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Why the games industry should not stay neutral this election

With the UK Parliamentary election only days away, there are too many defining policy differences in the parties' manifestos for the industry to stay mute

This is an opinion piece, reflecting the views and analysis of its author.

One cannot logon to the internet or turn on the TV without being barraged by the latest developments on this unpredictable, yet crucial Parliamentary election. It seems like everyone has an opinion (here is one more), and yet the games industry has maintained a deafening silence. Granted, it may be risky to appear more sympathetic to one party and end up having to deal with another, but the most defining election in a generation is only a few days away. Surely all companies have a responsibility to get the best deal for their staff.

Several sections of the Conservative and Labour manifestos are relevant to the games sector, and unlike any other recent general election the difference between the policies is stark. This article is an invitation for the directors of British games studios to consider the facts and, for the sake of the future of their companies and their workers, be assertive about what sort of industry we want and who precisely has the answers to the challenges that lie ahead.

Mental Health

It has been encouraging to see game companies starting conversations about the importance of good mental health in the workplace - most notably, Jagex recently discussed its collaboration with charity Mind to provide support and advice for its staff. In practice, this involves facilitation of discussions and workshops, a 'quiet space' for its employees, and a set of resources on the company's Intranet.

"Several sections of the Conservative and Labour manifestos are relevant to the games sector, and...the difference between the policies is stark"

Even putting aside the fact that Mind maintains close links to the Department of Work & Pensions, which is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people with disabilities, who were suddenly found 'fit for work' under the Conservative government, it is only clear policy commitments in addressing the crisis of mental health that will create any sustainable change.

Despite the Conservative manifesto promising further investment, actions speak for themselves: between 2010 and 2015, mental health trusts suffered real terms cuts of 8.25%, losing the equivalent of £598 million from their budgets each year; Theresa May's new package has offered only £15 million in additional funding for crisis cafes and community clinics; and 40% of NHS trusts saw cuts to mental health services across 2015 and 2016. Instead of offering token promises, Labour plans to give mental health the same priority as physical health, even creating the role of Mental Health Minister in its cabinet.

Game companies have often been accused of inducing anxiety at work; reliance on 'crunch time', a lack of unionisation, precarious job security and constant competition are a recipe for poor mental health. If the British industry really wants to facilitate structural change, it must not remain silent.

Education

Supporters of Brexit may have already won the battle, as statistics indicate a rise in emigration following the referendum. This effect may create an unprecedented skills-shortage in the games sector. According to UKIE, "40% of businesses are already seeing negative impacts on their ability to recruit and retain talent as Brexit is perceived as weakening the UK's attractiveness as a destination." While game companies are probably savvy enough to make use of a growing workforce abroad through outsourcing, with the pound dipping and unlikely to go up any time soon the focus must urgently be brought towards home-grown talent.

There are currently 28 Bachelors and Masters games design & development courses across the UK, but with another tuition fee hike proposed by the Conservatives, and the scrapping of the Maintenance Grant already in effect, they are becoming increasingly inaccessible. Unless the games industry wishes to only be made up of the privileged few that can afford to go to university and learn the necessary skills, it must support free education, doubling of the number of apprenticeships, and the return of the Maintenance Grant. All of these, it should be noted, are commitments made by Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.

Brexit

"Game companies have often been accused of inducing anxiety at work... If the British industry really wants to facilitate structural change, it must not remain silent"

There have been numerous articles written about the negative effect Brexit will have on the games industry. Ukie has also provided an excellent report voicing the concerns studios have about the implications of the UK's divorce from the European Union.

While the Labour Party promises to gain full access to the Single Market and guarantee rights for EU Nationals, it is only the Liberal Democrats that are truly pushing for a second referendum once a deal is agreed. The problem with the Liberal Democrats, of course, is that we have already heard centre-stage pledges from this party before, and they didn't go well; as soon as the Lib Dems sense power their commitments tend to disappear, as evidenced by the tuition fees debacle back in 2010.

The Conservative Party is gearing the country towards a car-crash Brexit with sky-high tariffs, the lowest corporation tax in Europe, closed borders and no investment in national infrastructure. Labour, on the other hand, is likely to adopt a Norwegian model with access to the Single Market and equal ability to recruit European talent - if they wish to live here, of course. 74% of companies that responded to Ukie's survey had non-UK EU nationals in high-skilled positions, and non-UK EU nationals equate to between 20 - 29% of the total workforce at these companies. Most of the companies surveyed state that they wish to continue to have easy access to the high-skilled workforce from abroad post-Brexit.

