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40 per cent of lost UK game jobs relocate overseas

Thu 19 Jan 2012 2:24pm GMT / 9:24am EST / 6:24am PST
Development

Canada the number one destination for developers who lost their jobs between 2009 and 2011

TIGA

TIGA is the trade association representing the UK’s games industry. The majority of our members are...

tiga.org

The "brain drain" of UK talent continues apace, with 41 per cent of all jobs lost in the UK game development sector between 2009 and 2011 relocated overseas.

According to a new survey of 75 per cent of the UK's games businesses - conducted by Games Investor Consulting - the largest share of those people moved to Canada, with USA the second most popular choice.

As part of the survey, former staff from Bizarre Creations, which was shuttered by Activision last year, suggested that as much as 35 per cent of its workforce left the UK, including the majority of its senior employees.

Overall, the UK games industry workforce declined by 10 per cent between 2008 and 2011. In that time, the game development sector's contribution to the UK's GDP has fallen by almost £250 million.

The full report, Making Games in the UK Today: A Census of the UK Developer and Digital Publishing Sector, will be published by TIGA later this month.

41 Comments

And in other news, on the BBC, Cameron is talking about building a better economy.

Keeping our export industries here would be a start.

Matthew, £250bn. I assume that's a typo?

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Matt Ham
Economic Designer

2 0 0.0
"Matthew, £250bn. I assume that's a typo? "

Given the UK GDP is about GBP 1600bn it indeed seems odd that 10% of the GDP contribution of the games industry amounts to GBP 250bn

As for the movement within the games industry, I would be interested to see the percentages of transfers in other IT based industries as a comparison. In addition I know a ton of folk in the UK industry who are not originally UK citizens, so it's not just a one-way affair. My point is not that this is a non-issue, but that taking figures out of any context of comparisons can make an issue sound much more like a disaster.

Says the UK citizen in Paris :)

Posted:2 years ago

#2

James Boulton
Tools & Tech Coder

120 143 1.2
I've been at a few studio closures over the years and you do find good talent moving away when a studio closes. Canada has been a prime destination for many, although it's certainly not the only destination.

The problem is that it tends to be the more experienced people who jump ship (in my experience anyway), so regardless of how the figures are massaged, I do tend to think we are losing the cream of the UK development industry to overseas companies at every closure.

Given the number of closures in the last 18 months, the thought of the number of thousands of man years experience which has left old blighty is quite staggering.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,716 598 0.3
If I go to LinkedIn search and type in Codemasters as the company and Canada as the country it comes up with a list of talented people who UKplc has paid to educate and who are now generating wealth in the Canadian economy.

I told Tom Watson this when his lot were in power and I have also told Ed Vaizey. You can see how effective giving them this knowledge has been.

Meanwhile the British taxpayer is forced to throw money at a film industry that largely makes vanity projects.

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

542 528 1.0
Fran, to be honest with you, now that i am abroad i am not sure i'd actually want to return to the UK games industry (though i do miss the UK from time to time).

This has nothing to do with salary actually, because from my experience in Scandinavia on 2 occassions my salary was/is equivalent. It's more to do with the quality of studios abroad compared to the UK studios. Work practices are better, there are very few overblown egos (at least from my experience) and people are not crunched to death without compensation.

The things i find worse in the UK than abroad are not things that any government in the UK could fix. A magical tax break would not all of a sudden translate to higher wages for talent, or allow companies to compensate overtime. I might might well be jaded and cynical, but i think any kind of tax breaks for UK studios would be either wasted away by overspending (YAY! we got more money to play with!) or end up in the pocket of some company big wigs.

There are a few VERY solid studios in the UK, some small independant, some larger ones as well. The problem is, because they are solid, they have low staff turn over. They also don't fall into the trap of growing massively and then getting rid of people again. So these studios can't take on all of the talent the UK has.

On the other hand there are several studios in the UK that have gone through an almost annual cycle of hiring and redundancies.

