Many people don’t take video games seriously, not least the government. But the industry employs thousands in Britain...
Maybe it’s an older generational thing, but the British video games industry has never been taken as seriously as it should be by those outside the industry. As the industry’s trade association, TIGA, points out, the global market for video games will grow from $52 billion in 2009 to $86 billion in 2014.
Britain’s video games industry is the largest in Europe. It boasts highly skilled workers and some of the most advanced studios globally that have developed some of the fastest selling entertainment products of all time.
The industry employs 9,000 skilled development staff, including software developers, game developers, designers, artists, programmers, testers and producers, 85 per cent of whom are employed outside of London.
Photo: Patricia Malina/Shutterstock.com
Graduates predominate: 80 per cent of the workforce in game studios such as Blitz, Climax, Exient, Jagex, Kuju Entertainment, Rebellion and Ubisoft Reflections are qualified to degree level or above. British game developers spend an average of 20 per cent of turnover on research and development. Modern personal computers owe many advances to the industry, including sound cards, graphics cards and 3D graphic accelerators, CD ROM, and DVD ROM drives.
Although the hardware such as consoles and the DVDs are mainly produced in Japan or China, it’s the games development side that features in Britain and employs the most highly skilled and talented workers. The British games industry grew by 23 per cent during the last 3 years and is expected to grow by 8.2 per cent each year to 2015.
There is a more serious side to games technology. Studios such as Blitz also use the technology to produce training “games” such as Patient Rescue, Triage Trainer and Interactive Trauma Trainer. The technology can be adapted to produce anything from logistics “games” to military war games options.
So with this business success story, what’s the problem? Firstly the British government fails to support the industry in the same way that competitor countries do. For example, a games development studio in Canada will receive the equivalent of 23 per cent of its turnover in the form of tax relief, and a similar situation exists in the USA. As a consequence, US and Canadian studios pay higher wages and poach highly skilled and sought-after British workers.
Abroad for work
Between 2008 and 2011, the British workforce shrank by 10 per cent, of whom 41 per cent went abroad to work including many senior and uniquely skilled workers. Many of these are difficult to replace.
The second issue is that the industry is simply not unionised; there is nobody to speak for workers in the industry. No British union has even attempted to organise this workforce and consequently many of them are on individually agreed contracts. In contrast film industry unions in the USA have broken into the games development industry.
The issue of pay and conditions is two-edged. On the one hand the industry through TIGA lobbies the government for tax relief so they can retain staff. They argue that this is potentially a growth area and just the sort of industry that the government should be supporting in a recession. On the other hand, because nobody in the industry is a trade union member, there is no organisation to press the employers to increase salaries at the expense of profit.
Britain needs this industry for the skills and innovation it creates if we are to lead a high-tech industrial revolution. For that reason we want to see the government support it. But we also need this industry to be unionised. Most non-union workers when asked why they are not in a trade union, respond that nobody ever asked them. That’s standard business for union recruiters; entertainment union BECTU needs to plan a recruitment campaign for this industry. ■