London calling: and missing the point for UK games

The MediaGuardian today reports on the UK games industry's dismay at plans to create a gaming hub in - wait, you've guessed it - London.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not doubting the level of talent in London, but like many other commentators I do want to point out that it's not the centre of the earth. Dundee may have taken a knock lately (although there's a wider industry trend at play, with employment dropping 9%) but it still has a world-famous games and digital sector.

Just as TV indies outside of London face a difficult challenge, so too do the many other regional centres of gaming expertise highlighted by Tiga (Dundee, Edinburgh, York, Birmingham, Leamington Spa, Brighton) and the kind of support that's required is support that reflects the nature of the industry, not desperately grasps at some media-friendly notion of creating a super-hub to rival Silicon Valley.

Since half of gaming jobs lost to the UK go abroad to countries with tax breaks, TIGAs proposal for tax relief across the UK is not an unreasonable one, and it is at least based on some actual research. The Scottish Government's Digital Inspiration report - compiled by industry representatives in Scotland and led by Channel 4's Stuart Cosgrove - also proposed tax breaks, starting in Dundee with a view to rolling out across the UK.

Stuart is now leading Channel 4's new Creative Diversity team, which extends the focus of the previous Nations & Regions department to look not just at regional diversity of production, as is the issue here, but also ethnic, social, sexual and racial diversity. It's working with a number of Scottish digital companies - Blipfoto on a photography competition, Storm ID on the Film4 site, Keo on Landshare, Mint Scotland on Quotables, Dynamo and Tag on iPhone apps, and many more.

Those are a few examples of Scottish digital talent but of course there are many many more. Is your company thriving against the odds? Resist the 'Scottish cringe' and post a comment about it below. It's Friday and 38minutes needs a bit of positivity for the weekend!

Image credit: gnackgnackgnack on flickr under Creative Commons license

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Tags: channel 4, digital, digital inspiration, games, nicola more, tax, tiga

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Comment by Joan McAlpine on November 12, 2010 at 14:26
I am surprised that nobody has mentioned giving Scotland full control of its economy would allow a government in Edinburgh to introduce tax breaks and other incentives for the industry. And we could have the hub in Dundee if we wanted (or Dave special incentives for creative entreprenuers). A cross party campaign was set up to push for this last year, but it was difficult to get Scottish gamers on board because TIGA is UK wide, and they are the only organisation doing the talking. It's a real shame because as Stuart Cosgrove pointed out in his report Digital Inspirations, we face competition from other hubs, such as Vancouver. It's worth pointing out that Canadian states have more power than Scotland does to set taxes. Or to take an example closer to home - The Isle of Man has full control over its economy and through tax incentives now has a thriving egaming sector. Scotland needs to stop expecting London to sort out its problems - we'll wait a long time for that. See my earlier post on the campaign on 38minutes here.
Comment by Laura Marcellino on November 10, 2010 at 23:46
Comment by Dave Sapien on November 10, 2010 at 10:50
I agree entirely Brian.
Kids might be better served if we instill a "entrepreneurial flair" early on in life rather than incubate them in a standardized structure set up with old models in mind.
I do like the idea of a hub thats more like and artschool of old, with lots of very different things going on.
Would attract me!
Comment by Brian Baglow on November 9, 2010 at 9:44
Sadly, this is not even remotely surprising. The games 'industry' as it's understood, is large studios, working on titles for the shiny boxes beneath your telly. The industry itself thinks this is true and therefore so does government. On those terms, yes, London makes sense. Most of the major games publishers in Europe have a presence or head office in London. People *want* to go to London for heaven's sake.

Sadly however, things have already moved on. The industry is no longer focused around the larger development studios and their symbiotic relationships with the major publishers. The majority of development in the UK is now focused on the new, emerging platforms, which offer smaller, more agile, lower cost projects, simpler, shorter routes to market and more direct relationships with consumers. These are primarily games for non-dedicated platforms, such as iPhone, iPad, Android, Facebook, etc.