Is anyone really surprised that a lot of us (senior) people are happy to move thousands of miles away, rather than work for a studio that has either a crappy track record of games, or a crappy track record of hiring/redundancies?

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

542 528 1.0
@Bruce: Question here with your concrete example. Where do you lay the blame for Codemasters staff going to Canada? Are you saying that if there were tax breaks these people would have stayed in the UK?

Posted:2 years ago

#6
For the record, that £250 billion was indeed a typo. Thanks for pointing it out.

Posted:2 years ago

#7
Andreas, I hear you. And I'm not saying I can't see the attraction of areas like Canada - of course I can. Cheaper to live in many areas, better wages, property is cheaper. And poutine. Don't forget poutine.

I'm not saying it'd be easy to build the industry back up here, but it doesn't mean the government shouldn't try. The astronomical cost of living needs to come down, and that means the state needs to shrink, for a start.

But video games is exactly the kind of export orientated industry we should be encouraging here, and we shouldn't be afraid to spend money to do it.

@ Bruce. I'd disagree that a lot of films are vanity projects. But even if they are, they bring in a lot of money from overseas, and a lot of staff from there too. I personally know four Canadians in London (including my wife) working in tv or film, and lots more from many other countries - in many respects, it's Quebec in reverse.

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

542 528 1.0
@Fran: yeah sure cost of living is not the lowest in the UK, but as i said, my reasons for moving abroad had actually nothing at all to do with salary and cost of living. The UK is not that bad in this regard (cost of living in Scandinavia is actually higher from what i can tell).

The industry in the UK is currently rebuilding actually i think. There are a lot of small studios who are setting up, mostly founded by people who have had enough of the UK industry veterans and how they ran studios/companies.

Honestly, the biggest problem i have seen in the UK is simply that there are too many old veterans who might have made a good/respected/successfull game in the 90s and then proceeded to start their own studios and even publishing companies. And they still run a 100 people studio the same way they did a 10 people studio 20 years ago. Funnily enough, they also tend to be the ones shouting loudest for tax breaks :)

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,716 598 0.3
@Andreas
Without subsidies most of the Canadian jobs wouldn't have been there to go to.
And the people who went didn't do so for the weather.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

542 528 1.0
@Bruce No they did not go for the weather. They obviously went because they needed a job and they wanted to get paid decently for that job. But i'd argue that a lot of the people that left for Canada would have stayed if their previous company had not made them redundant or not treated them like cattle?

It really is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. There would not be massive development studios in Canada without tax incentives. But at the same time, would tax incentives in the UK really bring companies and jobs back? Do you think that tax incentives would make codemasters close their KL studio and bring all those artist jobs back to the UK? Not sure, but i don't think Malaysia has tax incentives.

Instead of harping on about tax incentives and crying about the unfair competition from canada, what UK studios SHOULD do (which they used to do) is to concentrate on quality and provide employees with an awesome work environment, regulated and compensated work hours, room for personal improvement and so make it a JOY to work in the UK and for that studio. I can think of 3 places where that is the case in the UK, i can think of 3 studios i would GLADLY work for and cover the higher living expenses. Codemasters, from my personal experience, certainly is not one of them (as could be seen recently online as well).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andreas Gschwari on 19th January 2012 3:52pm

Posted:2 years ago

#11
@ Andreas. Your last bit. I so hear you:)

Posted:2 years ago

#12
What also hasn't helped is certain websites ramming "Canada specials" and "will the last developer to leave Britain please turn out the lights" issues down people people's throats.

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,716 598 0.3
@Andreas.
I certainly wasn't holding Codemasters up as a paragon of virtue.
Since the VC takeover very many people have left the company. Some of them to UK jobs.
But the big move to Canada appealed to a lot of them. And it wasn't because the studios are better managed there.

