TIGA is 10: Looking Back
Jason Kingsley and Philip Oliver on the evolution of the organisation
Blitz Games is one of Europe’s leading independent video game developers and has won numerous awards...
To continue our celebration of UK trade association TIGA's tenth birthday we have a double-header of interviews, starting with a look back at the origins of the organisation.
Both Jason Kingsley, CEO of Rebellion, and Philip Oliver, CEO of Blitz, were two of the founding members of TIGA, and here they look back at the challenges of the past ten years.
Q: First of all, where did the name "TIGA" come from?
Philip Oliver: I do actually remember that conversation - it was at Osborne-Clark, and there must have been about 12 developers there. By this time, this wasn't the very beginning, but at that table TIGA was going to happen. [Original CEO] Fred Hasson was in the room and we just needed a name, so we were basically working out what letters we had to play with.
We had Trade and Association - so that's T and A. We had Games, giving us G and Independent was I... we were basically throwing those around trying to make words. I think it was Jez San [founder of Argonaut Software] who said we were so close to "tiger" but not quite.
I said: "Tigers are cool, tigers are good... can we spell it differently?"
Q: So before that, what were the origins of the idea for a trade association of independent developers?
Jason Kingsley: As far as I remember, there were all these different meetings. There was one in Tokyo, one in Los Angeles, and the developers would informally get together and have a chat once a year, in foreign places. I think the outcome was that we'd either keep doing it forever on an informal basis, or how about we set up a proper organisation that we all pay towards and they can represent the industry - rather than any one organisation.
Philip Oliver: One of the first dinners that was organised was down in London by Angela Sutherland, who was running Teeny Weeny Games. That was the first time I got invited, with Andrew - and was probably the first time we were introduced to people like Chris and Jason. Peter Zetterberg was there too - there were probably about 20 people in the room. It was in a restaurant, pay-your-own-way.
But after that I just remember that at every trade event we all, through phone calls or emails, decided to catch up for another dinner. That happened for about three years - a drink, a beer, dinner, and so on.
Q: But at that point nobody was looking after the interests of developers in the UK?
Jason Kingsley: There was ELSPA doing their publishers' thing, which was more to do with box-shifting and retail, and those issues. They just ignored the development community in its entirety. There weren't that many big, independent developers as such, either.
The big independent developers were starting to grow and gain professionalism - it was a lot of the bedroom shops that had transformed themselves into sophisticated business... but we hadn't yet got a trade association, so it really came out of that.
Philip Oliver: Also, issues about best practices, the government, what the overall public opinion of games were and so on really weren't the issue for those bedroom coders, just struggling to employ your fifth member of staff. Those issues are well out of your sphere of caring.
Q: So what were the main issues for those developers back then?
Philip Oliver: What we'd generally talk about at those meals were what formats were coming through, and what publishers were coming through - and which of both were dying - plus where the sweet spot was that you wanted to be heading towards.
Jason Kingsley: Yes - and what sort of projects publishers wanted to do, and where to pitch things. It was general chat that was mutually supportive. What TIGA does, while it gets a lot of publicity about tax breaks, there's a tonne of other stuff that the organisation does that probably isn't as heavily promoted because it's under the radar - like best practice, skills and training, how to get into the industry, and all these kinds of things.
Philip Oliver: One interesting thing was that publishers were always a bit worried that secrets would be traded at these dinners - and then if we had a trade association. The funny thing is that there's an enormous amount of respect and secrecy at the same time, when we all get together.
So we'll talk generally about the publishing community, and generally about deals - but usually without specifics. We won't mention titles, royalty rates or money - that never comes up. And we don't mention names.
We might mention that we've been having some success with Hasbro, that they seem like really decent guys. Or that we've not been having success with Publisher X, where we seem to be wasting our time. Those conversations would happen... but we'd never say "We managed to screw a 25 per cent royalty deal out of this particular guy," because that's the kind of trading information you don't want to give to other developers.
Publishers were always frightened that we were probably doing that - but actually we weren't. And we still don't, to this day. We never talk about what games we're pitching - and it's only when games are well through development, and probably even announced, that we'll mention them.
We're good friends with Chris and Jason, and even when they've been to our offices and vice versa, quite often we don't talk about what's in development. We might occasionally get a hint of what's going on, and we might get a hint of what they're doing, but actually we don't quiz each other - that would be seen as rude.
Jason Kingsley: Absolutely - there are a lot of secrets we still keep from each other!
Q: What were some of the interesting early achievements for TIGA?
Jason Kingsley: Well, getting developers to agree on anything in terms of policy, what we should be focusing on... we actually ended up getting the ear of legislators who wanted to talk to the development community as a whole, rather than individuals - or rather to companies that are foreign-owned and don't necessarily pay tax in the UK.
