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Why do we even need a British Games Institute?

Trade bodies and industry veterans discuss the role a publicly-funded agency could play in driving the UK's games industry forward

Last week, a major campaign launched in the UK to drive further support behind the proposal for a British Games Institute.

The proposal was first made back in January and has since seen more than 500 UK games firms pledge their support. In addition to notable names from the games industry, it has also secured backing from Facebook EMEA VP Nicola Mendelsohn, Creative England's Caroline Norbury and acclaimed filmmaker Lord David Puttnam.

The recent campaign has centred around a petition to Matthew Hancock MP, the current Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to have him push for the BGI's approval from Parliament. Within the first two days, more than 2,000 people signed the petition - at the time of writing, the total stands at 4,017.

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Ian Livingstone

Ian Livingstone, one of the most prominent figures in the UK games industry, and investment consultant Rick Gibson authored the original proposal, positioning the Institute as "a missing centre of gravity for games culture" - but there is still some confusion surrounding the initiative.

For one thing, why does the UK even need a British Games Institute?

"The strategic issues faced by the sector - constrained access to finance and skills, poor diversity in our workforce, and low recognition of the economic and cultural impact games have on society - are tackled in other sectors by publicly funded agencies who work alongside trade bodies in richer eco-systems," Livingstone tells GamesIndustry.biz.

"Film has six trade bodies, a national agency in the BFI, multiple regional bodies including several industry or European-funded regional screen agencies and multiple national arts bodies funding hundreds of film schemes including over 40 film festivals and initiatives from national to grassroots levels. We don't have that for games."

Of course, the games industry is supported quite vocally by its two trade bodies: UKIE and TIGA. When the BGI was first proposed, it was unclear whether such a thing would replace or perhaps clash with the work of these two organisations, but Livingstone is more than happy to clarify matters.

"Film has six trade bodies, a national agency in the BFI, multiple regional bodies, multiple national arts bodies... We don't have that for games."

"They are fundamentally different types of organisation with different remits and funding sources," he says. "Both trade bodies are lobbying organisations predominantly funded and governed by their members, whereas the BGI will be an agency funded by public money with no membership that conducts no lobbying and will be independently governed by sector representatives."

His partner Gibson points to the work both UKIE and TIGA already do, lobbying for industry benefits such as the video games tax relief and UK games fund. Equally, they have both called in the past for a new national agency to be formed along the lines of the BGI.

"We agree and want the BGI to not simply co-exist with the trade bodies, but complement and potentially even fund initiatives they propose," Gibson says.

It's important to note that the BGI proposal has the backing of both UKIE and TIGA, further indicating that neither organisation would be hindered or threatened by the work that such an agency would do.

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Jo Twist, UKIE

"UKIE supports and welcomes bids that propose funding to incentivise the creation of cultural content, grow cultural infrastructure, invest in skills, and support cluster growth," says CEO Jo Twist. "Should funding be made available, we look forward to continuing our work with stakeholders across the UK to ensure it is targeted and administered in the most cost-effective and efficient way."

TIGA CEO Richard Wilson adds that many of the BGI's proposals - such as the creation of a government-provided Games Investment Fund, as well as education and cultural programmes - align with that of his own organisation. But there is an important difference for people to understand.

"The proposed BGI and the industry's trade associations are completely different species," he explains. "TIGA and ukie are voluntary independent trade associations. The proposed BGI will not be involved in lobbying, course accreditation or games industry awards. In particular, the BGI cannot be an independent campaigning organisation like TIGA. This is because the BGI would be dependent upon the UK Government for its funding and for its existence."

Equally, he adds, there are functions the BGI will have that trade associations are not set up for, such as "investing significant amounts" in UK games firms.

He continues: "All three organisations can co-exist and work together for the good of the industry. TIGA will continue to lobby the Government to create an environment which makes the UK the best place in the world to develop video games and promote excellence in higher education. Likewise, UKIE will no doubt continue to do a fine job in the areas that it specialises in."

"We want the BGI to not simply co-exist with the trade bodies, but complement and potentially even fund initiatives they propose"

Rick Gibson

Some of the trade bodies' various supporters have also spoken out to clarify the relationship between the three organisations should the BGI be created. Jason Kingsley, co-founder of Rebellion and TIGA chairman, says the trade bodies will remain as "lobbying and focus points" for members, while the Institute would be able "stand away from these issues and look at the wider cultural perspective."

He continues: "I don't see the BGI as a threat to either trade body, though there might be some overlap in some areas of policy.But I don't see it as an issue at all."

UKIE board member Andy Payne agrees: "The trade bodies do an excellent job of highlighting to politicians, policy makers, educators and the wider public that the UK is the best place to both make and play games.

"Both trade bodies are membership organisations, funded by their members. They are not set up to actually accept or administer public funding, so a new organisation such as the BGI can perform this key function. The BGI will complement the work of TIGA and UKIE."