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

542 528 1.0
@Bruce: no that does not mean canadian studios are better managed. that's certainly true. I know a few of those that have moved and for a lot of them it simply was a matter of getting a job. For others there was also the appeal of going abroad in general, trying something new. Another big factor was to work on a big franchise, which is always good for your CV.

There are a lot of factors that make people go abroad. the fact is that there are a quite a few jobs to be had there (not only Canada, but also increasingly in Asia).

Though my argument is that tax incentives in the UK would not necessarily mean that talent could be retained. Companies are first and foremost trying to create a profit - if they can set up a cheap shop in asia, while getting tax refunds in the UK on top, why would they not do that?

Sweeping tax incentives as Canada has them are, as far as i can tell, impossible in the UK. And anything less than that would, in my opinion, not necessarily lead to increased hiring and retaining of talent.

What would be good to see would be better government incentives for new businesses and small businesses, something that allows people with talent and the know-how to set up new shops if they get unemployed/made redundant. That may well lead to fewer people leaving, more small studios being created and, in the long run, more local hiring.

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,716 598 0.3
@Andreas

This:

"What would be good to see would be better government incentives for new businesses and small businesses, something that allows people with talent and the know-how to set up new shops if they get unemployed/made redundant. That may well lead to fewer people leaving, more small studios being created and, in the long run, more local hiring."

Is pretty much what I have been proposing.

Posted:2 years ago

#16
Tax breaks and other pro-industry incentives absolutely would lead to increased hiring and retaining of talent.

To deny this is nonsense.

Posted:2 years ago

#17

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

542 528 1.0
@Richard: any kind of tax breaks and pro-industry incentives? or the canadian kind?

Look at the previously proposed tax incentive for the UK (where the tax break was based on unit sales). Would this be enough to attract some of the big hitters to move production (back) to the UK? I doubt it - they get better tax breaks abroad, with UK talent more than willing to move there (as the original article clearly shows). They get cheaper labor and have cheaper overal costs in Asia. So why invest heavily in the UK?

The only way to get the big publishers and studios back into the UK would be to create even more tax incentives than Canada for example - something that is not only unlikely, but nearly impossible.

So then those minor tax incentives would be for existing studios and newly formed smaller studios. Both of which have no need to grow overly much - staff numbers are usually based on project size. If you have enough people, why hire more just because you get a few tax credits. If you don't have enough, you need to hire anyway - tax incentive or not. And the new smaller studios can't afford to hire staff even with incentives - as the risk of running a new studio is too high as it is, without adding additional overhead.

Sure there might be a handful of hires here and there if there is extra money available, but it won't stop the exodus of talent.

At the same time, that extra money might well be "planned" in for project budgets, resulting in more waste during production and an even sharper decline of the studio should the game fail to perform (look at RTW among others).

2 things would work, in my opinion of course:

- Give sweeping large scale tax incentives like Canada and hope for investment of big companies (very unlikely to happen)
- Give more benefits to start ups, heavily so, to encourage new studios and encourage talent to stay and build their own companies from the ground up, instead of leaving the country (but this should not only be restricted to the game industry but instead be available to everyone who wants to start a small business)

Posted:2 years ago

#18

Kingman Cheng
Illustrator and Animator

929 150 0.2
I'm looking for a job change, is this telling me something? >_>

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Arthur Yarwood
Principal Tools Programmer

2 0 0.0
So if 41% relocated abroad, of the remain 59%, the real question is how many remained in the UK games industry? How many decided to give up on games and switch to another industry?

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Sandy Lobban
Founder and Creative Director

319 178 0.6
I would like to see a combination of the both to be honest. Some government backing and some solid work the industry together. It wouldnt take much to give the industry a psychological boost. Just recognition more than anything. There have been a few studio closures in Canada, even with a tax incentive, so I wouldnt say its all that. Its more about ideas, and the environment you create for staff to bring awesome ideas forward. To be honest, rather than any sort of straight tax break, Id like to see it offered only to companies who offer share options to employees. Give people a reason to stay, make awesome products, and collectively create growth. Offering it up in any other way would only lead to continued greed in some places, or prolonged bad ideas. I certainly dont think you would see wages go up like they do if you move to Canada if it was the same incentive here.

