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Revealed: The largest video game development cities in the UK

Over half of UK games industry are employed outside of London and the South East

The latest report from the BFI and UKIE has revealed the most popular places in the UK for making video games.

The report features data from 2016, and the UK games industry has advanced considerably in that time. However, the information still paints an interesting picture over where games are made, and the impact small businesses are having on the sector.

According to the report, the UK games industry directly employed 16,140 people full time in 2016, and UK companies contributed £1.35 billion in GVA to the UK economy (GVA is the value of goods and services produced in a localised area). If you include indirect and induced impact on the economy, that actually rises to £2.87bn in total GVA.

To put that into context, it's more than twice the total GVA of the UK fishing industry, but below film, publishing and music (which were considerably bigger employers in 2016).

Interestingly, 99.5% of UK games companies were classed as 'small to medium' (fewer than 250 people). Micro-businesses, which are companies fewer than 10 people, represented 13.7% of the industry total GVA (£339million). This group of businesses also employed 23% of the industry workforce in 2016, or 3,664 full time staff (making it the second largest group)

The biggest employers were the very large companies of more than 250 staff. Although there are only nine very large UK games companies at the time of doing this report (companies like Creative Assembly, Sumo Digital and Rockstar North), they represented over 26% of the industry workforce (4,200 full time employees) and contributed £840m in GVA.

Company SizeActive CompaniesEmployeesTotal GVA
1 - 91,8653,664£339.7m
10 - 241161,668£268.5m
25 - 49521,692£472.2m
50 - 99271,813£269.1m
100 - 249243,089£280.3m
250+94,236£840.1m

Development represented 86% of the employment total for video games, with 14% coming from the publishing side (companies like Sega, Activision Blizzard and Xbox have a large publishing presence in the UK).

Unsurprisingly, London was (and is) the biggest hub for video games. If you include the surrounding towns, over 45% of the UK games industry were employed in these areas. That may seem like a lot, but it compares very favourably with the film industry. In terms of London alone, just over 28% of video game jobs were in the city, compared with over 53% of film jobs.

A full breakdown of the biggest game company areas are listed below. Scotland, which has three development hubs in Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow, was the fourth largest area in the UK for game development.

PositionWork AreaCompaniesFT EmployeesTotal GVA
1London5885,107£1.39bn
2South East3763,266£356.3m
3North West1741,315£157.3m
4Scotland1131,156£131.2m
5West Midlands1341,209£130.8m
6North East52518£99.9m
7East Midlands95906£74.1m
8East of England1661,209£54.3m
9Yorkshire and the Humber149767£42.9m
10South West152423£32.5m
11Wales54172£14.4
12Northern Ireland3577£5.6m

In terms of individual towns and cities, the games development scene in the UK has increased significantly since this report was done, with numerous new studios in Brighton, and significant expansion to developers such as Frontier and Jagex in Cambridge, and Playground Games in Leamington Spa.

Nevertheless, it still shows us just where the big game development locations happen to be. The Slough and Heathrow area is strong due to its concentration of games publishing businesses, including Activision Blizzard.

Guildford and Leamington Spa had the largest number of games industry employees outside of London, and there are 23 UK towns and cities that are home to 20 or more games companies.

It all highlights that unlike other entertainment industries, the games development scene is spread across the UK. That's not quite the case with publishing, however, with 91% of games publishing roles being based in London or the South East.

PositionWork AreaCompaniesFT EmployeesTotal GVA
1London5734,980£1.362bn
2Slough and Heathrow62595£116.2m
3Leamington Spa34907£100.7m
4Newcastle Upon Tyne20372£85.8m
5Crawley (inc Horsham)24579£83.7m
6Edinburgh32657£80.3m
7Manchester82369£66.1m
8Guildford and Aldershot64855£64m
9Liverpool35152£38m
10Dundee33306£30.9m
11Cambridge47853£28.7m
12Crewe (inc Knutsford)8558£28.6m
13Lincoln8328£26.7m
14Brighton65277£24.1m
15Medway4146£21.6m
16Nottingham31194£18.5m
17Milton Keynes1795£17.7m
18Sheffield43331£17.3m
19Burton Upon Trent (inc Twycross)8113£17m
20Oxford26312£14.4m

Note: In this chart, UKIE is referring to the 'London Travel To Work Area', which covers a slightly different area to the Regional definition (hence the differing numbers you see here.

“A big reason for the success of the games industry in the UK is its regional diversity, as this report shows," stated UKIE CEO Dr Jo Twist OBE.

"We're proud that so many fantastically creative games businesses have been able to make their homes in towns and cities across the UK, delivering tangible local benefits to communities from globally successful games."

UKIE Chair Stuart Dinsey added: "We look forward to working with government and policy makers to bring the jobs of the future to local communities.”

All the data from this report came from the underlying dataset used in the Screen Business report, compiled by the BFI. Games companies are considered active based on their trading status in Companies House.

The next Screen Business report is about to get underway with a more up-to-date look at the UK video games industry. Since this report was compiled, the UK games development industry has received outside investment from the likes of Microsoft and Take-Two, while developers and publishers such as Sumo Digital, Team17 and Codemasters have floated on the stock exchange.

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Latest comments (8)

Jason Avent Studio Head / Creative Director, TT Games Publishing6 months ago
It's a great message that the industry is spread right over the UK. Brilliant. But I'm not sure your figures are correct because I know for sure that Brighton has more than 277 FT employees in games. Here's a quick estimate of the ones I'm pretty sure about: Boss Alien (60), TT Odyssey (30), Gobo (60), Electric Square (130), Mag Interactive (15), Hanger 13 (80), Chinese Room (10), Media Tonic (10?), Hi Rez (10 in development), Futurlab (25). That's over 400 employees and that's just the ones I can think of straight away. There are lots of other little studios in Brighton and Hove too. This is just my local area. What other numbers aren't correct in this article?
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Richard Westmoreland Senior Game Designer, Codemasters Birmingham6 months ago
Birmingham isn't even in the top 20? That's sad. I get that Leamington isn't far away and is a big hub for development but you'd think the UK's second-biggest city would attract more developers.
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Ross Mansfield Creative Director Furious Bee 6 months ago
The numbers for Sheffield are way out as well, it's closer to 15 than 43, based on UKIE's own videogame map, whose data is also from 2016. And most of the ones who do still have an active website haven't released anything for the best part of a decade...
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Christopher Dring Publisher, GamesIndustry.biz6 months ago
@Jason Avent: So I did note that Brighton looked off. But then, I also noted that Electric Square were a small Gobo offshoot at the time. Hangar 13 didn't exist.
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Christopher Dring Publisher, GamesIndustry.biz6 months ago
@Ross Mansfield: Different methodologies. The UKIE Game Map is crowd-sourced, I thought? Not based on 2016 data.
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Dan Griliopoulos Lead Content Editor, Improbable6 months ago
That region list feels a bit odd. Having Scotland, an entire huge country (3/5 the size of England) being next to the West Midlands (1/130 the size of England and basically just Greater Birmingham).
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Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments6 months ago
@Dan Griliopoulos: West Midlands as a region isn't the same as the county; it includes about 5 other counties.
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Ross Mansfield Creative Director Furious Bee 6 months ago
Yeah, maybe it is...where did the BFI get their data from though? Maybe theres just lots of studios that I haven't heard about around here in the last 20 years! Most of the studios on the games map (in sheffield) are not LTD companies, so not listed on companies house either.

Sumo currently have over 300 employees in sheffield, which accounts for most of the FT employees as well, I'm not sure they were that much smaller in 2016?
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