TIGA is 10: Looking Ahead

James Brooksby and Patrick O'Luanaigh on future challenges for the organisation

Celebrating 10 years of TIGA, yesterday we spoke to two of the founding members, Jason Kingsley from Rebellion and Blitz Games Philip Oliver, looking back on the challenges of the past ten years.

In a companion piece published today we speak to two TIGA members representing new businesses in the development sector, doublesix boss James Brooksby and Patrick O’Luanaigh of nDreams, on the new breed of self-publishers and uniting a fragmented market.

Q: Can you just explain when and why you joined TIGA first of all?

James Brooksby: Well, because we're in the same group as Kuju Entertainment, we've been part of TIGA for as long as I can remember to be honest. We've always been there and supported it, and [Kuju co-founder] Ian Baverstock has always been a very big part of TIGA, certainly in its early years.

So as Kuju, TIGA's been very important for us in looking to represent us as a large independent developer - certainly with its fight for recognition from the UK government, and in pushing towards potential tax breaks to create a more even playing field in the work-for-hire space.

I think that's been very, very important - it's going to take a long time, and we're still not there, but it is making a difference for the development community as a whole, and all TIGA members.

For doublesix more specifically, in recent times, my part of the business - which is moving into self-publishing - more recently it's been TIGA evolving to recognise that's a new part of the industry. All credit to them, they really are getting behind it and recognising that their membership is changing rapidly from a few years ago, when it was all about work-for-hire.

One of the few things it could do was tax breaks - and perhaps ratings - but now there's a lot it can potentially do to support burgeoning businesses and help other really small groups of people get into this space.

Patrick O'Luanaigh: We joined TIGA three of four months after I founded nDreams back in 2007. I think one of the main reasons we joined - because I came from a publishing background and didn't know too much about it - was that we wanted to get to know other developers.

They also had a great welcome pack, which had all sorts of legal contacts, some draft contract ideas and other bits and pieces that were actually really useful - because I didn't have a clue at the time about that sort of stuff.

It's been really good - I've been particularly impressed with the way it's been changing over the last year or so, specifically the political clout that it's got now. I don't think it ever had as much of that as it does now.

Plus, as James said, the way it's moving towards a real awareness of the new developers and publishers springing up in the UK. People get down about the UK quite a lot - that everyone's moving away to Canada and so on - but actually there are some fantastic companies coming up that are doing things differently; not using the same development model that's rubbish, the work-for-hire model.

I think that's what's so exciting - TIGA recognises that and is pushing it along. There are some great self-publishing groups, and we have all sorts of bits and pieces that get people talking, sharing information and helping each other out.

Q: You talk about lending assistance to new companies - what practical help does TIGA cover in that process exactly?

James Brooksby: Well, it's not finished in their eyes I think - I'm sure Richard [Wilson, CEO] would say there's a lot more that they intend on doing. But certainly in the last year or so there's been quite a few small self-publishing talks and groups where they've brought people together to encourage them through sessions, with people that are doing it who have some opinions on how they can help. It's anything from legal through to sales, distribution and marketing - and those are good networking events too, and that's key. They do a great job of organising events where you're going to find somebody that you can do business with - that's probably going to help your business.

I know they're also doing some other activities at the moment - one which Patrick and I know of is for the people that are right in the midst of self-publishing and are among the leading self-publishing companies in the UK, we've got a group that TIGA have pulled together that will sit down and really work out what the organisation can do for us, and what we can do for each other.

We are competing against the rest of the world, and there are a lot of hurdles to get over. Working as a group that's pretty collaborative should work quite well. And on the other hand, being more inclusive, TIGA's pulling together documentation, and I think trying to build something that's almost a book on self-publishing to distribute to its membership; and to encourage new members in.

Patrick O'Luanaigh: There are a few things that I'm excited about at the moment, including that which James just mentioned - getting the new breed of self-publishers together to talk about, share and help each other out is vital. We don't do enough of that; we're quite reserved. I think some companies in the UK keep confidential, they don't want to share stuff - and I think actually we need to work with each other to be better than the guys in San Francisco on a lot of this stuff.

I think the political stuff they're doing - not just the big tax breaks stuff, which is what everybody always talks about... whether we can get incentives like Canada - but also things like R&D tax credits, and people forget that can save an awful lot of money for those of us doing cutting edge stuff.

It's a bit of a grey area, and I know TIGA is working really hard to try and clarify the ways we can get that - that will make a big difference for a lot of the companies actually developing stuff.

And then I think the other thing is getting discounts from people doing motion capture, and legal things, and all sorts of things that members can benefit from - that just goes straight down to the bottom line to help save developers money. Spending money on publishing - it's quite an expensive business doing marketing and PR - and every pound is useful.