I dont know many that have come back from Canada, so I assume its pretty good.

Posted:2 years ago

#21

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,716 598 0.3
I know someone who came back from Canada.

If the government treated games like they treat films (why not?) then the game development industry in the UK would be several times bigger than it is now.
We are talking about relatively highly paid jobs (£33K average) that are eco friendly and whose income is mostly exports. And it is an industry that will continue to grow over the next couple of decades.

Posted:2 years ago

#22

Kieren Bloomfield
Software Engineer

88 71 0.8
As someone who left the UK for Canada I'm getting really tired of of Canada being blamed for tax incentives. Firstly most people seem somewhat under the notion that it's really cheap to develop games in Canada. That just isn't true for all of Canada; each of the provinces have their own tax laws. Quebec and more recently Ontario having a better deal for games developers. However here in British Columbia things are different, the tax breaks aren't as good and Vancouver is one of the most expensive places to live in the country.

Take a look at the Vancouver games industry and you'll see that a lot of jobs over the last few years have been lost here. I'm willing to bet that a fair number of people that moved here from the UK have faced uncertainty in their work prospects since being here.

Some people will go where the money is but most just want a nice life and life is better out here. At the moment I can see snow capped mountains out of the window while I remember my old job in the UK overlooking a congested M42 in the grey drizzle that is the UK. If the government gave you tax breaks would I come back? No.

Posted:2 years ago

#23
@ Bruce. I think "several times" bigger is stretching it a bit!

Posted:2 years ago

#24

Teut Weidemann
Consultant Online Games

50 18 0.4
Just saying that in Germany there are over 1500 open positions in game development. Key places are Hamburg, Munich, Düsseldorf, Berlin.

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Lewis Brown
Snr Sourcer/Recruiter

194 41 0.2
Quick question, does anyone know trustworthy these figures are? I am always suspicious of surveys....

Posted:2 years ago

#26

Doug Paras

117 61 0.5
Another reason I would think more people come from the UK to Canada is cause even though your moving to a new Country the Transition isn't that major. We may have some cold times in winter, but we have nice winters and long days in the Summer.

Posted:2 years ago

#27

Dan Lowe
3D Animator

51 68 1.3
People focus in on tax breaks, but I really don't think they're a silver bullet answer to the problems in the UK industry. A developer has to have the right people and the right company culture to be able to spend that extra money right, and I think if a studio has that team and culture, they're probably the kind of place that can survive and grow on it's own merits anyway, without tax breaks.

Consider for a moment, the cost of development in California. It's arguably more expensive to make games there than it is in the UK, yet look at the studios there and the healthy franchises they've produced: World of Warcraft, Starcraft, Call of Duty, Uncharted, God of War, Red Dead Redemption, The Sims, Dead Space, the list goes on.

If a developer is smart, talented, and is capable of producing a 95%+ game of the year contender, publishers won't hesitate to give them the money they need, because they know they'll get a return on their investment. I just think about Rocksteady, what they've done with Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, and how they've done it under the same economic conditions as every other studio in the UK, without tax breaks. If they can do it, why not other UK studios too?

Posted:2 years ago

#28
Dan brings up a good point.

Alot of the recent studio closures have relatively large sized outfits, and with the collapse of various AAA franchises, and the prominence of the casual/social angle - this needs to be factored into.

In some cases it might just be a Kodak moment. failure to adapt, and change with the times, and Luck. Luck sometimes was just not there with the last launch of the studio titles, resulting in either closure from main HQ or inability to manage a large fit studio. It was just unfortunate.

