Don’t pause, support the games industry

Scotland, the country that gave the world the Grand Theft Auto series and Minecraft on console. We have 147 game development companies, with over 2000 people employed in the industry. There’s no doubt, over the past few years the gaming industry has grown exponentially. Recent industry-led reports have even shown that Scotland is growing faster than the rest of the UK.

As a Games Designer and having worked in the industry the past few years, I’m worried about what the future may hold for our games. The video games industry in Scotland and the United Kingdom face massive funding shortages since leaving the European Union. A shortfall that is yet to be adequately addressed.

In May, the European Games Developer Federation (EGDF) announced record-breaking levels of funding support from Creative Europe, a scheme that the United Kingdom is no longer a part of thanks to the calamity that has been Brexit. This announcement also detailed plans for the MediaInvest fund, a scheme that will provide vital support to new startup companies in the industry – a possible vital lifeline in helping these new companies to survive.

Whilst it’s welcome news from a Scottish perspective that Kate Forbes, Finance & Economy Cabinet Secretary, will invest £45m into 300 “high-quality” tech startups, there’s no clarity on how and if this will even reach the aspiring video games industry. The plan also mentions establishment of 5 ‘scaler hubs’ to support this scheme and improve access to “ensure new and existing tech innovators have access to high quality commercial education”. Being a ‘tech’ company could mean a great many things. So what funding support is there to plug the massive hole of possibilities left by Britain leaving the EU? There is the much smaller UK Games Fund, which allows grants of up to £25,000 per company (barely enough to cover the yearly salary of one full-time employee). In the last round of funding, 21 companies were given funding by this grant – only 3 were from Scotland.

£25,000 a year in a possible grant. Enough for one full-time employee. How will that sustain a new startup? Games can take years to make from the initial concept.

New projects and startups are vital to growing the industry, and are incredibly common among groups of students coming fresh out of university. The initial starting phases of any company are so important to their long-term success, in video games, this could not be more true. This is largely because, unless there are wealthy publishers backing a budding young start-up, a new games’ company doesn’t have a product to sell until they are ready to ship their game. So much can go wrong from the initial concept to the final design and implementation of a game. Only by supporting ambitious young start-ups at this phase, will we see the industry fully thrive to its biggest possible potential.

Regardless of opinions on further devolution of powers to the Scottish Government, this is why the report from the Gordon Brown think tank, Our Scottish Future, is right to have pointed out that both the UK and Scottish governments need to do more to help the gaming industry thrive.

Where the report is wrong though, is that Scottish companies are not fully dependent on the developing of the UK networks in order to survive. It mentioned that the Scottish Government should further support the Scottish Games Network – yes, absolutely, 100%. However, video games companies in the United Kingdom are facing a much more globalised market. Games don’t just sell by a disc in a local store anymore. They’re bought on platforms all over the world, on mobile phones, consoles and computers. That’s why supporting and growing our local Scottish network of developers is absolutely critical to seeing the Scottish games market grow. By developing the network locally, the subsequent UK and even European-wide communities will benefit.

There is absolutely no doubt, the COVID pandemic has seen growth and increased revenues in gaming. Even the World Health Organisation recommend using video games during lockdown by supporting the #PlayApartTogether initiative (a ‘Far Cry’ from previously designating video game addiction as an official mental health disorder). As our time at home increased as a result of safety measures, so did the number of people playing games to record levels. The danger now is that the same companies that managed to find success in difficult circumstances, struggle and fail as a result of measures now lifting and game-time reducing among the population. It’s for this reason, both governments must look to promote and support a strengthening industry. Otherwise, the state of play may not look so promising in the years to come. By targeting small startups and developing local networks, the games industry will play on, and not be paused in the future.

* Neil Alexander is a Scottish Liberal Democrat Executive Member. He is a former GCU and University of Greenwich graduate, currently studying part-time for a PhD in Sports Science (Rugby) and Video Game Design - whilst working full time as a Game Designer in Elgin.

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  • Simon McGrath 10th Jun '22 - 3:23pm

    Is there any reason why this hugely successful British industry needs money from taxpayers ? Or that civil servants are likely to make better decisions about which start ups to invest in than private investors ?

  • Brad Barrows 10th Jun '22 - 5:07pm

    “Regardless of opinions on further devolution of powers to the Scottish Government…”
    I trust there are no differences of opinion within Liberal Democrat ranks. Though the party may be Unionist and therefore opposes the transfer of political sovereignty to the country, the Party is also Federalist and should support significantly enhancing devolved powers by reducing the number and scope of Reserved Matters. It would be a matter of concern to me if there were Liberal Democrats who opposed this.

