GamesAid: A Short History

GamesAid is the spiritual successor to games industry charitable initiatives SoftAid in the 1980s and ESC (The Entertainment Software Charity) in the early noughties, both led by Rod Cousens.

GamesAid was formed in late 2007 by the Trustees, Greg Ingham (who was chair, ex CEO of Future Publishing and founder of Media Clash), Paul Gardner (partner at Osborne Clark), Andrew Eades (founder of Relentless Software), Rupert Loman (founder & CEO of Gamer Network), Miles Jacobson (Studio Head at Sports Interactive) and myself.

2007 was a significant year for so many people, given that it was the beginning of the global financial crisis and starting a charity at that time was certainly a challenge. But ‘challenge’ is all part of GamesAid DNA.

But GamesAid is a charity with a difference. We all liked what Comic Relief did, namely run a charity that focused on raising awareness and funds but working with a group of smaller charities who were specialist and focused at doing the good things. Like Comic Relief, we wanted to run with zero costs. It was agreed that everyone involved was to give their time for free. So, no expenses, no salaries, no advertising spend, no nothing.

We needed to build partnerships with companies who could help us every step of the way. So to kick that off, Mastertronic volunteered to handle the financial administration, Osborne Clark did all the legals and Eurogamer gave significant media support.

We also wanted to make the charity democratic. We felt that if we could open GamesAid up to the whole of the games industry, to make it completely inclusive with free membership, we could then empower the members to choose which charities to support on an annual basis. This had never been done before, so we needed to construct a blueprint and set about making it happen.

Given the incredibly challenging economic times, we knew that fund raising would be tough. We also knew that big corporate donations were becoming a thing of the past and we would have to build from the ground up. We agreed that we wanted to focus on UK-based charities, and ones which had a modest turnover of 5m or under. Government funding for charities was beginning to be cut, a process that has carried on every year since we started. We also wanted to work with charities that invested no more than 30 per cent of the funds that they raised into administration costs.

We also decided to make the Trustees a three-year fixed term appointment. We did that for a very simple reason and that was to ensure we had a steady flow of Trustees to ensure we kept GamesAid fresh and build an on-going inclusive legacy for the future.

And so we started GamesAid, a truly democratic charity to work for the whole of the games industry, owned by no one and open to all comers.

In the first full year of fund raising to September 2009, we raised 55,000 from all sorts of different activities. The Gem Golf and Spa day was our biggest fundraiser and the organiser of that, Richard Stickler who worked for Gem at the time, joined GamesAid as a trustee as well as Mark Ward (Bastion and now Warner Brothers and co –organiser of the Develop Poker Night with Andrew Eades) and Sarah Seaby (Bethesda).

We worked out how the funds would be distributed and set in place the voting system. It was a rollercoaster for sure, but we made it happen, thanks to the members. We decided to split the money five ways in equal shares. That equality is a principle that still stands today. GamesAid distributed 11,000 each to Action for Kids, The Willow Foundation, Winston’s Wish, The Royal Hospital for Neuro Disability and Special Effect.

In 2010, Ian Livingstone, Rosemarie Dalton and Caroline Miller joined as trustees and brought their skills and energy to GamesAid. We launched the Ambassador scheme, led by Caroline and Rose, which aimed to give members a chance to play a bigger part in the running of GamesAid and to identify potential trustees of the future. Caroline also led the production of the GamesAid video, all done for free by the lovely Brian Holmes. The video always features the reason why GamesAid exists, namely the charities voted for by the members. GamesAid has had tremendous support down the years, with the video being shown MCV Awards, the Develop Awards and the Golden Joysticks to support the GamesAid Tenner initiative that has raised tens of thousands of pounds! Fund raising went up 82% and we distributed a total of 100,000 equally between Action For Kids, Families Need Fathers, Special Effect, The Willow Foundation and MAPS.

2011 saw the launch of the GamesAid eBay service, which found homes for all sorts of games related ephemera donated by companies and individuals. Mastertronic handled all of this for GamesAid led by the one and only Gary Winter, who still runs the service today. We raise around 40,000 annually from these sales and it is a vital part of our annual fund raising drive.

Cat Channon (Warner Brothers), David Walker (Sega), Stuart Dinsey (then intent Media, now Curve Digital) and Graeme Struthers (Devolver) all joined as Trustees and we launched the Sega GamesAid Cricket, GamesAid Football, GamesAid Darts, and GamesAid Pool, all driven by Graeme and David. Carrying on in that sporting vein, Steve Key launched the GamesAid Grand National and Cheltenham Tipping and Sweepstakes, too. We also launched the first PC games bundle, LittleBigBunch, which was a forerunner of the Humble Bundles a few years later. Fundraising rose by 74 per cent to 174,000 and the members voted that this should go to six charities this time. Action For Kids, Special Effect, The Willow Foundation, Jigsaw4U, LIfelites and MAPS all received 29,000. Warner Brothers kindly allowed GamesAid to use their amazing theatre and chair, Sarah Seaby made the cheque presentation in person to the supported charities.

