The games industry in the UK has enjoyed a great revitalisation. According to Ukie figures from 2016, it contributes £4.2bn to the UK economy. Tax breaks and investment in digital industries are reaping the rewards of this growth, but we are about to hit uncertain times. Brexit and the lack of a clear indication of a deal on movement of labour and trade hang over everyone. It’s a very different position to where we were five years ago.
“It’s certainly changed,” says Sports Interactive studio director, Miles Jacobson. “Many of the larger studios that were around five years ago aren’t, replaced by others growing and a huge increase in the amount of indies and micro-studios. We’re around 20 per cent larger than we were back then.”
“The UK development industry looked like it was in decline five years ago, with studios closing at an alarming rate,” remembers Playground Games CEO, Gav Raeburn. “In retrospect, I think what was happening was just a rebalancing of the books. The games market was changing and UK development was restructuring to meet those needs.”
“The UK Games map now lists 2,141 active games studios in the UK,” says Ukie CEO, Dr Jo Twist. “The UK also leads Europe for mobile development and this, along with the explosion of VR and AR, has contributed to a number of studios choosing to set up in the UK.”
“It’s hard for one company to talk about the whole industry,” says Codemasters VP of product development, Mick Hocking. “But here, the last two years have seen a period of rapid growth, focused on acquiring the best new talent to expand our seasoned internal teams. We’ve hired more than 90 new staff, and expanded our internal development capability by more than 40 per cent, including the entire team from Evolution Studios who joined us in April 2016. The success of games together with the introduction of the R&D Tax credits has allowed us to not only hire more staff, but increase the rewards for those already with us.”
Games have become part of mainstream culture and are as socially, culturally and economically important as music and film
Ian Livingstone CBE, chairman, Sumo Digital
One of the main reasons for the growth in the games industry in the UK has been the speed by which it has embraced changes in technology. “The video games industry is transformed by advances in technology like no other entertainment industry,” says Sumo Digital chairman, Ian Livingston CBE.
“With that comes challenges and opportunities. Whilst the industry is reliant as ever on talented software engineers, designers, artists and animators, the increase in digital distribution and changing business models has resulted in a sharp increase in demand for a range of new skills such as back end server engineers, data scientists and analysts. And it won’t stop there.”
“Studios have also embraced the importance of analytics, digital marketing and community management,” says managing director of recruitment specialists, Aardvark Swift, Ian Goodall. “Understanding your userbase can really help drive revenue, and we’ve seen these roles go from a single employee, to whole teams and departments.”
However, the demand for new skills and training is high, especially as uncertainty over access to the EU’s vast talent pool looms due to Brexit negotiations. “We must continue to push for the open movement of people and call on the government to provide alternative support for UK studios unable to access European funding in order to maintain our position on the world stage,” says Goodall. “Investing in our own home-grown talent and supporting the development of students and graduates is also just as vital.”
“Overall the games industry in the UK has suffered from the lack of computer scientists being trained inthe UK,” says Frontier Developments CEO David Braben OBE. “It began when teaching computer science at schools was stopped due to a change in educational policy around 1999 and replaced with ‘ICT’ – low-demand study in the use of Powerpoint, Excel and Word. Solving this problem was one of the reasons I eventually co-founded Raspberry Pi.”
THE NEXT FIVE YEARS
So what is to come for the next five years? By then we will have been out of the EU for three years and new iterations of technological power will be available to developers and consumers. So how does the UK stay ahead and continue to grow?
“The UK games sector will continue to be a global leader in games development,” says Ukie’s Dr. Jo Twist. “We need to ensure the talent pipeline coming through is diverse and has the relevant blend of business, arts, and science, and we need to continue to invest in programming literacy in younger years at schools. More girls need to be taking computing subjects in particular: the more diverse the workforce making games, the better the content is that we will make.
“The UK is well known for embracing and being at the forefront of emerging trends, and so it is important that we continue to be supporting new talent, fostering the right business and creative environment for new ideas to grow and prosper. The next five years look extremely bright, but it is not without some political uncertainties.”
Stig Strand of recruitment specialist Amiqus also believes that encouraging more women to join the games industry workforce is key. “In 2016, Creative Skillset revealed that only 19 per cent of the games industry workforce is female, compared to the UK average of 45 per cent. We believe there is no reason why it shouldn’t be 50 per cent.”
“I believe the future is bright for game development in Britain,” says Playground’s Gav Raeburn. “We are currently seeing increasing investment from overseas and continued support from government through tax and R&D credits. I’m hopeful that this growth, and government support, will continue well into the future.”“We would like to see an expansion of the R&D tax credits programme,” says Codemasters’ Mick Hocking. “More efforts towards the development of the next generation of games industry talent through the integration of games industry related elements to the curriculum, greater support for learning and development and apprenticeships programmes within our industry, and stronger industry ties with academia.”
“Games have become part of mainstream culture and are as socially, culturally and economically important as music and film,” says Ian Livingston. “I would like to see greater recognition of the success of the UK games industry by mainstream media and government to send a positive message to parents, teachers and investors about the opportunities that this great industry offers. I would like to see better understanding of the sector by the investment community.”
“Our target should not be sustaining our position, but improving it,” argues David Braben. “Education is a key part of sustaining our position, but it is also important for us to value games development as a nation. Younger people have seen games development as a great industry to work in, but there has been a pressure from the older generations that work in this sector is not ‘respectable’. This is changing, particularly as our status within the wider entertainment industry is changing.
“Technology continues its inexorable advance, bringing ever more exciting and sophisticated techniques within reach for videogames. I’d like to see our industry use this incredibly favourable situation to continue its progression towards taking its place as the world’s premiere form of entertainment, culturally and artistically as well as commercially.”