January 24th 2001 was the day that some trade association named Tiga was established by several UK studio heads, and its then-CEO Fred Hasson, to represent the games industry across the country.
One decade later and the association has grown to become a highly relevant and powerful weapon for UK developers. Tiga is in rude health. It has a membership of over 140 UK game-related companies – with a 100 per cent growth rate since 2008.
And Hasson’s successor, Richard Wilson, has spearheaded the organisation’s push into legislative matters.
Wilson and his hard-working team took its widely-respected Game Tax Relief proposal to Downing Street and, if only for a beautiful fleeting moment, convinced the Treasury to concur.
Today is a day for celebration, and thus, unapologetically puffy interview questions. Develop spoke to founding members Philip Oliver, Jason Kingsley and CEO Wilson to discuss Tiga’s notable success.
What’s the best thing about being a developer in the UK today?
Richard Wilson (RW): The UK has some of the most talented and creative people in game development in the world. There are hubs of developers across the UK, ranging from one-man bands to large businesses. Many of them are making fantastic games with limited resources but with huge amounts of skill and creativity. The UK has such a fantastic tradition in games development and our people are among the brightest and the best. UK developers are so talented that some Canadian businesses keep poaching them!
The industry has changed and UK companies and their teams have proven themselves very versatile and quick to adapt to new market conditions. Our research shows that over 80 per cent of new companies are now working on games for digital distribution. This shows the agility and determination of UK companies and their teams to stay on top in the new market.
Philip Oliver (PO): The UK has a rich tradition and a great track record in producing innovative video games that can compete on the world stage. Perched culturally between Europe and America we have a natural understanding of how to appeal to two of the largest global markets.
The sheer diversity of today’s markets means that it’s possible for a smart, flexible company to be making many different games to appeal to many different audiences. That diversity, and the raising of the quality bar for games over the last couple of years, make it a challenging but supremely enjoyable experience.
Jason Kingsley (JK): We have a deep and creative history to draw from as a country, and our early success in the industry worldwide has left us in a good place to build for the future, however that early, partly accidental, success may well disguise a systemic issue for the future.
The rest of the world has woken up to the possibilities for massive exports gains through the high tech industries and are fighting hard to gain market share from us, and sadly they are succeeding.
What is TIGA’s standout achievement over the last ten years?
RW: TIGA is an organisation with a mission: to fight for the interests of game developers and to make the UK the best place in the world to do games business. This clear mission has enabled TIGA to stand the test of time and to deliver three significant achievements for game developers.
Firstly, we have transformed the industry’s profile in Government and Parliament. A few years ago video games were largely ignored by politicians but now we are convincing them to develop positive policies for our sector. Indeed, we changed the political weather by single-handedly persuading the last Labour Government to introduce Games Tax Relief in the Budget and by convincing all four of the UK’s main political parties to publicly back this measure before last year’s General Election – and we can do it again.
Secondly, we have dramatically raised the profile of our industry in mainstream media. A few years ago video games received a bad press but now we are generating positive stories about our industry on the BBC, ITV, Sky, as well as national newspapers and radio.
Thirdly, we have become an infinitely more innovative and professional organisation: TIGA beat many larger competitors to win the accolade of ‘Trade Association of the Year 2010’ and we have achieved Investors in People accreditation. We are building a movement that developers and the games industry can trust to deliver valuable services and to fight for the interests of games developers.
PO: I think it would have to be the greatly expanded profile that the games industry now has, not only in the mainstream media but also, crucially, at Westminster. Games have gone from being ‘those violent things that children play’ to being understood and recognised as mainstream entertainment for people of all ages; TIGA has contributed significantly to this increased exposure.
JK: Well, getting a bunch of developers to collectively agree to set something up was the first one! The other was achieving positive engagement with the Government.
Has TIGA’s remit needed to evolve with the rapid pace of the games industry, or are its founding principals still in place?
RW: TIGA was built on the rock of serving the needs of game developers. This remains true today. Yet TIGA has changed radically over the last three years. We are no longer simply a trade association delivering high quality services to our members. We are now a movement fighting for a cause – the cause of game development. We believe that video games can be a force for good in the economy, in education and in people’s lives.
It is this belief in the importance of game development which drives TIGA to make the UK the best place in the world to do games business; to campaign for the industry in government and parliament; to champion the industry in the media; and to develop innovative and better services for our members, including networking, discounts and support for self-publishing.
PO: Any organisation has to evolve to stay competitive and flexible, especially in such a fast-moving world as ours, but what we put in place a decade ago is still absolutely valid. Our belief in the importance of game development as both a creative force and an economic success story drives our desire to make the UK the best place in the world to develop brilliant, innovative games.
Initially, TIGA was for UK independent game development studios only, but several years ago it was decided that development studios of publishers have the same issues and wanted representation, so TIGA opened up supporting those too.