Posted:2 years ago

#29

Jonathan Cooper
Animation Director

4 8 2.0
Kieren is right to say that government subsidies are not equal across Canada, with the West certainly not enjoying the benefits of Quebec and more recently Ontario. However, I can't deny the impact of these tax breaks on the local industry as Montreal would most certainly not be what it is today without them. Importantly however, from my observations the extra cash seems only to afford projects that would have failed elsewhere due to equivalent levels of incompetence the ability to weather the storm. (In short, the most unsuccessful projects benefit most from tax breaks). Is this something the UK really should be aiming for?

For those leaving the UK I can say with certainty that the reasons to jump ship go beyond mere job prospects, and instead I must echo Andreas' sentiment of better quality of life and cost of living. I'd love to hear if there's a UK studio right now that can offer a world-class project with excellent management and compensation, AND all the while living in a city with inexpensive living costs, nightlife that extends beyond the local pub, REAL seasons (yes winter is cold, but long summers beats the intermittent sun between drab British drizzle), restaurants that compete with NY instead of the local take-out, and being surrounded and inspired by the optimism of successful creative endeavours in film, design, VFX, music and more... and then there's the Montreal girls...

Perhaps the UK's QoL issues are too endemic, but UK studios really must look beyond financial incentives and instead focus on what prospective employees really want - a competitive quality of life and the opportunity to make amazing games. If you believe tax incentives alone will deliver these then continue unabated...

Posted:2 years ago

#30
"Meanwhile the British taxpayer is forced to throw money at a film industry that largely makes vanity projects."

Are you serious? 2011 was one of the best years for the british film industry in a long long time. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Shame, The King's Speech, We need to talk about Kevin, Tyrannosaur, Senna, Attack The Block, Kill List. I'd be interested to hear what you class out of those as vanity projects?

I know a lot of people that have quit the UK games industry for Canada and the States, they did so for pretty much the same reasons A) Better working conditions and B) Better pay (in some cases they have doubled their wages even though they doing the same role).

Posted:2 years ago

#31
Well here is the sentiment from London.


- Food and Drink is cheaper (x 2 than continental Europe esp France, Germany - unbelievable, but these are words from ex Germans, French and for those having to travel the various trade shows)
- London is very central & truly international mix of talents, with a great hub of VFX, post production, animation and creative talent
- Projects: There is a quiet understated (it seems to be the British way) seismic shift to development of great international titles ranging from AAA to IOS, Social and Casual development.
- Nightlight & Shopping: There is late night shopping with great nightlife that is not focused just in Soho alone.

- UK cost of living is high
- High street retailers (that used to have large chains) are suffering - but this is rightly so, due to failure to adapt to the online or westfield phenomena
- Large 100+ studios had closures - this is unfortunate but due to the Kodak moment, is the eventual result

Ultimately, working and living conditions are tough, but its not impossible to create success and internationl blockbuster success at that.

Posted:2 years ago

#32

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

542 528 1.0
@Chee: as someone living and working in Scandinavia, i would not rate UK living costs as high.

Having worked in Oslo for some time, rent, food and living expenses in general were very high (salary somewhat reflected that, but not fully).

Sweden is no different. Going out in particular (i.e. eating out and going for a drink) is mad expensive.

High Street retailers are pretty much on the same level as in the UK.

The only thing i found much better and cheaper is telecoms. Mobile network rates are very low (currently less than 20 GBP for unlimited data/texts/calls on a 3G network) and internet connection is not only vastly superior but also incredibly cheap (i.e. 25GBP per month for a 100 meg line).

In terms of living standard and quality of life, as well as community etc. Scandinavia is slightly better than the UK, but obviously that comes down to personal preference. Cost of living is slightly higher though.

Posted:2 years ago

#33

Tim Browne
Lead Game Designer

21 40 1.9
As someone who was recently (November) made redundant I can attest that there are hardly any jobs in the UK.

I would say 90% of jobs that I applied for were outside of the UK and all but 1 of my interviews was abroad.