2012 was a consolidation year. New Trustees joined GamesAid, David Smith (Ukie), John Houlihan (Future), Richard Keith (GamesTribe – now Yogscast) and Louise Fisher (Mastertronic). GamesAid had a team running the London 10k and the Brighton Marathon. Ian Chambers and Becca Roberts formed GamesOnSong, the GamesAid choir and managed to get a bunch of games industry execs to sing Christmas Carols together, in harmony, to a packed house at St Stephen’s in Hampstead. The Eurogamer Expo (now EGX) kindly hosted the annual GamesAid cheque presentation and raised money from their party, as they do every year, for GamesAid. Members voted for five charities to each get 36,000 (from a total of 180,000): Action For Kids, Jigsaw4U, Small Steps, Special Effect and The Willow Foundation.

2013 saw GamesAid appoint our first Patron: ex-games industry QA expert and product manager at Eidos, Sega and Midway and now stand-up comedian, Imran Yusuf. Imran hosted the inaugural sell out StandUp4GamesAid at London’s Comedy Store, which was supported by Take-Two. This has now become an annual event, selling out each year. Terry Haynes (Hotgen), Emily Britt (Pokmon Company), Rich Keen (SCEE) and Ian Livingstone (for a second time) all joined as Trustees. Keith Ramsdale at EA helped to bring GamesAid as a recipient of the Humble Origin Bundle, something that was to become very important to GamesAid. PuppyGames ran a Humble Bundle, Yogscast supported with their Charity Drive, which was a huge fundraiser, and Jagex’s Well of Goodwill was amazing, too. PlayExpo and Retro Gamer made GamesAid their charity for the year and Midlife Gamers, for the fourth time, ran a fundraiser at EGX. 2013 was another record year with funds increasing by 45 per cent, raising 260,000, which the members voted to go to: Action For Kids, Lifelites, Safe At Last, Special Effect and the Volunteer Centre Sutton MAPS. The each receiving 52,000.

2014 was our best year yet in terms of awareness with fund raising up year on year by a whopping 68 per cent to 438,000. All of the initiatives continued to grow alongside membership engagement and the growth was starting to overrun the volunteers’. Therefore GamesAid decided to make a fundamental change to its operational structure. We decided to invest in a Living Wage paid internship, hosted at the Mastertronic offices. This person would be the first point of contact for all and through their time at GamesAid, he or she would get to know the industry and people in it so that they could get a job in the industry after their internship had ended. Jack Masterson was our first intern. Jack spent four months with us, ran the London 10k at very short notice and has gone on to work at Sports Interactive.

Jack helped to hire his replacement, Alex Gouldman who worked with us until very recently. Alex is also hoping to take up a full time position in the games industry very soon. We also added a new trustee, Tracey McGarrigan (Green Man Gaming). The Windsor Half Marathon was a huge success and the London 10k, too. StandUp4GamesAid was supported by Bossa Studios and Indigo Pearl. Sega, Team 17, Square Enix all contributed through their Humble Bundles. The massive 438,000 was split that year between seven charities. Stuart Dinsey, in his final year as chair, presented Accuro, Action For Kids, Jigsaw4U, Lifelites, Safe At Last, Special Effect and Volunteer Centre Sutton MAPS each with a cheque for 62,571.43. Oh and Cat Channon decided to swim from Africa to Gibraltar for GamesAid too!

And so to 2015. We have kicked off the year with more Humble Bundles thanks to Square Enix, Mastertronic and Sega. The Gold and Spa Day is taking place on the July 16th. GamesOnSong is set to return and eBay goes from strength-to-strength. Ian Chambers, John Clark (Sega), Dan Kilby (IGN) and Matt Spall (Invisiplay) have all joined at Trustees under Emily’s chairmanship and Nicole Henry has joined as our new intern. Disney have shown Big Hero 6 at their private cinema for GamesAid and Bossa Studios and God is a Geek have sponsored the StandUp4GamesAid comedy night on May 11th.

To date GamesAid have distributed 1,212, 754 to a total of 12 charities who have helped hundreds, if not thousands of children and young people. That figure will go over 1.6M cumulatively come September when we make the next cheque presentation. The best days are yet to come for all those involved in GamesAid

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