Dr Richard Wilson is CEO of TIGA, the award-winning trade association representing the UK video games industry. At TIGA, Richard has successfully campaigned for the introduction of Video Games Tax Relief and introduced an accreditation system for university games courses.
TIGA’s recent business survey has underlined the need for a sensible Brexit. Our survey found that almost a third (29 per cent) of video games developers are worried about Brexit, primarily due to their concerns about their ability to recruit the right talent. Meanwhile, uncertainty is making private investors more cautious and the future of EU public funding schemes is up in the air. The latest breakthrough in negotiations is a welcome development, but there are big decisions that need to be made in the next phase of talks.
Currently, the UK video games industry is a world leader. In 2016, the industry contributed £1.2 billion to the UK economy and we want to build on this success. Developments in artificial intelligence and virtual reality could bring about the next big revolution in video games. We want to see the UK video games industry in the best possible position to benefit from these changes.
In light of our industry’s ambitions, it is concerning that almost a third of developers already feel that their business has suffered due to the Brexit process. Respondents said that they have found it more difficult to recruit staff from overseas, while some employers are seeing staff returning to the continent.
The ability to recruit the right talent is vital for the video games industry. EU workers currently make up 15 per cent of the UK games industry, while 5 per cent come from countries outside the EU. In order to compete on a global level, we need to recruit top global talent. While we welcome the Government’s recent decision to expand the number of Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) Visas, it must not become harder to recruit workers from the EU or EEA. Small businesses in particular value the ability to recruit EU and EEA nationals with minimal cost and without red tape. Education and upskilling homegrown talent is undoubtedly important, but foreign talent will remain an important part of the industry’s skills mix for the foreseeable future.
"As well as delivering certainty through an orderly exit process, the Government must replace or continue to participate in funding streams"
Developers also expressed concerns about a lack of certainty, which has impacted investment decisions. Some private investors are less willing to invest during periods of uncertainty. Meanwhile, the future of EU funding programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Creative Europe are unclear. Both programmes provide useful funding for developers and have led to the release of critically acclaimed UK games. As well as delivering certainty through an orderly exit process, the Government must replace or continue to participate in funding streams.
To some extent, the survey did indicate a mixed picture. 11 per cent of businesses reported that the Brexit process was having a positive impact, predominately due to the drop in the value of Sterling since the EU referendum. The devaluation has helped businesses become more price competitive, particularly those with heavy exposure to European and North American markets. But a devaluation in Sterling is not going to help the industry succeed in the long-term. Price competitiveness is just one part of a bigger picture that allows the UK video games industry to compete globally.
We welcome the agreement between the UK and EU on citizens’ rights, the Northern Ireland border, and the financial settlement. But as talks turn to a future relationship, big decisions have to be made. The single most important priority for the UK video games industry in the current Brexit negotiations is that we have access to highly-skilled employees from the EU and EEA. A sensible Brexit deal would also provide certainty around public and private investment that is currently available to developers. The UK video games industry is a world leader and we want to maintain and build on this position.