Last week at GDC the Ukie team were hard at work running the UK industry stand on the Expo floor. We played host to more than 40 UK games businesses, who mostly had the chance to be there thanks to access to government grants which helped eligible SMEs exhibit and have their meeting space for free. It was an absolute delight seeing the diversity of British games businesses and meeting the more than 400 people who came to meet them over two and a half days on such a joyous international stage.
It's amazing what can happen when the government supports a sector they believe in.
Today, we had the strongest show of support yet with the final greenlight on the games production tax credits from the European Commission. Hundreds of voices in our industry have been calling for these credits for years, so this is a long awaited moment. The Commission spent a year asking more questions about games tax credits, after waving through the same scheme for animation and high-end TV drama straight away.. They did the same for film credits when they were first introduced though, so it wasn't a total shock. And the industry responded with a robust case, working every step of the way with our government. We know it was a frustrating process, and a tricky political dance. But we made it through.
On the Wednesday of last week at GDC, some of us woke at 5am to hear the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, make his annual Budget statement. He said that we were not going to have a secure economic future if Britain didn't "earn its way" in the world.
He iterated the call for businesses to export more, build more, invest more and manufacture more. On first sight, this does not seem to be relevant to games. But let's not forget: we are not just the future and present of entertainment, but the new digital manufacturing, exporting most of our products that delight to hungry, growing and increasingly diverse international audiences and markets. We are doing it already, but now we get to take a risk on doing it with games and ideas that are culturally unique to the incredible creative talent we have living in the UK.
This tax relief scheme has benefited the film industry for many years already, encouraging creators to take on risky ideas, giving confidence to investors and showing productions that they should make their film in the most creative, talented, skilled and business friendly (as well as lovely) place in the world.
It has also unlocked other kinds of support and funding to help film businesses start up, survive, and thrive. It has meant the creation of a Skills Investment Fund to make sure the talent pipeline is sturdy and nourished to feed the increasing demand. It has put the industry on the map, and our own scheme - uniquely different to film and high end TV drama - will do exactly the same. We will now need to demonstrate how the new reliefs have led to growth, not just in commercial terms but also in cultural terms, as we mustn't forget that this was fundamental to the EC accepting the new scheme. The film industry has been doing this for years, commissioning an annual report that is the definitive measure of the size of the film industry and the effectiveness of their tax scheme. We've joined forces with the team that produces this report to do a similar job for our sector with the hope that it will become the report that helps define the ongoing growth of the UK games sector.
But the game is not over yet. We have finally had the nod from the powers that be in Europe, but there is still a lot more to do. Trade bodies like to think beyond single issues, and there are multitude ways in which we can funnel your collective energies to unlock more opportunities for our sector.
Our focus at Ukie in the coming year will be on getting the recognition we, as a confident sector, deserve so we can be not just a leading and vocal part of the powerhouse of creative and digital industries in the UK, but internationally too. That means making sure we have the best business environment in the world to survive and thrive, protecting us from unnecessary regulation whilst promoting responsibility; suggesting innovative ways to fill the finance gap for our companies; making sure we have the right skills and talent flow needed to feed the development of your games; and ensuring we stand loud and proud on the global stage and promote the enormous creativity, opportunity and innovation we offer to the public.
We must not forget we are a distinct sector to film and other screen industries, full of incredible people eager to have a supportive ecosystem that will let them create new, innovative, perhaps risk-taking cultural experiences. And with this surge (hopefully) in these innovative culturally-relevant experiences, perhaps we will see more games emerging from the crowd (to sit alongside our existing global success stories such as GTA) that confidently feature faces, places, stories, circumstances, humour, sadness, and issues that our game makers in waiting - that 100% of the next generation who play voraciously - will recognise. Perhaps this will help that generation realise their hobby can be a career, and they can have that career right here in their hometowns.