CEO Caroline Norbury on the organisation's plans for the industry and the importance of women in games

Why Creative England is taking games seriously

Punk, politics and people. These three Ps have been dominant themes in my life. Despite being only nine years old when the Sex Pistols released God Save The Queen, the messages of punk – to question the establishment and the established view, to believe that you are the master of your own destiny – were the stuff of my teenage years.

It encouraged me to express myself in whatever form I chose and gave me the confidence to believe that I didn’t need to measure myself against other people’s rules and values.

When I left university at the end of the 1980s a record three million people were on the dole; this was the first time the UK had experienced mass unemployment since the Depression. This figure was made to look all the more stark by the “loadsamoney” culture of excess.

This led to my interest in the second P: politics. Or more accurately, the Politics of Representation. I never wanted to be rich – I wanted to be heard and the TV and films I watched and the newspapers I read did not represent me or the people I knew – particularly the women.

So I concentrated, not on getting a job, but on making my own films and helping other people who felt they didn’t have a voice in popular culture either or that their representation was distorted, biased or prejudiced. 

I worked with women who had suffered domestic violence and rape, who wanted to tell their stories. I worked with disabled people who felt they were either invisible in popular culture or, where they were visible, were portrayed as invalids, cripples or freaks.

And I worked with black and Asian people who were certainly not present in any positive way on our screens and even more absent behind the camera and in production teams. By working together, by collaborating, we were able to access the mainstream; we became more of a force – and we did manage to get heard.

Such successful collaborations made me value more than ever my third P: people. It is essential to surround yourself with people who both make you feel good about yourself and, importantly, provide constructive advice and criticism when it’s needed.

Today’s new business models demand that sort of honesty, empathy and collaboration which is why having good communication and “human” skills are so important. And that is why I think many women’s leadership style is suited to the complex, inter-connected world we live in now where change is a constant. We understand juggling; we are generally more comfortable with empathy; we’re often very good communicators.

You only have to look at Angela Merkel’s historic success in Germany’s election a few days ago to see this; a woman renowned for her patience and her ability to listen to other viewpoints and to admit when she has got it wrong. 

At Creative England our objective is to grow the economy and generate jobs; by investing in talented people and companies working in games, film, TV and digital media – particularly outside of London. The projects we support and the work we do aims to reflect the diversity and contemporary culture of our country.

This year we hired our first Head of Games, Jaspal Sohal, to develop a programme specifically for games developers because we recognise that it’s a hugely important industry that has significant potential for growth.

For such a young industry it’s fair to say it is punching above its weight. A recent report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers suggested that the global market for games will grow from the $52bn it was four years ago to $87bn by 2014.

The UK video game industry is the largest in Europe and contributes just under £1bn to the UK economy. Grand Theft Auto V generated $800m sales is a single day. The UK boasts some of the finest video games studios and indie developers in the world, with games such as Runescape; Broken Sword and LittleBigPlanet. And of course the impressive coders, designers and developers in Scotland that bought us GTA V.

What is particularly interesting about the UK video games sector is that unlike similar screen-based creative industries such as film and TV – 80 per cent of the workforce is based outside London.

Earlier this year we launched our first dedicated fund for game developers. It offers start-ups a grant between £10,000 and £50,000 to put towards the development of an IP, of which they keep 100%.

In addition to the funding, we enrol successful companies in a series of workshops that guide them to create the most innovative and successful games they possibly can. There is nothing else available in England that offers this combination of funding and support specifically to developers.

We have launched Greenshoots, a funding programme developed in partnership with one of the biggest players in the industry, Microsoft.

Greenshoots will offer ten of England’s most innovative developers up to £25,000 to support the development of new games for mobile and tablet platforms. The programme, which will also include workshops and business expertise from Microsoft, will help kick-start development of new IP and enable the companies to reach a global audience.

At Creative England we work to ensure that the creative industries represent the wide diversity of England so that we have the most vibrant, innovative and profitable industry possible. We do this, not just for altruistic reasons, but because it makes strong economic sense.

We need to encourage and nurture more women to become coders, creative directors and games developers for the simple business reason that they now make up half the audience.

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