The changing of the guard at the Department of Culture Media and Sport has left some members of the development community anxious, having been used to the previous crop’s vocal recognition and support of the games industry – the extent of which would have seemed unlikely as little as five years ago.
Despite the fact that former ‘Minister for Games’ Shaun Woodward was much respected amongst the games community – and this is in no way to put him or his achievements down – it does seem odd to attribute so much to an individual carrying out the collective will of Government.
While the efforts of individuals and their ability to acknowledge (relatively) new industries is important for forward-thinking institutions such as the DCMS, much of this acknowledgement stems from the irrefutable, cold fact that the industry is so lucrative these days – something no self-respecting Government Minister could fail to pick up on.
It is often more useful to think of the Government as a set of pre-determined doctrines, something that while not set in stone, is certainly more rigid than the whim of an individual. However if you are looking for individual efforts, you should also look to former ELSPA head Roger Bennett and his successors for their work in recent years to create a rapport with the Government.
Regardless, compounded by the fact that developer bosses are being forced to watch home-grown talent haemorrhage into other territories such as Canada (enticed by generous tax breaks in those regions, leading Canada to take the UK’s third place ranking in the global development rankings) – developers are now waiting not only for a sign that the good will towards the industry will be maintained, but that further measures will be implemented to combat the factors that are leading so much of our country’s vital developing talent to set sail for more tax-flexible lands.
“In Montreal the Quebec games subsidy means studios can claim up to 37.5 per cent of their creative staff’s salaries after a couple of years of business – there’s even a possible 40 per cent tax credit for R&D and other credits for major employment-generating projects,” says Ian Livingstone, product acquisitions director of Eidos and chair of the computer Games Skills Forum. “This has helped the rapid growth of the Canadian development scene and the movement of some UK talent to other shores. Wouldn’t it be great for the UK industry to receive comparable incentives? We have the talent pool which could drive the global games business; we just need a level playing field.”
Many believe that the problem of a migrating creative workforce affects not just the UK but Europe as a whole.
“Some of our major competitors in game creation, like the USA, Canada, South Korea and Australia, already have systems in place to assist designers, development studios and publishers; the effect of this support has been to move creative centres outside of Europe,” says Guillaume de Fondaumiere, CEO of developer Quantic Dream and president of the French developer association APON.
“Therefore, I think that each European country, and Europe as a whole, has to rapidly step up to this new challenge, and put the necessary mechanisms in place to make sure our culture and values can continue to exist.”
Paul Jackson, director general of ELSPA adds: “We have been blessed with one of the world’s finest talent pools, but there are concerns about the levels of graduates and the quality of software developers coming through. So, the issues moving forward are perhaps many varied. The threats however are specific and significant.”
Meanwhile, some games publishers are somewhat more optimistic about the new team at the DCMS.
“It is assuring to know that ELSPA are actively working very closely with the Government to ensure it is well informed about all aspects of the industry,” offers Ubisoft’s UK MD Rob Cooper. “I don’t think that Shaun Woodward’s departure will affect this significantly, as James Purnell has past experience and I am sure he will bring the same level of attention and enthusiasm to the role.”
Indeed, since new Culture Secretary James Purnell has worked with the game industry before, a degree of optimism should be allowed regarding not only continued recognition of the sector, but also the possibility of new legislation that might just make the UK a more attractive working environment to developers.