  • @Simon McGrath “Is there any reason why this hugely successful British industry needs money from taxpayers ?”

    Like much of UK industry, the problems are more about the double whammy of Brexit: UK companies no longer benefit from EU-wide funding, whilst businesses within the EU continue to benefit. Thus what we see here is not only a much smaller UK only funding pot but that potential competitors within the EU will be receiving better funding, which previously could have gone to UK-based companies.

    This double whammy on funding and competition, was obvious consequence of Brexit, but Brexiteers were blind in their taking back control and sun-lit uplands obsession… Naturally, now UK companies are missing out on EU funding, is, to these Brexiteers, the EU punishing the UK…

  • Brad, The Lib Dems believe in devolution where the *right* amount of powers are devolved. That is a function of the appropriateness of some powers to be devolved, but also the ability of the devolved area to manage them appropriately and the cost of doing so (compared with the benefit).

    Covid highlighted many problems with devolution – e.g. At one stage Wales would have liked to tighten its rules on those coming in from abroad, but decided it was not worth doing because most people coming to Wales from abroad flew into an English Airport and then drove to Wales. The only way to make it work was to impose a border between Wales and England (a total impossibility).

    I am not judging whether the Welsh or the English government were right or wrong or whether they were both right for their own patch. However, the view that more devolution is automatically better is at best a blinkered one.

    So I do support devolution. However I also oppose ill thought out devolution, and too often much of it is quite simply not thought out at all.

  • Brad Barrows 10th Jun '22 - 11:35pm

    @David Evans
    The Liberal Democrat constitution commits the Party “to the promotion of a democratic federal framework within which as much power as feasible is exercised by the nations and regions of the United Kingdom”.
    I believe my original post – calling for us all to support enhancing devolved powers by reducing the number and scope of Reserved Matters – is entirely consistent with what is set out in the Liberal Democrat constitution.

  • Indeed Brad, but my post pointed out how feasibility has to depend on the possibility of success and ultimately in that fundamental objective of building and safeguarding a fair, free and open society we all aspire to. In that regard, the extent to which the success of an aspect of devolution to deliver that objective depends on other aspects is key, and might mean something that is technically feasible to be devolved, should in fact not be devolved because to deliver it would be counterproductive and actually undermine that fair, free and open society.

    As my example of Covid clearly showed, the theoretical devolution of all health matters to Wales was in that part useless in preventing new variants of Covid getting into Wales from abroad because of the open border between England and Wales. The controls at the border to make Wales fully safe from that risk would, as I am sure you realise, totally undermine freedom of movement.

    I suggest you do not rely on solely on a one part of the constitution in order to justify a stance you support, but instead look at the whole picture, including the specific part which says “where we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community …”

    Balance accepts the fact that there is not a list of perfect absolutes but instead a whole mass of compromises which are an essential part of a Lib Dems armoury, and these can only be a matter of judgement.

  • One further thought.

    A long time ago, the people of Eyam made a local decision to protect others by preventing people from entering and leaving their community until the plague with its 30%+ fatality rate (iirc) had passed. With that death rate you can make a case for that balance of judgement being right. It is pretty close to the view New Zealand took, except NZ were keeping Covid out. The one thing it all shows is that absolutes are dangerous, even when we would all like imagine there are lots of good liberal absolutes. There aren’t.

    Being a Liberal is tough. You have to think very, very hard. It really is much more demanding than just saying X is right.

  • Neil Alexander 15th Jun '22 - 12:21pm

    @Simon McGrath
    In my article I’ve spelt out the real concerns I’d have without public sector support to a very important Scottish & UK industry – Covid presented a massive boom era for the games industry, mitigating the instant impact of Brexit and losing support such as the funds from Creative Europe. My concern is that in the cycle of game development now, as the industry doesn’t have a ‘captive audience’ with lockdowns, there may not be the same player-based support. Creative Europe funding is a great example of supporting smaller companies particularly young startups, and I would like to see this replicated further at a UK level. On the civil servants part, I think it would make sense to work with local networks and industry experts so to ascertain where funding should go.

    @Brad & David
    Whilst not the central point of my piece – I think federalism, local and devolved powers are a very important debate right now. This is especially since Sturgeon has announced plans to hold IndyRef2. I might look to do another article on this!

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