Features// The Video Games Industry and The Government

Posted 27 Jan 2012 17:04 by
Introduction, by the Editor
Andy Payne is a well known and highly respected figure in the UK games industry. He won’t mind me saying that he has been for quite some time. His ‘day job’ is with Mastertronic. However, his recent OBE for services to the industry was also awarded for his work with organisations such as BAFTA, Get Games, UKIE and GamesAid.

Basically, when it comes to the UK’s video games industry, Andy is at its heart and soul. Andy’s been heavily involved both behind the scenes and very much up front in lobbying of government to give video games their due both in terms of industrial muscle and as the modern cultural force that they are.

So, when I – a cynical games journalist – heard that the Conservative/Liberal coalition government was supporting the idea of games in schools via ICT education I turned to Andy for comment. I asked, "I wonder if you would be able to lay out exactly how you - as someone at the coalface - see the brave new educational landscape fruiting and, more importantly, how was the change achieved?”

Here’s what I – and in fact anybody who supports the UK industry – got in response:

Andy Payne
Andy Payne
The Case for Transformational Change
By Andy Payne, OBE

Tim, when you asked me if the UK Government was serious about the changes in the curriculum with specific reference to ICT and computing, I detected an air of cynicism in your voice. Rest easy, it takes one to know one in my book! I think it would be helpful for us to start at the beginning of this journey, which really has only just started, even though some of us have been working on the whole skills and education issue for eighteen months.

Real Skills
From my perspective I have to stay that I am neither a teacher nor a computer science graduate, but from my experience in the video games industry, you need real computer skills. However, it has been – and it continues to be - hard to recruit those people with the right skills in the UK.

Computing used to be taught in schools in the 1980s with the BBC Micro. In homes, enthusiastic young people would teach themselves with the Sinclair Spectrum. Somewhere in the mid 90’s schools moved away from teaching children to create and just taught ‘use’. In my view this was a massive mistake, not the fault of the teachers, but the fault of Government.

The computer and video games industry has engaged with the UK Government for at least ten years and has done this primarily via the two trade associations: UKIE and TIGA.

In broad terms, both associations have focused on health and wellbeing issues such as age ratings for games; and fiscal support for game makers in line with other creative industries, most notably the film industry. It is fair to say that on both initiatives success has been gained through sheer hard work, a joined up approach and most importantly gathering of evidence to support the cases.

The tax breaks that were granted in February 2010 were snatched back as part of the Coalition Government’s deficit reduction. We all felt this was very harsh and a massive blow to the UK computer and video games industry. It is far too simplistic to say that there have only been two campaigns on behalf of the industry, but you get the picture.

To get a government to listen and engage is the easier part, to get a government to take action as a result of one’s arguments is somewhat more challenging. After the tax break blows announced on the 20th of June 2010, we needed a fresh approach. Clearly the Government had decided that our industry did not warrant special attention, indeed we may even have suffered a slight credibility gap given that we do not employ hundreds of thousands of workers right now.

So, when Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Media and the Creative Industries approached Ian Livingstone (games industry legend and life president of Eidos) and Alex Hope (Managing Director of Double Negative a world leading VFX company based in London), to prepare a report for the Government about the skills and education needed for both industries, some cynics saw this as a diversionary tactic.

NESTA and Next Gen
NESTA and Next Gen
Beating Negativity
Despite all of this, it was obvious that for Government to take our industry seriously, we needed to have a very joined up approach. Yes, we needed and still need some short term fiscal support for our studios in order to nurture and grow, given that other countries, most notably Canada, have pursued a policy of attracting inward investment via tax breaks or production credits. But, we also needed to create the right environment for the industry to work more closely with Higher and Further education and join that up with Secondary and even Primary education.

In other words we needed to identify and scope a talent pipeline. The report went under the working title of ‘Livingstone Hope Review’ but quickly became branded ‘Next Gen Skills’ and set out to transform the UK into the leading talent hub for video games and the VFX industries.

So, in July 2010, about 40 of us gathered at the offices of NESTA (National Endowment for Science Technology and Art) who had agreed to undertake the research and we had our initial meeting with Ed Vaizey and his team.
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