The reality for the games sector is that a hub which focuses on and supports the old businesses and business models is already out of date and irrelevant. The new generation of developers and content creators have already evolved beyond that and are addressing markets and audiences that some parts of the self-defined 'real' games industry refuse to recognise as having any worth.

This is all positive for the actual game developers out there, who are now working more closely with other areas of the media and arts than ever before - and creating more interesting a novel types of content I might add...

The exodus of talent is a symptom of the industry itself being one step behind. We don't need people trained to be part of a studio of several hundred highly specialised people. We need multi-skilled people, who understand what the hell entrepreneurial flair is all about and who can seize the chance to get out and make things for themselves.

If we can fit *that* into a hub, regardless of where it's located, we might - might - be ahead of the curve for once.
Comment by Jason Wassell on November 8, 2010 at 20:40
I will pick up on the politics of this debate. The UK Government is taking damage because of the way they retreated on the tax break for gaming.

I confess an interest - as I work as a political consultant for clients with an interest in this area of public policy. But it also means that I have been tracking the UK Government as it makes an incredible U turn on their pre-election promise.

Anyone who watched Ed Vaizey giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee saw a Minister that was caught out - and had to accept that he had gone back on a commitment he had given to the Industry.

The UK Government has been pushing the idea that all industry will benefit from the reduction in corporation taxes, and that there is no need for specific industries to be singled out. PM Cameron even recently used this line at Prime Minister's Questions when he was asked about the tax break.

But that has made little progress, so now we have the idea of hub in London.

And of course there is the suggestion that there will be a Regional Growth fund that local communities with an interest in developing their gaming industry will be able to tap into.

Except that Regional Growth Fund is not for Scotland - regional development is a devolved area - so places like Dundee would certainly not be taking advantage of the funding.
Comment by Laura Marcellino on November 8, 2010 at 15:57
Interesting. One could of course hammer on about "the survival of the fittest" and similar yuppie competitive credos, but in a civilized society, politics ought to build on existing successful economic facts, not dilute resources. An example comes to mind: there used to be a Law for the Safeguard of Venice (a sort of Lottery funded initiative) up to a few years ago, which was finally helping the town to restore its urban structure, buildings, housing, etc. Whenever the past two Berlusconi governments got to power, they repealed it: why waste money on a town that traditionally votes left? The city is now left to its own devices again, mouldering and crumbling, as it seems of no interest whatsoever on a national or indeed international standing? But they are spending billions on dykes to keep the sea out of the lagoon (Canute was wiser), which the EU voted against due to its dangerous impact on the environment: needless to say that all the major national building lobbies are in the project!
Comment by Dr John Sutherland on November 8, 2010 at 14:14

Governments are about as useful as chocolate teapots in my experience. I know this is dangerous to say, because they have ears and probably keep a list, like Graham Norton in Fr Ted ...

Anyhoo, everywhere we have looked the answer has been 'No.' And we have asked for help from Scottish Enterprise, Business Gateway, Abertay University, Clydesdale Bank, Post Office, Santander Bank, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Argyll & Bute Enterprise, ...

In this, nothing has really changed. IMHO, the purpose of all government agencies is to pad the salaries and pensions of post-holders (oops - includes me!)

On the positive side, TuDocs Ltd has got 500 members we are helping into a career in digital media, have a radical new iPad game on the dev, are working on a games career book and something else I can't tell you or I'd have to shoot the entire membership of 38Minutes, which, given you are the Good Guys, would be quite wrong!

So, my advice is: ignore Soapy Sam, Call Me Dave and their ilk of suit-wearing BMW driving public sector jotter blotters. Real Entrepreneurs do it for themselves!
Comment by David Thomson on November 8, 2010 at 11:12
I'll bite ;-)

Ludometrics worked with Cryptic on their iPhone app (with Cryptic Treats) recently, and we're working on an app for Comedy Unit as well (hopefully out in a couple of weeks). We have two games in the works (one iPhone, one PC), and a number of other things that can best be classified as "bubbling under".

Aside: all research indicates there is precisely zero correlation with money spent by governments on trying to create a hub and whether or not that hub is successful. Just saying :-)


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