Payne goes on to cite the Livingstone Hope Next Gen Skills campaign that emphasised computing in the National Curriculum as proof of "what happens when the industry comes together and works for the common good". That campaign was supported by both UKIE and TIGA, as well as Nesta, the UK Government and many more.

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Rick Gibson

Given the name of the proposed organisation, it will come as no surprise that the idea was partly inspired by and modelled on the British Film Institute - although Gibson stresses this choice of template "runs much deeper than a simple tactical decision to copy a known model."

"Tekes in Finland and the Arts Council are inspirations too but we've seen BFI deliver tremendous value for the film sector - funding film production, heritage, culture and skills, and establishing long-term strategy for film in close collaboration with government, trade bodies and the wider film sector," he says. "It is highly effective at raising public awareness and funding for its initiatives and delivering government's strategic aims for film. We want BGI to do the same for games."

Livingstone adds that proposal was modelled on a "massive and transparent consultation programme" over the course of two conferences, four working groups, a roundtable of industry experts and more. All in all, Livingstone and Gibson have spoken with over 100 UK games firms in order to draw up the proposal.

Like the BFI, the BGI also hopes to play a key role in improving the perception of video games outside the industry. While there have been developments over the past decade, it still seems remarkably easy to vilify games and somehow miss their cultural impact or the UK's rich history in producing some of the biggest franchises in the world, from Grand Theft Auto to Tomb Raider and the Lego games.

"Policymakers, large public funding sources and the media are only just waking up to games' potential, and some find it easier to castigate games as dangerous or patronise games as child's play - both of which are hopelessly out of date given over 60% of adults play games," says Livingstone. "With no publicly funded agency dedicated to championing games as culture - in the same way that BFI champions film or Arts Council champions visual arts - games lack representation at the top table of publicly-funded cultural bodies.

"We lack independent data on why games are important both culturally and economically, the kind that is commissioned by the BFI and used to underline film's importance to British culture. As the generations roll through, these misunderstandings and misrepresentations are gradually changing as games' value becomes harder to ignore, but it's time for more rapid change."

"With no publicly funded agency dedicated to championing games as culture - in the same way that BFI champions film - games lack representation at the top table of publicly-funded cultural bodies."

Ian Livingstone

This has been part of the appeal to some of the BGI's supporters. Indie developer Byron Atkinson-Jones says improved cultural perception was definitely on his list when his signed the petition.

"We need a body in the UK that's recognised by the government that has a remit to uphold this concept that gamesaren't just a business any more, that they are a part of our culture andactively promotes it as such," he says. "The BFI does an excellent job for Films and TV."

He continues: "Games are toys,aren't they? At least that's what those outside of games think and toys are for kids so therefore weshouldn't be taken seriously. Those same people love to sit back and watch a film or seesomething on the TVsince they are'legitimate' forms of entertainment that have a cultural heritage through years of integration into our society. Film critics are upheld as pillars of culture - can you name any game critics that are seen in the same light?

"This is changing, of course. Mobile phones helped with that but they are still in the realm of play things. That's why we need the BGI, to change that way of thinking. Just don't expect it to happen overnight."

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Richard Wilson, TIGA

Payne agrees, adding: "Recent governments have started to understand and appreciate the incredible financial and cultural power that the UK games industry delivers. We've come a long way from being the focus of constant negativity from some parts of the mainstream media.The more the industry highlights and celebrates its successes via organisations such as BAFTA and takes an active role in education via initiatives such as Digital Schoolhouse, the more that parents and the media will see the value of computer and video games to UK PLC."

Wilson adds: "The value and importance of our video games industry is increasingly recognized and the introduction of the BGI will accelerate this process. In the past, our industry may have received less attention than it deserves because of its comparative novelty and its relatively small size, but the situation is definitely changing for the better."

Even if approved, it's unlikely the British Games Institute would be fully set up in time to have a direct impact on the ongoing Brexit negotiations. Instead, Livingstone and Gibson stress the importance of UKIE and TIGA continuing to lobby for policies that are in the industry's best interests - something both trade bodies have pledged to do.

Kingsley seems confident that the UK Government will recognise the need for a BGI, adding: "My informal contacts with politicians seem to indicate that they are in favour, though they rather obviously do have a lot on their plates with the Brexit events that are unfolding."

So what happens next? If the petition is successful, Gibson says the best case scenario will be a mention of the BGI in the Autumn Budget. He hopes the proposal will formally receive funding in Spring 2018, which means it would be able to launch the first of its programmes by the end of the year.

In the meantime, members of the industry can keep track of the proposal's progress at www.britishgamesinstitute.com.

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Latest comments (1)

Iain McNulty Software / Game Developer, Yanxen19 days ago
Never mind a British Games Institute, we need a British Games Trade Union more than anything.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Iain McNulty on 30th October 2017 7:44pm

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