Q: The games industry is a global business, and increasingly exists online - which transcends borders - so is it really so important to protect a national industry's interests? After all, with the possibility of remote working, isn't it a bit of an anachronism as we look forward into the future?

James Brooksby: Well, certainly we're communicating with other companies all over the world - we have lots of good contact with other developers of a similar size, doing similar things within Canada and so on, and it can be very collaborative.

But this is where we're based - as managers of the companies - so there is something we'd like to centre around ourselves. Do we want to have teams all over the world? Or do we want to have people working closely with us? Most of us would say that we actually want to work as part of teams, and we want those teams around us.

Yeah, sure, we could all work from home and contract everything out - but I'd say that's not the kind of existence that most of us have signed up to. We want to work with people around us, people who get excited, create an atmosphere and go in there excited about the next game we're going to make together.

Patrick O'Luanaigh: I think it really does matter. Think about a UK in which we're not good at anything - we have no particular talents, no specialities. The world's doing very well, the games industry's great, but we're no good. That would be horrible.

If you could make a list on the back of your hand of twenty big British publishers over the last couple of decades that are no longer British - I don't think there's anybody. Most recently Codemasters are India-owned, Eidos is Japan-owned - all of the people running those places are based overseas, and I think that's such a shame.

There's an opportunity now - we do work globally and talk to lots of people all over the world, but I want to be proud about the British games industry. Particularly with the publishing, we've got lots of small seeds growing in really exciting ways - doing all sorts of publishing online, instead of boxed retails.

If the UK's ever going to be great at publishing again, these are the kind of seeds that need to grow - and that's why TIGA's really important in helping us work together. Look at the social network developers in San Francisco - they talk all the time, and you'd be amazed at how much they share, despite the fact they're competitors. What happens is that they all get better, and all do well - and it's to the detriment to everybody else around the world.

So there's a real benefit in us helping, talking and sharing information with each other.

Q: Have you ever been tempted to move to a more tax-friendly region?

James Brooksby: I think the way that we've been making games has been changing for a long time - it's ever-changing - but it certainly has become more international, for sure. With every development we're always looking at people all around the world to chip in - it's not as if we're massively insular and protective. But it's still about where we want to base ourselves - and build something we're proud of.

Certainly we've looked in the past at building studios elsewhere, and have experimented with that - the wider Kuju group does have studios elsewhere. But right now we're really happy with the talent pool that we have in the UK - it's fantastic. There are people that have worked on those big projects, they've had enough of it, and they want to do something different - when they've got the prospect of working in 5-10 man teams and making decisions in that team by themselves, getting excited, getting motivated and seeing something that they've made happen... it's exciting.

I like to be around people who are excited by that, rather than facelessly outsourcing it to somewhere and moving onto the next thing. A lot of the people that I've seen at TIGA - that's what gets us out of bed in the morning.

Q: Patrick, when you set up nDreams, were you tempted to take advantage of the economic benefits elsewhere?

Patrick O'Luanaigh: We did briefly - we ran some figures recently as an exercise, but we're not seriously considering it. From a pure cashflow/revenue it would be much more profitable for us as a business to move to one of the states in the US - but the issue with that is that I'm British, I love it here, I like watching Premier League football, all of our staff are based here and they're not going to move out.

Plus the point that James makes - we've got some really, really good creative talent in the UK. I really think some of the best creative talent in the world is with British coders, British designers. We've got a great team and recruitment's not too hard - there are a lot of good people, so that makes me want to stay here. I think it's giving up if you just go somewhere else - there are definitely places we could go if we just wanted to make more money, because we sell globally, but I love it here and I want to help make it better.

Q: So what will the biggest challenges for TIGA be as we move into the next ten years?

James Brooksby: Well, I think there's going to be a lot of what you might call fragmentation - lots and lots of little developers - and I think the challenge is to bring them all in and give them something that's clearly worthwhile for those people.

Because it is going to cost them money - something they won't have a lot of - and if you're a few-person iPhone developer, you may have a massively bright future, but you certainly aren't going to have a lot of cash to spend and you'll be wondering why you need the association.

Of course, they've got to make that decision individually, but TIGA needs to make sure it's giving something back that's worthwhile. I think that's one of the bigger challenges I can see - just keeping up with the changing landscape.

Patrick O'Luanaigh: Getting the cool, new developers and publishers to join is important - and I think there's a kind of split happening between traditional boxed product developers doing £10 million-plus, triple-A titles and the newer developers doing cheaper stuff on newer platforms. That middle ground of A or double-A racers or shooters is falling away really fast.

James Brooksby is studio head at doublesix and Patrick O'Luanaigh is CEO of nDreams. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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