EA on the EU: UK boss Shaun Campbell talks Europe

Ukie’s biennial Westminster Games Day is a great opportunity for the industry to join forces and make sure our parliamentarians are aware of the importance of the industry and the issues it’s facing. While there, we took the opportunity to have a quick chat with Shaun Campbell, EA’s country manager for UK and Ireland, about the issues of the day: Brexit and Bazalgette.

Have you started planning for the most likely Brexit outcomes?

We started working on and thinking about Brexit before the vote. Similar to a lot of publishers, our physical goods are manufactured in Europe – Sony, Technicolour, pretty much all the big manufacturers are Europe-based. So you have to start getting your head around what the worst case scenario looks like if we end up with customs barriers back in place. We keep on reminding ourselves that it’s not new to us, we [already] export into the Middle East and Turkey and even into Russia, we have the mechanisms in place. All of those are distributed out of Europe. You have to start thinking of the impact in terms of shipping physical goods, but it’s obviously much bigger than that.

You’ll just be able to drive them over the Irish border from what I hear?

We’ll see where that ends up! But it is much bigger than that, there’s work happening on the data protection side and that comes into play next year in May.

But then what happens when the UK leaves?

Then we’ll have data we have to think about both from a UK and from a European perspective. Then we have a number of people working out of our Guildford office who are EU nationals, so what does that mean for them? We’re continuing to try and attract talent, and Criterion Studios are a good case in point, they have a number of people who are EU nationals and for them to continue to try and attract talent, what does that look like?

For the bigger companies, with bigger resources, we certainly have the ability to do some of that work ourselves, while Ukie is really important in representing the voice of the industry. We’ve all very much aligned behind the position that Ukie is talking about: how we make sure we have access to the best possible people, what does it mean from a data perspective, what does the customs thing look like?

They’re certainly all the things we need to work through, but from our perspective it hasn’t been a case
of sitting on our hands and waiting until 2019. You have to be proactive.

How are EA’s operations structured across Europe at present?

Our two main operations offices for the whole of Europe are Geneva and Guildford. In Guildford, beyond the UK publishing business that I run, and Criterion and Ghost Studios, we have a number of people who work across operations, IT, HR, business affairs, legal and all those areas service not just our European business but our international business. The rest of that, call it the ‘international base’, are in Geneva. So it’s across those two businesses that we manage it. Particularly on the operations side, there’s a big group of people based in the UK office that manage operations for the whole of Europe.

"I think there’s a huge opportunity to develop the games industry, but this is not about saying ‘stop funding them and start funding us’. I think we’ve shown that investing in technology is a good idea"

Where does the revenue go when European consumers buy digital product?

We work closely, and are in regular discussions with HMRC, with tax authorities here, in Switzerland and in all the countries to ensure that we’re compliant with the tax provisions. We’re managing it in a way that we believe is fair and compliant.

But leaving the EU would then require some changes?

Yes. I think there are those challenges, in how we manage the business and structure the business. As with every company that is international, we’re going to have to come up with solutions, depending on what [Brexit] looks like.

Coming back to the UK, we recently received the Bazalgette Report, are you happy with what this government is doing for the industry?

I think the recommendations in the Bazalgette report were really positive, and the recommendation is for more investment in this industry, and you can see, from a relatively small cross-section at today’s event, the creative and commercial power of the industry.

Commensurate to other industries I think there’s a huge opportunity to develop the games industry, but this is not about saying ‘stop funding them and start funding us’. It’s tough for government to make the right decisions, but I think we’ve shown that investing in technology is a good idea, in terms of what it can deliver. And that’s not just within this industry but also the flow-on effect from here into a whole bunch of other sectors, such as VR, which have huge applications more broadly.

Have the moral crusades from parliament against games finally come to an end?

I understand the concerns that people have when you look within video games. There are ratings in place and it’s important that they are followed, and that everyone is compliant with them to ensure the right age groups are playing the right games. I understand that people have concerns, and we must be responsible in terms of how we approach these things.

But it’s not just about that, it’s a question of balance. Again, our position is that playing games should just be one part of what kids do when they are growing up. We love that we have lots of people playing FIFA, but we also want them to be playing football out in the park. We also know there are lots of studies that talk about how playing video games can actually help, in terms of developing reasoning, decision making skills, motor skills.

I think that while we haven’t seen any for a couple of years, we can’t be complacent, we need to make sure that we continue to do the right thing in terms of how we think about games, how we make sure the ratings are followed, pushing the message about balance, and all the great things about the industry, helping people develop skills and get jobs.

About Seth Barton

Seth Barton is the editor of MCV – which covers every aspect of the industry: development, publishing, marketing and much more. Before that Seth toiled in games retail at Electronics Boutique, studied film at university, published console and PC games for the BBC, and spent many years working in tech journalism. Living in South East London, he divides his little free time between board games, video games, beer and family. You can find him tweeting @sethbarton1.

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