United we stand

Just days before the company is due to rebrand to UKIE, ELSPA boss Michael Rawlinson today took to the stage at the Abertay Digital Spark conference to call for unity in the industry.

Here, MCV presents the full transcript of his speech, which covers why the organisation is rebranding, what the industry must do to go beyond June’s tax break disappointment, and how all areas of the trade can work closer together.

I am delighted that the Digital Spark conference is taking place in Dundee.

Abertay University is recognised as a world leader in computer games and interactive media courses, and has been at the forefront of games education and research for over a decade and is the ideal place to be developing the thinking that our fast changing industry needs.

And fast changing it certainly is…

In the last few years the industry has grown beyond recognition and now rivals the traditional creative powerhouses of film and music. Overall the videogames industry now comprises around 220 businesses throughout the UK, with over 50 of these companies – nearly – being located in Scotland.

With the rapid uptake of broadband internet, games are being played by an ever growing audience; with one in three people in the UK now considering themselves gamers, interactive entertainment is increasingly part of everyone’s everyday lives.

Boundaries are blurring between developer and publisher and with these changes, new opportunities are arising, and we all need to adapt to make the most of this brave new world. We at ELSPA have recognised this and we are changing our name in response to a broader industry remit to become the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment or UKIE.

This new remit is to be the champion of the entire videogames and interactive entertainment industry – including to the academic establishments that support the industry.

I am therefore delighted to announce today that Abertay University has become ELSPA’s latest member.

By joining with our developer and publisher members, Abertay can forge even closer, mutually beneficial industry links – providing direct access for its students to become the workforce of tomorrow and sharing the knowledge and skills that all our members can offer.

As boundaries blur sharing these skills can only benefit the industry and help it to thrive in challenging times.

As the recent loss of Realtime Worlds has all too clearly demonstrated, producing videogames and other forms of interactive entertainment is a risky business. And there are worrying signs that the UK is at risk of lagging behind other countries in producing top-quality and original creative content – the very foundations that our industry is built on.

But what’s causing the UK to lag behind other countries and how can we address the challenges?

Tax breaks could obviously help and the industry was disappointed not to see them in the new Westminster government’s budget. But whilst ELSPA will continue to lobby on the introduction of tax breaks and other financial support to the games industry, we need to look at other ways of helping ourselves and of working more closely together to identify new business models that support industry growth.

One area that is of paramount importance, and the reason that we’re all here today, is of course intellectual property.

Even with a slight decline in creative output, it is the UK’s flair, talent and tradition for producing original intellectual property, no better demonstrated than in Scotland, that still gives us an advantage over other countries.

It’s this intellectual property that gives value to the person or business that creates it. We therefore need to ensure that the right tools are in place, and that everyone in the value chain knows how to make intellectual property work for them.

The tools at our disposal: patents, trademarks and copyright may seem set in stone but they are in fact potentially fragile. One only has to look at the music industry to see how easily the value of IP can be eroded – mainly as a result of the effects of online intellectual property theft. Whilst the usually large file size of games has prohibited mass file sharing so far, the threat to the games industry is real and, as file sizes shrink with the expansion of mobile and casual games, and broadband speeds increase, it will become more so. A first step towards combating this threat is the Digital Economy Act. This promise to put measures in place to help prevent illegal use of IP and ELSPA is working with policy makers to represent the best interest of the videogames and interactive entertainment industry.

But even having the right IP tools in place is not enough if people don’t know how to use them or how to make them work for the creators. Being able to own or reap the benefits from one’s original IP is a big step towards ensuring that content owners, creators and developers – are sufficiently incentivised to continue to innovate.

We therefore need to ensure that everyone in the industry knows how to make intellectual property work for them. This is a perfect opportunity for ELSPA to work with its developer, publisher, and academic members, like Abertay, to provide industry-wide training opportunities. We should also look to meet regularly to share ideas and network.

Despite the challenges that we face as an industry, we mustn’t forget that the UK’s videogames and interactive entertainment industry is still one of the best in the World.

We need to sell our industry to the rest of the world – letting potential partners know that we are very much open for business.

We need to shout about our amazing business and help policy makers and consumers understand the fantastic things we do so that they sit up and listen to us. The more that it becomes accepted that we are the leading creative industry the more government will want to work with us.

The government is already looking to the creative industries, and our part of it in particular to be at the forefront of leading the country out of recession and we need to embrace this new responsibility.

You know that ELSPA has been a leader in supporting the industry, and you can be sure that as we transform into UKIE we will continue to be relentless about promoting the sector on behalf of the entire interactive entertainment industry here and around the World.

I hope that everyone who attends this conference over the next two days will see the importance of intellectual property, will come to know how to value it, and by mastering the lessons you will learn, come to realise the full potential of your creativity and enjoy all the benefits you deserve.

UKIE is here for you today, and I hope we can build a strong and lasting partnership into the future.

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