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80m Creative Industries Clusters Programme launches to fund new R&D projects

Abertay University representing video games in new initiative by Arts and Humanities Research Council

Key academic institutions across the UK have received new funding as part of efforts to grow creative businesses around the UK.

Launching today, the Creative Industries Clusters Programme is led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and is part of the government's Industrial Strategy.

It will see 80 million poured into nine universities around the UK, plus the creation of a Policy and Evidence Centre, led by Nesta, to gather research that better informs government decisions that will impact these industries.

Of the nine winning bids, Dundee's Abertay University is the only institution focusing specifically on video games with its InGAME project, although games will also benefit from research and development carried out by other winning clusters.

Ulster University, for example, aims to grow the creative industries in Northern Ireland - "particularly the extant animation and games clusters" - while the University of York and Royal Holloway will be researching innovations in immersive and interactive storytelling.

The latter is a joint partnership with the National Film and Television School, pouring 10m into a national centre for immersive storytelling known as StoryFutures Academy. GamesIndustry.biz spoke to this project's leaders last month.

At a launch event in London this morning, AHRC executive chairman Professor Andrew Thompson described the programme as a "very important milestone" for the Council and highlighted the creative industries as "a very important part of the UK economy."

"With the nine [clusters], we cover multiple sectors of the creative industries and we touch many, if not all, parts of the country," he said.

Thompson later added: "In so many ways, government is still playing catch-up to the reality of how important and valuable our cultural and creative industries are."

Sir Peter Balazgette addressing attendees of this morning's launch event

Sir Peter Balazgette addressing attendees of this morning's launch event

The key speaker at the launch was Sir Peter Bazalgette, executive chairman of ITV and board member of UK Research & Innovation.

Last year, Bazalgette published an independent review of the creative industries, recommending (among other things) a 23.7 million extension to the UK Games Fund and more efforts in educating students about career paths into the games industry. Some of his wider recommendations eventually informed the Clusters Programme.

"Ten years ago, this phenomenon we're launching today would have been unthinkable," he told attendees. "The Research Council would not have seen it as part of its job, and wouldn't have identified the opportunities for the creative and cultural industries."

The goal of the Clusters Programme is to grow hubs for businesses in games, film, TV, fashion and more outside of London. In the games industry, the UK has several established hubs - including Dundee, Guildford, Cambridge, Leamington - but the larger ones are often located near the capital.

"The historic problem in this country has not been that London and the South East is too big, but that other towns and cities are too small compared to those in France, Germany or Italy," said Bazalgette. "Looking at this through the lens of the creative industries, 46 per cent of those industries are in London and the South East. We want them to continue to grow, but we want the creative industries to grow elsewhere and that's why what we're launching this morning has real significance."

Bazlagette emphasised that this is "not simply about economic growth", which so many other industry sectors focus on, but also about the "additional cultural and social dividend" inherent to the creative industries.

Looking specifically at how Abertay will benefit from the Clusters Programmer, we're told the 5.25 million InGAME is receiving from AHRC will be combined with other finance. The Scottish Funding Council is also contributing 500,000 to the project, and when additional support from various partners and supporters is taken into account, the project's total value comes in at 12 million.

"With creative industries in general, the challenge is to continually innovate and develop new products, services and experiences," Professor Gregor White, head of Abertay's school for design and informatics, told GamesIndustry.biz.

"The games market is very competitive and innovation is a very important part of staying in the market and ahead of the crowd, and your best chance of offering something slightly more unique that's going to attract the attention of players."

InGAME project director Sean Taylor (left) and Abertay professor Gregor White (right)

InGAME project director Sean Taylor (left) and Abertay professor Gregor White (right)

As mentioned, InGAME is the only project specifically focused on this industry. Does this increase the pressure on Abertay to prove the benefits of the government's financial support?

"It doesn't put pressure on per se," said project director Sean Taylor. "What it does is gives us the opportunity to amplify the great work that we know is already taking place within the games industry. We can help shine a light on a lot of things that are already happening and help people get that to the next level. We can give the creation and invention in the UK games industry a platform - and crucially give it a platform that already has some government eyes on it."

White added: "Our industry is incredibly valuable to the economy. It's one of the fastest-growing, most agile industries - and given the uncertain times we're in, agility is probably going to be an important feature. The government hasn't put a huge amount of investment into the UK games industry - this is probably the biggest investment for quite some time and likely to be for the future, so it's really important that we're successful and can deliver on the promise of that investment."

He concluded by observing that, while this will of course benefit the local games scene in Dundee, its full implications are nationwide.

"We see potential innovations, new technologies, new processes and practices coming out of R&D projects but then feeding into the sector across the UK and across the world," said White. "We have a responsibility to the wider games sector."

In his review last year, Balazgette recommended the government invest 500,000 into the creative industries. This morning, he said when he had previously been asked if he was disappointed this was not followed, he emphasised that the money allocated "is a start."

"If I add this 80 million scheme to the 20 million cultural dividend fund the Arts Council is overseeing and the 50 million-plus that's going into immersive technology, actually that's more than 150 million," he said. "So we're on our way."

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