On the back of the recent Next Gen Skills Review, Michael Rawlinson, Director General of The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE) discusses next steps for the UK’s video games and interactive entertainment industry is to reach its full potential.
Video games are played by millions of people across the UK and now have a cultural reach and influence on a par with film, TV and music (just ask 10 million Angry Birds players). And as games become increasingly accepted culturally we are also increasingly seeing the influence of games stray outside the traditional consumer space; with gaming mechanics and techniques – using the key elements of fun and reward – bringing gaming to new disciplines and other industries such as advertising and TV.
Nowhere is this new approach more prevalent than amongst the thousands of small digital creative agencies that exist throughout the UK. Many of these agencies are involved in producing interactive entertainment: either by using games’ mechanics and technologies to sell products to new audiences or by producing cutting edge interactive entertainment products in their own right. They may not however define themselves as games companies as they may also be equally involved with producing video content, websites, digital animations or augmented reality products.
Many of these digital creative businesses can be found in the East End of London, around what David Cameron refers to as ‘Silicon Roundabout’. That’s why UKIE is partnering with this year’s Digital Shoreditch festival and hopes to establish collaborations between the traditional video games industry and the digital creative companies in and around Shoreditch.
I was lucky enough to witness another great example of games industry collaboration at the launch of games charity SpecialEffect’s new Accessible Video Games Centre – opened earlier this month by David Cameron. It was great to have David Cameron recognise the work that SpecialEffect does in helping disabled people to play video games and for him to also acknowledge the games industry’s commitment to social responsibility and the industry’s important role in promoting growth and economic recovery in the UK.
The government has tried to shift focus towards growth in the recent budget and UKIE was particularly pleased to see: increases to the R&D tax credit rate; the number of University Technical Colleges doubled to twenty four; and measures introduced to help businesses access finance, such as changes to the Enterprise Investment Scheme – all areas that UKIE has been actively lobbying government on.
However, there are other areas that need addressing if the UK’s video games and interactive entertainment industry is to reach its full potential.
The recent Hargreaves review of our intellectual property system was predicated on the incorrect belief that the UK’s IP system was stifling innovation and growth. Actually it’s quite the opposite, as our IP system already supports many varied business models and innovative uses of digital technology. You only have to look as far as the video games industry to see evidence of diverse intellectual property assets, being made legally available to consumers via free to play, web-based models, established boxed product retailers and the growing app market.
More emphasis on computer science in education
Far more of a risk to the growth of the video games industry and other high-tech sectors is the skills gap identified in the recent Livingstone Hope Skills review. The review highlighted that the current ICT curriculum’s focus on simply using existing software packages means that there is a generation of British children who lack the maths, physics and computer programming skills required to actually create the apps, games and digital technology that most of us already use every day.
To address this gap the Livingstone Hope review made twenty recommendations. Foremost amongst them is the call for computer science to be introduced onto the national curriculum.
This skills gap is a threat not just to the future of the video games industry but also to any business that has technology at its core, so anyone reading this who has a shared interest in giving children the chance to learn these vital skills please get in touch.
The interactive entertainment industry prides itself in taking responsibility for its own success and is already introducing initiatives to help address this lack of skills. A day after the government’s Plan for Growth was published, calling for the focus of STEMNET’s future recruitment of STEM Ambassadors to be on digital and creative industries, UKIE launched its Video Games Ambassadors scheme. Working with STEMNET, we want the Ambassadors to encourage students to study the key subjects that are required for a career in the video games industry.
We’ll be looking at how we can lead the way on many of the recommendations from the Plan for Growth over the coming months and look forward to collaborating with other industries to help achieve our shared goals.