JK: We’ve pretty much stayed with the same focuses, but perhaps modified the emphasis from time to time as the TIGA Board decides and as opportunities come along.
Question for founding members: How would you evaluate Richard Wilson’s leadership at TIGA and where he and his team have taken the association?
PO: I felt that Fred Hasson’s leadership was a tough act to follow. Whilst Richard was very different to Fred and new to the games industry, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly he learned and took up the challenges. He’s very passionate and completely committed to supporting the industry and TIGA’s members.
Richard has unquestionably taken the profile of our industry to new heights in the last three years. In particular, the TIGA team’s skilful political lobbying has meant that game development is no longer a complete mystery to our elected representatives.
This has huge implications, particularly when it comes to issues such as the cuts to higher education, as it enables us to argue coherently not only for the retention of funding for the important STEM subjects but also to raise the profile of art and animation, without which our industry, along with other graphic businesses, cannot thrive.
JK: Excellent. He’s bought a different flavour to the organisation than Fred but it has been excellent, as was Fred’s input.
How do you hope TIGA’s friendly rivalry with UKIE will progress? If TIGA wants expansion, as does UKIE, then are you ready to compete for membership?
RW: TIGA is not competing against another trade association. TIGA is competing against the establishment: politicians who promise the world and deliver nothing; foreign governments and others who undermine our industry.
There are only two choices for UK game developers: join TIGA and advance the cause of our industry; or sit on the sidelines and let politicians get away with ignoring our industry; let Canada poach our talented workforce.
PO: To me TIGA is focused on representing developers’ needs, whilst UKIE focuses on publishers’ needs; I believe both can co-exist and as the industry moves more towards digital publishing, there will be more cross-over than before.
JK: ELSPA/UKIE is, I believe, largely controlled and funded by non-UK based companies, and as such they have a different perspective than we do as UK tax payers. They also come from a heritage of being a mouth-piece for the publisher community so have very different awareness of value generation.
What are the goals in terms of membership growth? Is there a top target?
RW: TIGA is a movement fighting for a cause. We welcome anyone and any organisation that will actively support our campaign for game developers and back our goal to make the UK the best place in the world to do games business. We welcome start-ups, established developers and publisher-developers and we represent everyone with equal passion and drive. But let me make one point absolutely clear: we have no interest in being an old boys’ club.
PO: I wouldn’t say there’s a top target but TIGA exists to serve the interests of all developers including publishers’ game development studios. Obviously the more members TIGA represents, the more powerful its voice becomes, and it’s particularly pleasing to see new start-ups and smaller indie developers joining our ranks.
JK: Remaining fully representative is important, but keeping our members informed and active is also very important too.
Will TIGA ever expand beyond the UK?
RW: TIGA already has some European game developers as members and we greatly value and appreciate their support: these developers are passionate believes in the TIGA cause. There are some issues relevant to our industry that may require a pan-national approach.
We are always keen to work with partners overseas to instigate programs that benefit developers. Yet clearly TIGA’s current focus is on the UK.
PO: Well, TIGA was founded to promote the UK’s game development community so that will always be our main focus, but we do have some European members already and will welcome others in the future, no doubt.
What are your views on R&D tax credits?
RW: The UK spends just 1.8 per cent of GDP on R&D – less than some of our key competitors including the USA, Japan, Germany and France. If the Coalition Government wants to promote a knowledge based, high skilled economy, then we need to make the existing R&D tax credits work more effectively.
In 2008-9, just 6,450 small and medium-sized enterprises benefit from the R&D Small Firms Tax Credit. This is a fraction of the UK’s business population of 4.8 million businesses.
We need to enable more businesses to benefit from this tax credit and we need to make it more valuable for game developers and other small firms. Many TIGA members do use the existing R&D tax credit system. However they tell us that the current system is too narrow in scope and the claims process is too complicated.
Under our recommendations the existing R&D tax credit for large firms should be retained. With respect to the R&D tax credit for small firms, the categories of qualifying expenditure should be widened, the level of relief raised, the value of the relief for loss making companies increased, and the claim process simplified. R&D tax credits could be a much more a useful mechanism for promoting R&D.
PO: We need to make R&D tax credits easier to claim and of greater value, especially for smaller firms. Given that it’s R&D that drives the entire games industry, it makes no sense for companies not to be able to claim for it easily.
JK: The R&D tax credit system is ok but not perfect. There are a lot of things to change to make it perform better and be more useful to our industry in general, as well as making the process less costly and bureaucratic.
What would you define as TIGA’s ultimate priority?
RW: To fight for the interests of game developers, to make the UK the best place in the world to do games business and to serve our members’ needs with passion and vigour.
PO: To persuade the UK government to support the games industry with more than just kind words.