Samantha Porter, Jenrick IT’s Specialist Consultant to the Gaming Sector, is publishing several quickfire Q & A’s with the people who are shaping the direction of this high growth sector. Dr. Jo Twist, the C.E.O. of UKIE, has a passion and flare for the Games Industry that's instantly engaging. Take a doctorate in online communities and subsequent identity within young people, add a history of commissioning entertainment and education at the BBC and Channel 4 respectively, and this will surely add up to one thing: Jo knows what truly effects the drive and velocity of the industry – its people.
JT: “The games industry is a potential economic powerhouse for the UK PLC.”
The interactive entertainment industry is expanding on a daily basis. The massive shift towards a greater digital focus has resulted in an opening up of newer and more diverse platforms where we, as consumers and creators, can really start to ‘knock it up a notch.’ As Jo pointed out to me, these platforms allow developers to have a more direct relationship with their players, which enables them to apply innovative business models and levels of service, which overall will promote advances and growth within the sector.
JT: “...the potential for how we experience entertainment, content and experiences full stop, is just huge.”
In order to grow we need the foundation skill sets in which to build with – this is but one of UKIE’s areas of expertise. As well as creating a harmonious ecosystem by promoting access to finance and supporting investment opportunities, they also help regulate environments, allowing businesses to trade and therefore compete on the global market. To achieve this ecosystem it’s necessary to support the balance by feeding in a diverse and correct skills pipeline. Together, this will allow us to realise and fully-grasp what is obtainable. As Jo explained “it's about making the UK the best place in the world to make and sell games.”
JT: “55 million hours of collective game play occurs in the UK alone every day”
How is this achieved? Awareness and education. UKIE has fully-funded and launched the 'Next Gen. Skills' campaign (www.nextgenskills.com), which includes a consortium of people, companies and publishers who all wanted the same thing – to see programming return to the curriculum of computer science. Jo's Vice Chair, Ian Livingstone, who led the campaign, did so with the wonderfully simple and undeniably potent phrase “teaching kids to write technology instead of just reading technology.” Jo went on to clarify how important it is that teachers are aware of, and can articulate, the combination of skills required for available career pathways.
JT: “Two weeks ago I did a talk at my old school. It’s constantly surprising, I had sixteen-year olds coming up to me saying ‘until today I literally did not realise that my hobby could become my career’.”
How else do we ensure that the UK games industry is the best in the world? As a result of multiple gaming platforms, combined with easier access via different devices, the industry is able to engage with a larger and more diverse audience. Therefore, one of the key factors is not only to inspire creative talent, but to promote diversity within that talent pool. This is essential in order to anticipate and meet the future demands of both potential and active audiences.
JT: “If you ask people ‘are you a gamer?’ - they’re likely to say ‘no’.”
Inspiring diversity isn't easy. As Jo said to me, go out and ask people if they're a gamer and the majority answer will be 'no'. The word 'gamer' can insinuate a certain level of connotation and not always in a positive light. Furthermore, certain demographics do tend to fall under a harsher inspection. For example, a “female gamer” tends to carry a higher level of negative imagery than a male, even though across Europe the gender demographic for those who play games only slightly favours males. Depending on the breakdown (eg. age), it's actually very close to a 50/50 split (European summary of 2012 ISFE Consumer Study http://www.isfe.eu/industry-facts). On the other hand, ask the same group of people 'what do you play on your phone?' and you'll start to see a different response, the language used is key and incredibly interesting – see for yourself, try it today.
JT: “As an industry we’re very good at helping each other; developers go out of their way to help other developers.”
Jo highlighted that as an industry we're all constantly learning. We tend to help each other; developers will help developers, it's a very collaborative environment and that's what's so exciting. Where else would one find that level of competitive camaraderie? Again, this only helps to serve the purpose of enhancing the industry as a whole. So we have the talent, we have the diversity, we have the creativity... now we just need to fund it. Unfortunately unless you're Link or Sonic you can't just smash a few pots or collect a few gold rings to build up the required capital. There are options out there. One that is becoming increasingly popular, with both independent developers and companies alike, is crowd-funding. With the right awareness, crowd-funding can be a very powerful tool, not only to build the right funds but to also assess market demand for your product. I asked Jo for her opinion on the crowd-funding avenue...
JT: “I think crowd-funding has been extremely important in terms of a way to access finance for creative industries as a whole. However, as we know games are the biggest category and have had the most success in terms of funding projects. But again, it is a learning curve for most companies as it is essentially a business model, which is built on pre-orders. It’s also about understanding that this is also an early market signal for project demand.”
On a larger scale Jo made clear that it is a difficult time for a lot of studios to source the finance needed. Banks as a whole aren't overly keen on lending to creative industries as they can be seen as a risk when in fact they aren't. They don't quite understand how creative industries, including the games sector, have transitioned. What can be done to alleviate this? Once more, it's about education. Educating companies with appropriate business skills and business development techniques, as well as educating investors about where the value lies within a project. This brings us about to the topic of Tax Breaks for UK games companies. Appearances indicate that the future isn't so bright on this front, which could lead to development and publishing going abroad and with it, our home grown talent. Despite my own research Jo assures me that there is little to worry about.
JT: “We're very confident; we're hearing all of the right things. We're not all together surprised that they did a full investigation, the film industry tax breaks, when they were first announced, went through exactly the same process and that took a year and a half.”
All of the above, combined with Digi-Capital’s 2014 Global Games Investment Review (http://www.digi-capital.com/reports), which projects revenues of up to $100bn from mobile and online gaming by 2017, paints a very beautiful picture of the industry, at present as well as in the future. Just for fun…
SP: If you could create or commission any game, what would it be? JT: I need a really, really, really good quality cat game. There are not enough games with cats in them. SP: What’s the last game you completed? JT: The Room 2. I loved The Room - completed that - so then as soon as The Room 2 came out, I downloaded and completed that immediately.
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