Since Creative England arose from the ashes of the UK Film Council in 2011, its role has expanded way beyond that of its predecessor, supporting all the creative industries via funding, mentoring and facilitating partnerships.
Between its launch in November 2016 and July last year, Creative England’s GamesLab initiative in Leeds saw £157,000 invested across 13 new games, with the initiative running until 2019 to support studios in the region. Before this, the South West and the West Midlands also benefitted from the GamesLab programme, with hopefully more to come.
“What GamesLab is trying to do is to help businesses to grow and develop their capacity,” Creative England CEO Caroline Norbury tells MCV. “There are lots of aspects to video games businesses – there’s making the game and then there’s running a business to make sure that you can make the next game. And what GamesLab tries to do is a little bit of both really – so a little bit of investing in a particular game and then to help you – either as a startup or as a small company – to build the capacity, the skills, make the contacts, look for how you’re going to get the investment to actually go on and do the next thing.”
Creative England is also behind the Be More Creative series of events, promoting local creative clusters across games, film, tech, TV and music. And it’s at the Be More Manchester event, focused on the future of storytelling, that we meet. She explains the thinking behind this series of events, which kicked off in Leeds in July 2017 and is going to Stoke-on-Trent next week:
“What we’re trying to do is to shine a light on some of the really creative people in the creative businesses that are based all around the country,” Norbury says. “We’re going into different cities and showcasing those businesses in those cities. We chose Manchester because it’s a great creative centre with some brilliant games businesses here. What we want people to understand, is that there are real opportunities to work in the creative industries here, there’s a really great vibe and a really great ecosystem to support businesses that want to grow here.”
KEEP TRUE TO YOUR ART
But finding a great ecosystem to support your aspiring studio is only the first step as the path leading to success in the games industry is everything but an easy one. When asked about the challenges on the way, Norbury fires back: “So many!”
If Creative England is the right platform to support aspiring developers, the resources remain unfortunately limited, she continues: “As Creative England, we’re a small company with very limited investments, so we try to help businesses that have got great ideas to make proof of concepts if you like. That’s one of the ways that we think we can help.”
Fortunately, Creative England is more than a one-trick pony, and can support studios in various ways:
“The other [way we can help] is we use our investment funds to then invest in those IPs where we think there is some traction or we think that the team have got a real market advantage,” Norbury says.
“We obviously expect our money back so we can put it into the next interesting idea. So we make both creative decisions but they have to be directed by financial decisions… You know: is this game going to make its money back? Are we going to be able to recoup and invest in the next thing? And I think the challenge for games companies is twofold really. One is recruiting people with the right skills. That’s an enduring problem. Then the other big challenge is visibility. It’s a very noisy market place. There are a lot of people in there.
“As Ged [Doherty, former CEO of Sony Music UK, founder of Raindog Films and one of the speakers at Be More Manchester] said, you can get to the top of the App Store in many countries but that doesn’t give you any comfort really as to whether or not you will be able to make another game. So having the right people in the first place and then being visible are the two really big challenges for games.”
To overcome those challenges, Norbury has advice to all the young studios out there: “Align yourself to the right sort of publishers or the different distributors who are out there and look at where your market opportunity is, the thing that distinguishes you.”
She continues, still referring Ged Doherty’s introductory talk at the event: “As Ged was saying: keep true to your art and keep true to the thing that is right for you. The other thing that I’d say is that there’s a real growth potential in more narrative forms of gaming. Games have that appeal of being an interactive experience. I think for all of us as consumers, increasingly, we want to have more control and we want to interact much more with these different mediums. So combining gameplay with amazing narrative, art design and sound composition and all the rest of it…
“You’re seeing more and more of that in gaming. I think there’s a big market for the games industry to engage more people by perhaps working as much on the script as they are on the gameplay.”
There are more Be More Creative events to be announced very soon – if you’re interested, head to Creative England’s website.