UKIE’s Jo Twist talks 2016 for UK games, Brexit and London Games Festival

Marie Dealessandri
UKIE’s Jo Twist talks 2016 for UK games, Brexit and London Games Festival

2016 has been an eventful year for both the games industry and the UK as a whole thanks to the EU Referendum vote that took place this June. We speak to UKIE boss Dr Jo Twist OBE to take the pulse of the UK games market.

How would you assess 2016 for the UK games industry?

2016 has been a very encouraging year for the games industry in the UK. The UK continues to remain ahead of the curve with new trends and technologies like VR, AR and eSports, and our hugely talented teams released really innovative and exciting content throughout 2016, from No Man's Sky, to Beasts of Balance, to Batman VR.

There were some great highlights, such as the first new-look, UKIE-backed London Games Festival, which saw over 38,000 people engage in events to promote games as culture and the UK as a top destination for games, the first eSports Industry Awards and a record breaking number of games businesses receiving video games tax relief.

UKIE have been working hard, rolling out our Digital Schoolhouse Inspirational Computing initiative to 20 schools across the UK, thanks to support from PlayStation, launching our eSports whitepaper and the UK Games Map, and having a record number of companies join us across our international trade programme, including GDC and Gamescom.

Perhaps the biggest event the UK games industry faced this year was Brexit. Before the vote, UKIE did a survey of its members, 80.6 per cent of which said they wanted to stay in the EU. How will leaving the EU affect the UK games industry?

Access to diverse and skilled talent is definitely the number one concern raised by the games sector post-Referendum, as many people don't realise that up to 30 per cent of games employees are EU citizens. Our talent pool relies on this freedom of movement so that we can continue to be a competitive international player. This is a key area that UKIE will be focusing on during the Brexit discussions.

There are understandably concerns about how the referendum result will affect games makers in the UK, but there are also long-term opportunities that will arise, such as the opportunity to reform funding.

As an industry, we need to ensure that we are acting with a single voice during the Brexit negotiations. UKIE is touring the UK in early 2017 with Brexit Roundtables to ensure that we can hear the concerns and expectations of as many members of the industry as possible – find your local roundtable at ukie.org.uk/Brexit-tour.

What has the mood been like with UKIE's members and board since the Leave vote?

Whilst there are of course concerns from our members the UK remains in a strong position as a world leading destination for making and selling games. The UK is home to globally recognised talent creating diverse and innovative content, a fruitful business environment, and a supportive government; all of which work together to create a strong ecosystem to foster the creation of some of the best games in the world.

By September,167 games had received UK games tax relief for this year. What are your expectations for video games tax relief forthe coming year?

We're continually seeing huge increases in the number of applications for VGTR year-on-year – this year was up an incredible 117 per cent on the previous period. Aside from the 167 games that received final certification this year, there were also 170 games which received interim certification, meaning their projects are yet to be completed. So we can only expect the number of applications to continue rising in the coming year.

We've already had assurances of the security of the tax relief when Britain finally leaves the EU, so there seems to be no reason for this to slow down.

If the Government triggers Article 50 and we leave the EU, will the UK have more freedom when it comes to tax relief for games?

Potentially, although it remains unclear at this stage as the European Union State aid rules – rules that determine the parameters for video games tax relief – may still need to be applied as part of the broader negotiations around access to the single market.

UKIE also launched its UK Games Map this year. What are your plans for this moving into 2017?

Launching the UK Games Map with NESTA has been a huge success for UKIE – the Map is now tracking over 2,000 active games businesses in the UK following hundreds of companies adding their details to the dataset since launch. Over 50,000 people have visited gamesmap.uk since its launch, showing what a valuable asset the map is to the industry.

Over the next twelve months, we need to ensure that more games businesses are adding their details the map platform and keeping their profiles updated so we can use the resource to promote an accurate picture of UK games to people across the games ecosystem, policy makers, investors, and more.

Looking towards 2017, what are your hopes for both UKIE and the UK games industry at large?

We will continue to champion the needs of the games sector to policy makers. This has never been more important following this year's referendum.

Securing the talent pipeline is always a top priority for UKIE, and so continued support for initiatives like the Digital Schoolhouse is key to ensure that primary age children are equipped with the creative computing skills that they need to thrive in a digital world.

Government continues to inaccurately track our sector in official stats, using Standard Industrial Classification Codes, which fail to represent games businesses effectively. To challenge this, we will use the interactive UK Games Map dataset to give much more accurate figures about our size, scale and geography, to ensure that the UK is represented as the global player it is.

The second London Games Festival is shaping up to be bigger and better than the inaugural event, with an aim to attract 50,000 to games events across the capital in April 2017. Make sure you're watching out in January for the first round of announcements.

Lastly, UKIE is going to continue to work with government, in collaboration with the APPG, Department for International Trade, DCMS and the new Department for Exiting the EU, to ensure that the games sector is fully represented and supported throughout the anticipated Brexit negotiations.

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