Games for life

By Richard Wilson on April 25th, 2012

After the introduction of tax breaks in 1997, the UK film industry experienced a massive 30 per cent increase in its workforce. That equates to about 10,000 new jobs. In March 2012, Chancellor George Osborne adopted TIGA’s (The Independent Game Developer Association’s) key policy proposal, the introduction of similar tax relief for the UK games industry. Can we expect the games industry to replicate the levels of growth seen in the film industry? Do we have the depth of skills to cope with such growth?

The Budget was great news for the games industry. It was the culmination of four years of tenacious campaigning by TIGA and its members to achieve parity with countries such as the USA, Canada, and France and also other industries within the UK itself. Yet this is only a first step on the road to success. The UK games industry has been in decline since 2008 with 10 per cent of jobs lost. We now need to reverse the trend, but how do we grow a sustainable UK games development and digital publishing industry? How do we keep our top developers and train a new generation?

The promise of tax breaks is already encouraging developers to stay in the UK and expand their studios. The recent announcement by Codemasters regarding the creation of 125 jobs at studios in Warwickshire and Birmingham is an encouraging sign. TIGA is confident that Games Tax Relief has the potential to completely transform the fortunes of the UK games industry.

Now, armed with tax breaks, increased private investment and encouraged by the growing ease at which developers can self-publish, we anticipate that around 4,660 highly-skilled jobs could be secured over five years as a result of Games Tax Relief, together with a rise in the number of start-up studios. Yet how do new, small studios that have never experienced large scale growth cope with the demands of an industry in the ascendancy?

Skills shortages are a serious challenge. Of the 1,000 jobs that have been lost due to studio closures and downsizing in the last few years, 41 per cent of those developers have relocated overseas. That is a huge loss of talent for any industry to absorb.

Demonstrating that the industry is now ready for investment and expansion is important if we ever want to lure back the swathes of seasoned developers who have left the UK. For this to happen we must as a first step give start-ups and small studios the tools and knowledge necessary to develop and retain loyal workforces in the UK. It is a potential minefield for new and existing employers, which is where TIGA can offer comprehensive guidance. That is why we have published the TIGA Best Practice Guide: Recruitment and Selection in the Games Industry.

Broadening the appeal

One way to attack the immediate skills shortage is to broaden the appeal of the games industry to untapped skills bases. Nurturing the next generation of games developers will be vital to the continuing success of the games industry and studios need to take a proactive approach to tap into that youthful enthusiasm. Building relationships with universities, colleges and training providers not only can provide promising students with valuable work experience and skills, but also acts as a stepping stone for studios to test and hire talented young developers.

From hiring the first employees of a studio to planning its rapid expansion, the recruitment process is littered with difficulties and complex legalities that threaten to thwart young companies. Many start-ups and small studios are simply inexperienced in coping with recruitment and even fewer have experience of developing businesses in an expectant industry climate.

We need studios to cultivate good relationships with their staff and create industry work environments in which career development, flexible working and equal opportunities are of the upmost importance. Enabling studios to hone their recruitment practices and encouraging them to embrace new avenues of talent acquisition will be essential if we are to combat the skills shortage and take full advantage of the tax breaks for which TIGA has fought so hard.

Advice on the best way to do this is on hand. Together, we can work towards building a sustainable games industry in the UK.