A Conservative image of Brexit would include long-term residence visas only being granted to 'high-skilled' individuals from abroad. A work visa from Canada, for example, can currently cost between $500 and $1500; covering such fees for as much as 29% of staff is a serious blow to the budget of any company. Indeed, if these changes to migration policy are implemented, it may mean that only bigger companies are able to pay for work visas, making it close to impossible for smaller studios to provide security for their current EU workforce, or to accommodate new employees from other countries.

Workers' Rights

Let's talk about workers' rights. Bosses of game companies, you can look away now; the person who has coded 20hrs/day for the past three weeks trying to finish a game with little monetary reward, your attention please.

Similar to fashion, film and other creative industries, workers' rights are hardly discussed in the games business. Workers in this sector often feel extremely lucky to be paid for doing something they love, but their labour still creates profits for somebody. While it is inspiring to see the Writers Guild of America, for instance, bringing the entertainment industry in the United States to its knees in 2007 and 2008, that culture of defending workers' rights has yet to come to fruition in the games industry in Britain.

"Similar to fashion, film and other creative industries, workers' rights are hardly discussed in the games business"

Although often criticised for being in cahoots with the unions, the Labour Party's mission is to simply guarantee that the lowest paid workers in any given public or private sector job has some parity with the people at the top. The fact that this is seen as a radical idea is one of the biggest progressive losses in recent history. Sick pay, holiday pay, pensions, living wage, regular shifts, paid overtime - these are not extraordinary demands, but the basics of a social contract. These rights have come under threat or been completely eroded during the seven years of the Conservative government in Downing Street.

In the fashion industry, 40% of jobs are currently unpaid There is no data on this for the games industry, but the hope is that we stop such work practices before the sector becomes dependent on them.

Taxes

The most fundamental difference between the Labour and Conservative manifestos are the costings. Theresa May's government will continue its austerity policies, while cutting the top tax brackets and inheritance tax. Corbyn's Labour is proposing a substantial tax hike to pay for the big investment in public spending.

The Conservative spin is that lower corporation tax, for instance, will bring more business into the UK, especially in the Brexit climate. At 19%, the UK's rate is dramatically lower than competitor countries; the United States has a rate of 40%, Germany's is 29.9%, Japan's tax rate is 32.3%, and France's is 33.3%. Margaret Thatcher cut corporation tax from 52% to 35%, and the 2010 coalition government lowered it from 28% to its current level. The Conservative manifesto proposes to further lower it to just 17%. Labour has proposed a rise to 26% (still lower than 2010 levels), which would net approximately £19bn. Canada's corporate tax currently stands at 27%, for instance and it has the third largest video games industry in terms of employment numbers following the USA and Japan, generating over $3bn in 2015.

"A healthy future of the games sector currently requires a clean break from the elitist and close-minded policies offered by the current government"

The Conservative line on corporation tax is that increasing it will discourage investment, but it was the hike in business rates that has choked small entrepreneurs in recent years - George Osborne's policies resulted in some small companies facing a rise in business rates of up to 3000%. With the creation of Labour's proposed National Investment Bank, small indie companies will be able to take out loans at a very low interest rate to boost their growth.

Net Neutrality

The issue most likely to effect the future of gaming is how the internet will be shaped. While proponents of net neutrality have openly criticised the European Union's plans for a Digital Single Market, it now appears that the current British government cannot be trusted on that front either.

"Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet. We disagree," the Conservative party's manifesto reads. "While we cannot create this framework alone, it is for government, not private companies, to protect the security of people and ensure the fairness of the rules by which people and businesses abide.

"So we will establish a regulatory framework in law to underpin our digital charter and to ensure that digital companies, social media platforms and content providers abide by these principles... We will also create a power in law for government to introduce an industry-wide levy from social media companies and communication service providers to support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms, just as is already the case with the gambling industry."

In other words, the the Conservatives plan to create a new national network to replace the Internet as a means of allowing the government full control over what is said and done online. If unopposed, it has the potential to result in Chinese-style walled garden system over which the UK government can exert complete control. Even if none of the issues cited in other parts of this article resonate with the reader's experience in the games industry, surely this extreme reconfiguration of the internet must form an objective necessity to intervene.