That said I'm very happy in my new surroundings. It is sad that not enough has been done to keep UK talent but to quote Bruce -

"If I go to LinkedIn search and type in Codemasters as the company and Canada as the country it comes up with a list of talented people who UKplc has paid to educate and who are now generating wealth in the Canadian economy.

I told Tom Watson this when his lot were in power and I have also told Ed Vaizey. You can see how effective giving them this knowledge has been."

You just can't argue with that.

Posted:2 years ago

#34
FOr the UK scene, one might need to wait around 2-5 years for the new shoots to sprout. By then the new start ups will either have survived and flourished into their 3-4th year and have a massive stellar rise. Everything is cyclical..

@ Andreas - cheaper phone and better internet are aspirational qualities to lead to a big break for the cloud services here. Lets see how this 4G thing rolls out. Oh, and lastly they need to improve transport in London

Posted:2 years ago

#35

Jeff Wilson

46 0 0.0
With projected game revenues of $68 Billion in 2012 there is a high incentive to do well in this industry. As expected, the UK government is all talk and no action which explains the migration of top talent from UK, particularly for developers.

Why should employees stay here if the publishers keep closing down studios and opening them up elsewhere ? It is not through lack of projected revenues - these sales figures are staggering by todays standards (even in a recession) compared to other industries.

Good luck to those working overseas and seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

Worldwide Video Game Revenues per annum:

2002 - $21 Billion
2004 - $26 Billion
2006 - $31 Billion
2007 - $41 Billion
2012 - $68 Billion

[link url=http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2008/06/gaming-expected-to-be-a-68-billion-business-by-2012.ars
]http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2008/...[/link]

Data source: PriceWaterhouseCooper

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeff Wilson on 20th January 2012 12:51pm

Posted:2 years ago

#36

Sandy Lobban
Founder and Creative Director

319 178 0.6
One thing thats excellent about the games industry is that it knows no borders, and for that I am glad. If you fancy an adventure then you can get that opportunity. All good!. :)

Posted:2 years ago

#37

Tamir Ibrahim
Programmer

74 56 0.8
I'll have to throw my voice in with those that don't believe that UK tax breaks are the way to go.

Sure, no one is denying that the tax breaks in Canada haven't built up the industry there but I wonder how healthy it actually is. What happens when, eventually, the tax breaks disappear? Does anyone actually believe all the big studios will stay open? Or is the plan to keep the tax breaks forever?

I strongly agree with Andreas when he said, well, all he's said above. Read it. Go.

Posted:2 years ago

#38
When you look at it all in all, maybe its a the natural evolution of the open market forces. The right companies and studios that adapted with the times and survived (and even flourished) deserve to stay alive, whilst the less fortunate fell to the wayside (from one reason or another). The tax incentives may/may not have helped sustain companies with real troubles anyways, maybe it would help with further long term investment (but may have hid the inevitable).

So the long and short of it is, there is still GREAT opportunity to develop stellar quality game products in UK for the international audience. Its just that the gaming landscape is not the familiar topography it once was and in this "post apocalyptic landscape" new seeds of growth and citizens of games will once again grow, flourish and sustain itself where it can.

Posted:2 years ago

#39

Tamir Ibrahim
Programmer

74 56 0.8
Well said Dr! :)

Posted:2 years ago

#40

jim ellis

27 1 0.0
Moving abroad doesn't always work out especially when companies hit the wall abroad - which they do - its not exclusively a British thing - the employees are then left with a limited time to either pack up and leave their life and friends (28 days sometimes) or left without options without ANY industry at all (my experience in Australia). I was coming back to the UK anyway, leaving sun soaked beaches, orange trees and a tropical life style for the grey and the whinging of the "poms". Why? Because Family and community are important and when you have a young family sometimes location does not completely compensate for the other things you lose. Currently I'm in the Midlands - surrounded by fields, in a small town where the kids can play in the park. My sons School is top in the league tables. Yesterday I visited Castles and cultural heritage and historical locations with my kids... see Britain is what you make it.

Posted:2 years ago

#41

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