40 per cent of lost UK game jobs relocate overseas

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

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.

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Latest comments (34)

Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D6 years ago
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?
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Matt Ham Economic Designer, Ubisoft Paris6 years ago
"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 :)
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James Boulton Owner, Retro HQ Ltd6 years ago
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.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 6 years ago
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.
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Matthew Handrahan European Deputy Editor, GamesIndustry.biz6 years ago
For the record, that £250 billion was indeed a typo. Thanks for pointing it out.
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Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D6 years ago
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.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 6 years ago
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.
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Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D6 years ago
@ Andreas. Your last bit. I so hear you:)
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Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D6 years ago
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.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 6 years ago
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.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 6 years ago


"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.
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Richard Hill-Whittall Director, Icon Games6 years ago
Tax breaks and other pro-industry incentives absolutely would lead to increased hiring and retaining of talent.

To deny this is nonsense.
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Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator 6 years ago
I'm looking for a job change, is this telling me something? >_>
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Arthur Yarwood Principal Tools Programmer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe6 years ago
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?
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up6 years ago
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.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 6 years ago
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.
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Kieren Bloomfield Software Engineer, EA Sports6 years ago
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.
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Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D6 years ago
@ Bruce. I think "several times" bigger is stretching it a bit!
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Teut Weidemann Consultant Online Games, Ubisoft Germany6 years ago
Just saying that in Germany there are over 1500 open positions in game development. Key places are Hamburg, Munich, Düsseldorf, Berlin.
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Lewis Brown Snr Sourcer/Recruiter, Electronic Arts6 years ago
Quick question, does anyone know trustworthy these figures are? I am always suspicious of surveys....

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Doug Paras6 years ago
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.
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Dan Lowe 3D Animator, Ubisoft Montreal6 years ago
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?
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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.
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Jonathan Cooper Animator, Naughty Dog6 years ago
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...
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"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).
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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.
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Tim Browne Game Studio Design Director, King.com6 years ago
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.
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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
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Jeff Wilson6 years ago
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=

Data source: PriceWaterhouseCooper

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

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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up6 years ago
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!. :)
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Tamir Ibrahim Programmer, Splash Damage6 years ago
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.
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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.
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Tamir Ibrahim Programmer, Splash Damage6 years ago
Well said Dr! :)
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jim ellis 2D/3D artist, design, illustration, concept artist, video editor 6 years ago
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.
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