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Bazalgette Review proposes £23.7m extension to UK Games Fund

Independent study calls for higher government funding to prevent losing talent overseas

A new government-commissioned review has proposed a fivefold increase to the current UK Games Fund in order to help nurture talent and get more games businesses off the grown.

The proposal was made in the Independent Review of the Creative Industries, authored by current ITV chair Sir Peter Bazalgette, in which he discussed how the government can grow the contributions of games, film, TV and more to the UK economy.

Central to his games-based recommendations was the UK Games Fund, a four-year £4.2m scheme to support the development of game prototypes. It currently operates the Tranzfuser graduate competition, whereby teams of students form a new company and have three months to create a prototype they can use to pitch for a higher grant.

While this initiative is commended, Bazalgette notes that this comprises much of the government-sourced money available to the games industry, for which "dedicated public funding is far lower than for TV or film."

The Review recommends an extension to the UK Games Fund, an a further investment of £23.7m - more than five times the original amount.

"Whilst the Games Fund/Tranzfuser has been extremely well received and highly successful in terms of impacting on early-stage games businesses, under its current funding constraints and the operating model agreed with government the Fund has to turn down many good quality applications and is also unable to address some additional ongoing funding problems in games development," Bazalgette writes.

One such problem is a funding gap, highlighted by trade bodies such as UKIE and TIGA, for games businesses trying to raise between £50,000 and £3m.

Bazalgette also observed there is not enough public support for "socially-relevant and culturally-rich games", which often struggle to get off the ground. The example he offers is US-developed That Dragon, Cancer, which shows that "just as much as film and TV content, games can provide engaging, innovative experiences dealing with difficult and important topics."

He continues: "An extension of the Fund could also allow it to create a new programme for projects which have great potential but which are encountering the middle-stage £50k - £3m funding gap, helping to de-risk investment and ensuring that high value IP continues to grow and stay in this country."

The Review also highlights the need to better educate students and jobseeker son the potential career paths within creative industries such as video games - and not just within the actual creative side of things.

"Entry into the sector is also impeded by poor understanding amongst pupils, teachers and parents of the kinds of careers that are available, with a perception amongst many that jobs are poorly paid, insecure or not open to those without existing links into industry," Bazalgette writes.

"There may also be a limited understanding of the fact that areas of the Creative Industries involve specialised and technical skills - for example in the video games and visual effects sectors - as well as skills that are transferable to other valuable and interesting areas of the economy.

"Employers report job deficiencies also in the supportive rather than the 'visible' roles, with shortages in non-creative skills, such as management, HR, finance, digital, and marketing skills."

The proposed solution to this is improvements to the government's Apprenticeship Levy. Employers with a paybill of over £3m currently pay 0.5% into the levy, which can then be drawn on to fund training and assessment for apprentices. The Review proposes a national three-year pilot scheme for this, ensuring that £75m of levy contributions are reinvested into job opportunities within the creative industries.

Failure to further develop talent pipelines could result in the loss of much-needed skills overseas - particularly from the games industry, Bazalgette warns.

"It is crucial that government recognises the risks that badly designed or overly burdensome regulation represents to sectors that are often highly mobile such as the Creative Industries," he writes. "Unlike other more traditional sectors that have far higher barriers to relocation, high-value firms in the Creative Industries such as the video games sector can relocate to countries with more favourable regimes."

He later reiterated this point, citing how quickly Canada bolstered its games sector and became the third biggest development scene in the world after the US and Japan, often attracting talent from around the world - including the UK.

Elsewhere, the Review mentioned ongoing proposals for British Games Institute, the equivalent of the screen industries' BFI, noting: "Certainly in the longer term, government should take a more strategic approach to fostering growth in the video games industry and highlighting its cultural impacts."

Bazalgette is also keen to see the UK games industry take inspiration from certain initiatives seen in other nations, one with specific example: the Sweden Game Arena, which was established with Skövde University in 2004.

"This collaboration between academic, industry and government stakeholders now houses over 30 game studios, 500+ students and 50 academics," he observes. "For ten years, the government-funded Game Incubator has consolidated its position as a national games hub and international seedbed for games companies in Sweden."

Bazalgette emphasised the importance and potential of the video games industry, not only for its contribution to the other creative industries but also the UK's overall growth.

"Supporting the games industry in the UK means investing in future skills, techniques and technologies such as simulation and modelling, as well as data analytics that can accelerate innovation in sectors far beyond the entertainment sphere," he wrote.

"We should move quickly to ensure we are able to fully exploit the video games sector's huge potential, building on its trailblazing qualities, transferable skills and ability to create compelling (including educational and narrative-driven) content for a growing global audience."

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