of the UK games industry have publicly pledged their support to the initiative, while both UK video game trade bodies, TIGA and UKIE have backed the proposal. 

“I’ve had an initial discussion with people who count within Government, and there’s been no push back; they definitely want to know more,” Livingstone says. 

“While there is no indication if it’ll happen, there’s significant interest. Of course, that’s not surprising given the Prime Minister’s Industrial Strategy announcement, where she said she has selected five sectors, one of which is the creative industries, which games are front and centre of. This could be a perfect solution to help plug their industrial strategy, to have a BGI. 

“What we’ll need to do is step out from under the shadows of other agencies and determine our own destiny and help not just the cultural impact of games and the funding of games, but to send a positive message to parents, teachers and investors that this is a great success story and that it’s a jobs and growth story. It plays into their industrial strategy of the knowledge economy.” 

Gibson adds: “We have very rare support from both trade bodies (more on that in ‘Best of British’), we have some of the most senior people in the industry standing up and saying this is a great idea. We were amongst the first of all industries to respond to the government’s call for assistance in a concerted way, with a single voice. What we hope is that this idea will continue to grow and build momentum. This is a really good way to ensure that Government is going to invest in these key industries, that there is a body that will stand up and present a strategic vision for the games industry. 

“I’m not suggesting that UKIE and TIGA don’t do that; they do. But what the BFI does for film is say: ‘In five years time, here is where we want to be, and here is how we are going to get there’. What we are saying is that BFI is a brilliant template; let’s do the same for games, build the same organisation. Ian and I both have had discussions with key stakeholders. What we need is for the Government to fund it. That’s the call and we’re hoping that this will carry on moving forward as we win more support from the sector.”

In terms of long-term vision, Livingstone and Gibson have their sights on some pretty lofty aims for this new organisation. 

“I hope BGI achieves what the BFI has done for film - to celebrate the art form, the industry, the economic and cultural contributions that it makes to this country,” Livingstone says. 

“The games industry has never been viewed in as glowing terms as it should be, because it’s never had much public investment and public support. Recently we’ve had a couple of wins with VGTR and getting computing on the curriculum, but now we need funding because we’ve punched above our weight with very little support in terms of the media and money. If the BGI can help drive the growth of the industry, then that would be a fantastic thing. There are so many companies that I have come across that have struggled to get investment beyond the initial bootstrapping. Little companies have gone out of business because they have been unable to get funding. 

“That isn’t to say we’re going to fund lame ducks,” he continues. “We want to give people a chance to execute on their ideas, in the same way that the Government has introduced the Enterprise Investment Scheme and the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme to get companies up and running. Long-term, some of those will be hugely successful and the tax revenue they’ll get from those companies will more than justify the initial investment. We want that to be part of the BGI investment and that BGI will recognise talent that’s not been funded, in the hope that it’ll help make successful games that wouldn’t be made otherwise.”

"I want to put real money behind educational initiatives
that are going to upskill our studios."

Rick Gibson


Gibson adds: “What I want to build is an organisation that is winning between £15m and £20m from government and the national lottery to fund games production, to have a vibrant and exciting British Games Week that travels around the different clusters where games are made, celebrating the local companies that are actually making our industry so great. What I want to do is start to put real money behind educational initiatives that are going to upskill our studios. 

“So many people I have spoken to over the last few days, who have expressed support for this, have been saying: ‘we love the idea and we want to help that next generation of British games studio learn from our mistakes and our successes so that they can succeed, too’. That’s where the BGI could have a really important impact. We want to build on the Government’s agency for games and have it succeed and be around for decades, carrying on building the British games industry.”

Of course, there are still questions surrounding the BGI. For one, we don’t yet know how far support government goes, making positive noises is a long way off actual, substantial funding. 

Secondly, we need to know more about how such an organisation will achieve its goals. Though there’s no doubt the UK games industry supports the spirit of the BGI – or any body that supports the sector – it now needs more information about how the BGI will achieve its goals.


 

Best of British 

One of the most surprisingly parts of Livingstone and Gibson’s BGI proposal was that both British video games trade bodies – UKIE and TIGA – have backed the initiative. 

“UKIE has long campaigned to government for more cultural and economic support for innovative games content in the UK, and so we’re happy to back an initiative that proposes to support and promote the cultural and economic growth of our sector,” says CEO Dr Jo Twist OBE (pictured, above right). 

“We need to ensure that any model that delivers this support is forward thinking, representing the innovative and geographically-spread nature of the industry it serves. If we’re going to have a new organisation in place we should take the opportunity to assess whether the existing agency template used by film and other media organisations will deliver the best result for games businesses and build on the work already done nationally in the UK. 

“We look forward to working closely with the team behind the BGI proposal to get additional detail following their press release, as well as consulting with our members, the wider games sector and government representatives to ensure that the industry’s needs are met and a strong strategy is formed.”

TIGA boss Dr Richard Wilson (pictured, above left) adds: “I would like the BGI to achieve three things. Firstly, introduce and operate TIGA’s proposed Games Investment Fund. This would provide pound-for-pound match funding for games developers up to a maximum of £200,000 per game. This scheme would boost investment, create jobs and promote innovation in the games industry. Secondly, I would like to see the BGI introduce a programme to enhance the management and commercial skills of games developers. This would help to ensure that more studios have the skills and knowledge to grow world beating studios. Thirdly, I would like the BGI to promote awareness about the UK video games industry. 

“Video games are embedded in UK culture and society; it would be great if the achievements of UK developers were as well known as the achievements of the UK film industry.”

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