INTERVIEW: Jo Twist, UKIE

INTERVIEW: Jo Twist, UKIE

UKIE’s new Chief Executive, Jo Twist talks to MCV about her views on the games industry and her plans for UKIE...

With a background in digital and creative technology what will your experience bring to UKIE?

Firstly, I play games. I am in no way a hardcore gamer, but my life has had games in it for as long as I can remember, stretching as far back as Pong, Manhole and taking me right up to my current game of choice Triple Town. I have written about games, studied games, and commissioned them.

I have been a lifelong advocate and fan of what happens when creativity meets digital innovation driven by people with a passion to do something different, and that’s why my industry of choice is the games industry.

I’m passionate about games and games design principles breaking into other areas of creativity and life – particularly the power of games for telling stories and learning. Games to me are fundamentally systems for learning: the rules, the decisions players make, the fails, are all what learning is about. 

When Alice Taylor asked me to join her to commission at Channel  4 education, I leapt at the chance. I couldn’t wait to get stuck into working with some of the best, most inventive, cleverest and funniest indie developers around to create games that were totally different.

As commissioner of multiplatform entertainment at the BBC I believed that entertainment should have meant playfulness and fun. I did manage to inject some of that into entertainment, commissioning some two screen playalongs, revamping Mastermind online, and creating Only Connect online, but my ambitions for the future of interactive entertainment did not match theirs.

I hope that my background in working with developers and the wider entertainment industry who need innovative ideas will help UKIE to reach out to this side of the industry and that my experience of education, creative technology and youth culture, will give me fresh perspective on the industry.

Where do you think the industry is going and how can UKIE best represent it?

I want to reach out as a priority to smaller developers so they can be the best businesses and make the best content they can. I also want to find out how we can help them take more risks, make those games they have always wanted to and get the access to money and resources they need to do that. The talent pipeline – one that is richly diverse at that – is critical to their success, which is why the Next Gen Skills campaign is so close to my heart.

It’s a fascinating time, with debates around where devices are heading, the size and direction of the digital market, the influence of the cloud and how best to build better services and pricing models.

We want to lead that debate and make sure we get some answers. We’ve announced that we’re hosting an IP creation forum and we will be helping our members to navigate other big industry issues. The imminent appointment of a research manager should provide our members with forward-looking information on a wide range of subjects. I used to be a fan of the ELSPA white papers and I think we could be better at that sort of insight.

Fundamentally we need to immerse ourselves in the industry and be as relevant to small start-up developers as we are to big multinational publishers. There are different demands from each, but also much common ground and it will be my role to bring the industry together under the UKIE banner.

UKIE’s vision is to make the UK the best place in the world to develop and publish games – what will you be doing to further represent the interests of studios?

UKIE already represents every UK-based publisher and has grown its developer membership considerably over the last year. 

But we need to do more. We’re currently asking the development community what it is that they need and it’s vital that we appeal to the new breed of smaller digital creative businesses that are making interactive entertainment but don’t see themselves as part of the ‘traditional’ games industry too.

Many of the new breed of digital creative businesses see a trade body as not relevant to the needs of their business. We need to make UKIE’s vision relevant to them by making the benefits of membership clear. I naffly thought the other day that we need to put the You back into UKIE. We can do this by helping developers to understand and have access to the latest platforms, experts, decision makers and technology they see as vital to their vision, as well as providing them with advice on issues such as raising money, finding new business models, building relationships with their fans, getting the most out of their creative IP and finding talent.

What have been your first impressions of UKIE?

Looking from the outside in, as someone who was closely involved with the industry, UKIE’s positioning as representing the whole interactive entertainment industry and their engagement with the big debates really made them stand out as the trade body that most external audiences wanted to work with.

Watching the success of UKIE’s Next Gen Skills campaign in particular, proved to me what a driven and forward looking organisation UKIE is. It not only played a major role in having the recommendations from the Livingstone-Hope skills review accepted by the Department for Education, but showed that UKIE and the industry could step up and make things happen on the bigger stage.

There remains much for UKIE and Next Gen Skills to achieve before we have a fully-fledged computer science curriculum being taught but we are committed to getting it over the finishing line and ensuring that the games industry has the skilled workforce that it requires.

UKIE’s next priority for its Skills workstream is to focus on getting  new talent into the games business by educating kids, teachers and parents about the possibilities that are in the games industry.

And of course I have inherited an absolutely fantastic, enthusiastic and truly committed team. I already feel like I have been there for months.

What are your immediate plans for UKIE?

First, I want to change the tone of UKIE. I don’t want us to be a grey and purple faceless place. We are passionate humans who care and only wants the best for the industry. That’s our shared priority. I am putting posters up all over the place so that people know who we speak up for as soon as they walk through the door. We speak your language.

The team at UKIE is already working at a high level and they already have plans in place to further improve what UKIE offers. This includes many more events and more research – we already have Alexa Turness in place as our events manager and will soon have our new research manager in place, too. I want these events to feel friendlier and ‘mustn’t miss’.

Having a strong team already in place leaves me free to spend time with members and non members, to listen, to digest and come out with a solid plan of exactly what the industry needs and I’ll be doing a lot of listening over my first couple of months or so before finalising my overall plans for UKIE.

However, one of the big projects that I will be focusing on is the delivery of the UKIE Digital Charts.  This industry has always been digital and has been better equipped than other industries to turn the advances in digital technology into opportunities rather than threats.

But to understand the direction that we should be travelling in, we must be able to measure the size of the market, to benchmark and to understand what success looks like across all formats and platforms. This has now gone beyond mission critical and has to be a priority for the industry. UKIE is ready to create the first digital chart – we have a beta running with the data that we have – but we still need more input from industry. We need your data!

Without this data we cannot lobby government effectively, we cannot even start to judge the true scale of digital piracy and our members will not be able to make informed and fact based commercial decisions.

We now have enough data to launch our PC Digital Chart early this year with XBLA and PSN to follow. But to make this work we need all interactive entertainment businesses to provide us with the data that’s required to measure the size of our industry.

Now is the time to join in. If you’re interested in being part of UKIE’s Digital Charts please drop our commercial manager Sam Collins a line – sam.collins@ukie.org.uk.

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Tags: UKIE , interview , jo twist

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