For a small island, we’re pretty good at churning out bestsellers. The UK gaming industry generates £4.5 million a day and employs more than 19,000 people. Credits including Tomb Raider, Little Big Planet, Runescape, Monument Valley and Batman: Arkham Knight have put Britain on the world map.
Take Grand Theft Auto V, which grossed £65 million internationally within three days of its launch. It was built by Scottish (and a few other European) developers in Edinburgh.
Is the rubbish weather to blame? Or a rich history of interesting characters to draw inspiration from?
“We are the birthplace of the industry, and we are the most creative set of nations in the world,” enthuses Dr Jo Twist, who leads the UK gaming industry’s trade body.
The UK’s success shouldn’t be so surprising, Twist adds. “There are 2,000 gaming businesses across the UK and we boast leading names in art, design, coding and programming too.”
Dr Jo Twist is the UK Gaming trade body chief
Despite this, the industry is in need of a facelift. This multi-million boost will go a long way to get gaming devs a step on the ladder, but the UK is still missing a trick if it wants to create a sustainable gaming industry.
“Access to finance is still a problem, particularly for small studios, who struggle to balance work for hire and creating their own intellectual property,” Twist says.
Simply walking into a bank and asking for a loan to produce your next game isn’t the easiest of tasks,even though it is a business proposition like any other.
Now indy developers and businesses can get a grant of up to £25,000 to create a working prototype. There’s also £50,000 up for grabs for projects that get beyond the prototype phase, thanks to the fund announced last week.
The funding will help but the reputation around gaming needs to change.
Start 'em young
If the industry wants recognition as the economically and culturally significant powerhouse it is - it needs to promote itself in the classroom.
“There is a long way to go until we fill the skills gap from the primary school age we need to target,” says Twist.
“We need a generation of polymaths - those who understand the fundamentals of computational thinking, and those who take arts and creativity as an essential part of their education.”
The girl problem
Women made up 6 percent of game developers last year. But fifty percent of all UK gamers are female. “Inspire children with different role models and different faces. We need to think deeply about what diversity means - not just as a cultural imperative - but an economic necessity,” says Twist.
Grand Theft Auto advertisements were 'sexed up' Flickr/Litherland
The gaming industry seems a particularly hostile environment for any woman thanks to archetypical feminine portrayals and battering of any female gamer’s persona - enter ‘Gamergate’.
A shift in marketing may help include more women in the workforce. Tomb Raider - one of the best selling video-game franchises of all time - was developed by Essex born Toby Gard. As it was preparing to hit shelves, Derby-based Core Design tried to convince Gard to put a naked Croft in as an easter egg. He refused, and later said “it was never the intention to create some kind of ‘Page 3’ girl to star in Tomb Raider’. That said, Core Design undoubtedly manipulated Croft’s femininity to appeal to its male target audience.
Other countries are hot on the UK’s heels. Mobile games are going to explode by 2017, but China is one of the biggest mobile markets. It’s not all bad news though.
“They are looking to Europe for our creativity and our heritage in games. Their industry is thriving but less than ten years old.”
Emerging markets like Brazil and India are other countries to keep an eye on too, Twist adds.
How do I develop a game? I want to be a gaming pro: What’s the next step?
It’s pretty simple. “Make a game,” says Twist.
“The best experience that you can give yourself in the process of becoming a game developer is to practice the craft.
“Remember it took Rovio over 50 attempts to hit gold.
“Find some people with skills that complement your own and begin making something, anything. Familiarise yourself with the diversity of business models that are out there, know who your potential players are, and speak to them. Go to conferences, follow and talk to interesting people on Twitter, and go to meetups.
“Never stop networking and being curious, take inspiration from what surrounds you, what you observe. “Get your head around what it means to start a business, or find someone who can.”
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