That's been very useful, and enlightening for me - to have been to Parliament to speak with politicians, and actually have some fairly clear and frank discussions with them about things that matter to the industry as a whole.
Philip Oliver: One of the first jobs that I had at TIGA - because at one of the first or second meetings, each person was allocated an area of responsibility - was to do with education. I had to find out whether TIGA should represent education, and was there anything that could be resolved.
I called a meeting - an email or press story went out - and we managed to get about 25 or 30 people interested, most of whom were lecturers at universities and turned up at the first meeting. That was quite an eye-opener, because originally nobody thought that would be something that would be of interest at all. One of the people that turned up was from an organisation called Skillset...
Q: Obviously a lot's changed since those early days - how has TIGA evolved to meet the new challenges?
Jason Kingsley: We've grown, for a start. We're significantly larger than we were originally, and I think we're more representative as a result of having a variety of different scales of company. As chair I've always been very aware that Rebellion is one of the larger independent games developers, and while we speak with a loud voice, the organisation is there to represent all games development companies - not just mine.
I've almost been in the situation of outvoting myself in the past, because something would benefit the bigger companies and not necessarily the smaller ones. We have to think of the health of the industry as a whole, so having more people get more involved has been a great thing.
Philip Oliver: One of the reasons why we, as the big companies, can look out for the small guys is because that was us not so long ago. We very much see through their eyes - the one-man bedroom coders, the guys that are just starting up, the guys who are ten people, or fifty or bigger.
Around that TIGA board table, pretty much everyone has done all that - and don't take that for granted. If you go to UKIE or any other trade association, the people that turn up at the table have usually popped up at that company a couple of years ago and they haven't been doing that type of thing their whole lives. They probably don't know the history, or grown up with it - because those industries are established.
Somebody who turns up from Ford, or something - he doesn't know what it was like when Ford was small... he wasn't alive! So how can he really say he understands the little guys, even if he's been there for 20 years?
Q: Seeing as you mention UKIE... there's been a fair degree of politics between TIGA and UKIE/ELSPA through the years. Has that been a barrier to progress, or has it actually been a useful point of difference?
Jason Kingsley: I think 99 per cent of policy issues we completely agree on. Don't forget that UKIE is almost exclusively foreign-owned multi-national publishers for whom the UK is part of their business - but a number of companies have set their headquarters up outside the UK for tax reasons. They're perfectly entitled to do that, because they're multi-national corporations.
I employ a lot of people in the UK, pay UK tax and I'm a UK company - so I suppose I can be a bit more parochial in thinking about the UK and how it affects my business. TIGA doesn't really worry about retail as such, and I know that's an area for UKIE - but it's an increasing concern for them because it's arguably a declining sector, so that's an interesting transition for them.
They've been more about piracy and box-shifting really, and never really thought about development because it wasn't on their remit - but there's not much tension at all. I think there's a certain amount of tension from UKIE's perspective - I think the people they represent are shifting. There aren't that many UK publishers at all, if any, and I think they're interested in helping out developers... but unfortunately for them we already have our own organisation.
Philip Oliver: What I would say that is in the early days, before TIGA, they had the opportunity to embrace developers - but they had a very, very poor attitude towards us. They were there, as a trade association representing the industry - and quite frankly, they looked down their noses at the guys actually creating the product that their members were selling.
They had that opportunity back then; when TIGA was in its infancy, they had the opportunity to get their act together and be respectful to the creators - but they chose not to do anything. So it was only when TIGA was actually a significant force, getting significant attention, that they decided that they missed a piece of the market and wondered if they should change their remit. Well, it's a bit late now.
Q: What do you think the most significant achievement for TIGA has been in the past ten years?
Jason Kingsley: I would say starting... actually coming together as an organisation and keeping on going - maintaining momentum and helping its members. We've got the value for money component - it costs a certain amount to become a member, but you get an awful lot of that back as far as I'm concerned.
Philip Oliver: I'd say that the government links, and getting them to understand the games industry - and getting them on board. Because traditionally they've not really embraced the industry, but now they understand it - and 98 per cent of them are really positive... at least verbally.
That's pretty significant, and I wouldn't have predicted ten years ago that we could have made such an impact; that we'd be in and out of Whitehall and other government buildings. We've had dinners at the Houses of Parliament, we've got lots of representative MPs signed up to the All Party Group - we're really thick as thieves now with a lot of MPs, which I just wouldn't have predicted.
Q: Will TIGA still be around in ten years' time?
Jason Kingsley: If I've got anything to do with it, yes.
Philip Oliver: It's actually healthier now than it's ever been - there have been times over the years where its future has looked a little bit precarious, but I'd say it's probably at its strongest right now, and gathering momentum.
Jason Kingsley is CEO of Rebellion and Philip Oliver is CEO of Blitz. Both are TIGA board members. Interview by Phil Elliott.