Outside 167 Wardour Street, West London you used to find a small plaque by the doorbell, inscribed with five letters: ELSPA.
Although that acronym literally meant the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association, the name stood for many things including anti-piracy, sales charts, age-ratings, and interfacing with Government.
But the plaque, on the wall outside ELSPA’s London HQ, is gone now. Earlier this week the brass engraving was scratched off and replaced with something else: UKIE.
The association for UK Interactive Entertainment still stands for things like anti-piracy, sales charts, age-ratings, and interfacing with Government. But as a renewed and revitalised new name in the games industry, its remit is wider, focused on all the issues that matter to all of the trade, not just publishers.
Why is it changing? Why is ELSPA not a relevant name anymore?
“The clue is in the name – we were an association for publishers of entertainment and interactive leisure software. But the market is no longer fitting into the demarcation of publisher, developer, retailer or distributor – we are no longer in silos, but a more homogeneous market,” explains director general Michael Rawlinson when MCV visits the Wardour Street offices to find out more about the rebrand.
“We are called upon more often than not to speak for the industry – but we can’t do that because our membership does not completely represent the games industry. We think it is important to represent everyone – the industry of companies that are in the business of making and exploiting interactive entertainment products.”
A UNITED KINGDOM
Rawlinson says that UKIE will be ‘sharper, quicker and more decisive’ in its dealings with everyone, from the press and politicians right through to its member relations.
Most importantly, it wants to grow that base of members to include everyone in games, regardless of where they sit on the spectrum.
In the plainest terms, that means developers are now eligible to become full members (service companies, educators, and the like can become associate members).
The change comes in part because the traditional base of publishers is shrinking (“All our members keep buying each other,” jokes Rawlinson), and because the games industry is concurrently widening to more platforms and avenues than ever. Plus, ELSPA didn’t mean anti-piracy and age-ratings to some – it was wrongly written off as a publishers-only old boys’ club, something Rawlinson is keen to dispel.
“The games industry is no longer about just a single physical point of contact – not just consoles or PCs, it’s MMOs, browser and mobile as well now. It’s a much bigger remit that we want to cover. That’s why we’re doing it. This is no longer and exclusive old boys’ club – it is welcoming and requires participation and ownership from within to make it what our members want it to be, so we want them to come and join us.”
The first public move came this past Tuesday, with a Westminster unveiling of the new UKIE logo and the organisation’s ambitions – but in the months prior ELSPA has been undergoing subtle changes, boosting its in-house team (see ‘Fresh Blood’, over the page) as it prepares for a new era.
So aside from anti-piracy work, a voice in Government, sales charts and market data, what does UKIE want to offer to the new members it chases?
“The difficulty for each end of the business is making the right connections. Sometimes developers can feel that publishers don’t want to see them and they are turned away at the door – but they must not forget that publishers wouldn’t survive without their content. Whether that’s from an internal studio, or a third-party, they need each other at some point or other, either to service the goods or the relationship.
“UKIE can add a huge amount to the industry to help the wide array of people within it get together and network – that will help break down those barriers and any fear of resentment of ‘the other side’, to show that both sides of the business should, will and can work together and be more united for the good of the industry going forward.”
As well as making the ends of developer and publisher meet, Rawlinson says UKIE will be loud and proud about Britain’s heritage and power as a gaming nation.
Pertinently, that pushes talk of the UK’s stature as a global games power beyond the argument to introduce a production tax break for games.
“Given the political environment at the moment we are not going to get those tax breaks in the short term,” says Rawlinson plainly. He doesn’t think calling for them is futile, and “that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to build the case”; tax breaks would be very valuable to the industry and support new IP and help grow new and existing companies, he says. That’s if they ever make it into the Budget.
“But they aren’t coming right now. So what do we do? Keep saying ‘Woe is us’? Or do we stop and realise the great things we have made in the past, look at the exciting things that we are making now and leading the world on?
“Look at the great cutting edge titles and games UK companies have been responsible for. Playfish, Moshi Monsters, LittleBigPlanet, the work Peter Molyneux is doing at Microsoft Game Studios with Kinect, and Sony with SingStar, Move and EyePet… I could go on and on. The UK is not a follower, it’s a leader – we make markets. That’s something the whole industry needs to drive home to international businesses, and something UKIE will shout about.”
But all those great examples – none of them were members of ELSPA before, or at least had a direct voice in the organisation. What makes it different now?
“The point is that the UK in this industry is a great place to do business. And our job as a trade association representing the industry is to provide a platform in which all kinds of companies can do good business. We want to help the next Playfish and the next Moshi Monsters emerge and help further prove what a great country to make games this is. Our job as UKIE is to create an environment that attracts overseas corporations to come here and invest, and likewise help UK companies stand on the global stage. The UK is not second rate – we are the premier league. Listen up, world: great talent, great people, great games.”
But what about Tiga, the comparable games developer association? Doesn’t it do some of these things – and also boast a huge number of games developers as members already?
“My job is to talk about what UKIE is doing,” says Rawlinson – but he doesn’t shy away from tackling the question that a lot spectators have asked.
“At the end of the day the market will decide what it wants to do. I think we have a strong proposition to the whole interactive entertainment industry – a much broader world than the one we have been dealing with so far – to come together to present a collective, single voice to the Government. So that’s what I’m doing.”
What Tiga does is up to them, says Rawlinson, but the point links back to one of the motivating factors for why ELSPA changed to UKIE in the first place.
“We live in a diminishing world – that’s not to say our older core members will disappear, but our ability to maintain the organisation would be challenged if we didn’t change. Stakeholders, policymakers and the press want to talk ‘to the industry’ – but sometimes the area they want to talk to is a group of people with no representation. You mention the other organisation – they do represent another part of the industry, but they don’t represent much of it in total either. I think too many people become fixated that it’s only us or them. But historically there are loads of companies that neither of us cover – and now we’re saying UKIE will in future cover them too.”
BRAVE NEW WORLD
Rawlinson’s confident words prove his claim that UKIE will be sharper, more vocal, and more proactive. The new name hasn’t just meant a nice new logo and slick website, but an overdue and reenergised change of pace.
“We are very excited – I’ve been at ELSPA for a little over 11 years and I’ve loved pretty much every day of it. But you need a new challenge. This industry has changed beyond recognition in that time, and ELSPA will now morph with that change. In the same way the UK is a leader in games, we want to lead the thinking behind addressing and organising this wider world of games.”
Has there been any resistance from that ‘old boys’ club’? Why would the ELSPA board condone this switch, given that it has the potential to hand over their protected, powerful and pioneering organisation to a wave of new voices? “All our members are astute businessmen and women. Within their companies all of them are seeing their business changing and transforming, going into the brave new world – not necessarily jettisoning the old world, but embracing new things. Our board has taken the big picture view, they are not narrow-minded one bit. And I think that’s a great way to explain our view going forward.
“ELSPA was created in 1989 and we were the first trade association for this industry – the first anywhere in the world. When you think of the type of gaming we did in those days and how far we’ve come today… Well, you can’t stand still. We’re always seeking new customers and new partners and new opportunities. Or else we will die.”