[ 30 November 2018 ]
In so many respects, Britain is the birthplace of the computer games industry. And it remains a powerhouse of creativity today.
Entry level: the numbers
The UK is the fifth largest video game market in the world in terms of consumer revenues of £5.1bn. It is also one of the top five video game producing countries in the world. The UK games industry consists of 2,261 companies employing more than 47,000 people. And some 70 per cent of those companies were started after 2010. The best summary of the landscape of the UK games industry is here and a rather groovy map here.
Home of the hits
Just in case you had not been aware, the monster event in 2018 has been the launch of Red Dead Redemption 2. The critically acclaimed best-seller is, er, pretty British, as it's made by Rockstar North - the Edinburgh operation that was also behind Grand Theft Auto. Read this good article about the development of the game and the people behind it.
Not playing around
Computer games is a high growth, high-impact sector. It’s also a serious export business. Pretty much all of UK games developers export at least some of their products; on average, 45 per cent of turnover is generated from international sales. "Our ambition is to invest more and increase the number of studios and employees so that it’s contributing £2.3bn a year to GDP by 2022,” says Richard Wilson, head of The Independent Games Developers Association (TIGA) in this article.
More than 33m people in the UK play games - and (gender balance alert) half of them are women. We are also set to spend more on video games than on books (although convergence between book publishers and games developers is happening, with games companies exhibiting at book fairs and novels being made into games.)
Entry level history
Britain has a long and illustrious history in this area. One of the first computer games, Nim, was unveiled at the Festival of Britain in 1952. Using a panel of lights for its display, this was the very first example of a digital computer designed specifically to play a game.
Since then, many of the most famous games and the industry’s biggest franchises have been developed in Britain - from Lemmings to Grand Theft Auto and Tomb Raider, from Candy Crush to Monument Valley to Football Manager. Of the top 100 games (by gross revenue) on the digital distribution Steam platform in 2018, 15 per cent were made (in whole or in part) in Britain. Companies such as Creative Assembly and Frontier should take a bow.
Britain and the art of tinkering
In many respects, the UK is the birthplace of the computer games industry. British teenagers started experimenting with home computers - such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro - in their bedrooms in the 1980s.
As these computers got more powerful, so the new formats got more intriguing. Just one example: it was British video games pioneer Peter Molyneux who devised Populous - the first ever ‘god’ game, in which players took on the power and responsibility of a deity, making moral choices to shape landscapes, inflict disasters and gain civilian followers. Populous sold over four million copies and created a genre that would later include global phenomena such as The Sims. For those of you who are old enough, enjoy the memory in the video below.
Diverse, humorous, eclectic, British games have evolved a particular style that has a global appeal. Homebrew enthusiasts + creative freedom + emerging technology = a particularly British recipe. (The same is also true of Formula 1.)
National energy levels high
This is an industry which is genuinely national. Dundee was where Grand Theft Auto, one of the world’s most successful computer game franchises, was originally developed and the city remains a centre of the UK games sector. Guildford is another pivotal place - its immediate vicinity is home to 70 developers and publishers and has published more than 4,000 games. Brighton, Cambridge, Leeds, Leamington Spa and Middlesbrough are all centres of games talent. The new British Games Institute, meanwhile, is based in Nottingham while the new National Videogame Museum is in Sheffield. This is not an industry that dances to London’s tune.
"The UK has a formidable reputation for delivering original, outstanding and unique games titles" - Lord David Puttnam
Kerching! Win tax reliefs
After some years of being behind other nations, the implementation of Video Games Tax Relief (VGTR) has been hailed as a positive move. This allows studios to claim a cash repayment or tax relief on money spent on designing, producing and testing a video game - of 20 per cent of qualifying spend in the UK or the European Economic Area.
Let's play Brexit
The games industry really, really, really does not like Brexit. This is mainly down to fears about international talent not being able to come here. EU nationals comprise one-third of the UK games industry’s workforce. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Brexit has a video game. Panic Barn has created Not Tonight, which takes place in a post-Brexit dystopia in which the xenophobic Britain Alone party is in power. To allay their fears, the government will need to get out those visas, and big up the tax credits.
"The global games business is huge, and British games talent is world class." - David Lau-Kee, London Venture Partners