With the Parliamentary election days away, there are too many defining policy differences here to stay mute. For both the benefit of the staff and the direction of the business, studios must use their voice in helping to turn the vote around. The recent shift in the polls suggest that people are tired of politics as usual and brave policies are starting to be rewarded. There is no need any longer to appear more conservative, just for the sake of business.

A healthy future of the games sector currently requires a clean break from the elitist and close-minded policies offered by the current government. Video games are by far the largest cultural outlet that engages with the working classes, and studios have immense influence - there has never been a better time to use it.

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Latest comments (13)

Marijam Did Content Creation & PR 3 years ago
Thanks for reading this, now go be vocal!

You can follow my other work @marijamdid and https://medium.com/@marijamdid
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee3 years ago
Completely agree. No reason to stay neutral when we could vote for policies that enhance the industry.
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Andrew Wafer CEO, Pixel Toys3 years ago
Very sad to see an article this biased on GI.Biz. Some of the points have merit, but the coalition and Tory governments have proivded a far more support specifically for the games industry than historically labour. Supportive legislation for industry was due to be cancelled by labour in their last manifesto.
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Show all comments (13)
Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios3 years ago
Historical support is all well and good, but it's very clear that current Conservative policies are overwhelmingly bad for the industry. Thanks for sticking your neck out Marijam!
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Ruben Monteiro Engineer 3 years ago
Suggestion to GamesIndustry.biz (and other left wing biased press outlets):
We know Brexit is an evil monster that will eat your children for breakfast, drink all your beer and bring about the Apocalypse and the end of the world as we know it, but if you could say one or two nice things about it once in a while, it would make your articles more credible.
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There is literally nothing good to say about Brexit.
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Andrew Wafer CEO, Pixel Toys3 years ago
Which policies? @Chris Payne:
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 3 years ago
@Jessica
Brexit is now spearheaded by a woman. A big step towards equality in the area of ruthless political power grabbing at the expense of the electorate. Now young women can look at Trump and say, 'I can do that, because May can do that'.
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Ruben Monteiro Engineer 3 years ago
@Jessica
Come on, you can do it. Here, I'll give it a go:
- Brexit means leaving a club run by decrepit politicians that no one knows / voted for, and therefore not having to pay a membership fee for that "privilege" anymore.

Your turn. Go!
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Keldon Alleyne Strategic Keyboard Basher, Avasopht Development3 years ago
@Ruben: being a member of the EU is more than just "paying a membership for a 'privilege' of being run by decrepit politicians, .." so no, that doesn't qualify as a pro-brexit statement worth publishing unless you just wanted a positive statement regardless of how correct it was.

Being unbiased doesn't mean you have to say nice things about brexit. If it is a good for the reasons you said above, then that would suggest Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and all other EU countries are making a bad decision by remaining.

The decision process was poor. The decision was undoubtedly uninformed and decided by people who, according to studies, were not adequately aware of the known consequences and known risks. Basically the decision was made by people who didn't have a clue.

This is nothing to do with left / right. Hell, even the Conservatives (right wing) turned against Brexit so to call it a left thing is ridiculous at best.
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Richard Barnwell Founder and CEO, Digit Games Studios Ltd3 years ago
As with anything political there are multiple views, and while some points have merits, this article is obviously biased and belongs on a forum for labour supporters. Really disappointed in the GI biz team allowing this. Obviously written for a reaction from a biased point of view.
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@Ruben Monteiro: If you don't know about or vote for your MEPs then that's your problem, not mine. Parliamentary democracy is a pretty standard system across the EU.

The EU isn't perfect(it's too often driven by neoliberal business interests that are directly at odds with human and worker's rights, but then that's certainly not going to be improved by handing the reins entirely over to Theresa May et al) but it represents a spirit of peaceful internationalism, cooperation, tolerance and diversity that I think is sorely needed in these difficult days. Brexit is a deliberate break with those values. There's nothing good about it.
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I think the content of the piece was fine but it prolly should have stuck to the "where do the parties lie on industry relevant topics?" take. No need to push one way or the other when the facts are reported. Phrasing it as "why stay neutral" can p'raps be read as a bit accusatory/unnecessary.
As for Brexit, I've yet to speak to any supporter of it who hasn't been fooled one way or the other. I'd love to hear genuine positives about it from sensible people if for no other reason than it would calm me that it isn't going to be an utter disaster for the nation. But GI.Biz comment sections prolly isn't the place. If any supporters want to DM me on twitter I'm @fireproof_barry
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