Just five years ago David Costello, co-founder of Warwick-based Pixel Blast, was amongst those who recognised that the UK gaming industry was a sinking ship and in complete “dire straits”. There was huge cost cutting and studio closures left, right and centre but just a few years down the line, the UK video game market boasts an entirely different narrative. However, there is more work to be done and more obstacles to jump over if this positive momentum is to continue.
A whole new world
Last year the gaming industry was worth an excess of £3.9billion, which was a substantial 13% increase on 2013’s statistics. Almost a quarter of today’s UK-based gaming businesses were formed within the past four years and a whopping 95% of these are small to medium-sized enterprises. This means that in a continuously expanding and extremely loud marketplace, micro-businesses have a massive part to play.
Leading platform Unity is cited as playing one of the main roles in the pivotal turnaround. The company revolutionised the structure of industry and opened up whole new worlds of opportunities for small business entrepreneurs looking to embark on their own video game ventures. Costello champions the new possibilities for SMEs and how now you can “do your own thing with a small team and essentially release your own product or game on the App store or Google store in a democratic way.”
He added: “You don’t need a team of 50 or 60 people now, you can do it with a team of five or six.”
Mobile gaming is also considered to be one of the most instrumental factors in the gaming industry’s transformation from rags to riches. The rise of modern technology and universal access to advanced mobile devices and laptops means that the video game industry is becoming busier by the day. More and more users are creating their own games and hedging their bets on the bustling virtual market, which some may see as a new obstacle in a once less saturated marketplace.
Traditional funding needed
CEO of UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie), Jo Twist also acknowledges the 25% tax relief on production costs that video game companies can achieve as boosting the flourishing industry, as well as the inclusion of computer science on educational curriculums. However, she is keen to also highlight some factors that are the building blocks forming an obstructive wall that gaming businesses now need to overcome if growth is to continue.
Twist picks up on the fact that traditional funders just can’t get on board with the idea that games can hold substantial economic weight. Conventional thinkers don’t appreciate the opportunities that the video game industry has to offer, which means access to finance is subsequently becoming a big problem for gaming entrepreneurs. Twist advises that “we need to open people’s eyes to the talent that exists here and the investment opportunities that the UK’s game scene presents.”
Although the number of angel investors, venture capitalists and game publishers funding the games industry is growing, crowdfunding has fast becoming a popular method of generating finance in the absence of traditional support. Playtonic Games generated their target £17,000 in just 40 minutes for its new gaming concept, Yooka Laylee through taking the crowdfunding route.
Mind the skills gap
Mark Horneff is the managing director of Kuato Studios, which creates educational learning games for young children and he is particularly wary of the growing skills gap in the sector. Although the inclusion of computer science in school curriculums has gone a long way towards addressing the educational gap in this sector, Horneff is now urging the government to better this by bridging a teacher skills gap.
He believes that teachers don’t often have the necessary extensive knowledge to equip young people with the specialised tools they need when heading out into the highly competitive marketplace. Research predicts that by 2017, there will be around 750,000 computer science jobs to be filled and not enough professionals to snap them up. Last year there were only 50,000 graduates in computer science but people like Horneff believe this could drastically increase if more focus was now shifted onto the teachers rather than the students.