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Indies echo Livingstone's call for UKIE/TIGA unity

But TIGA defends individual remit as UKIE declines to discuss possible merger

Pitbull's Robert Troughton and Just Add Water's Stuart Gilray have told they would support a merger of games industry trade associations TIGA and UKIE, following Ian Livingstone's recommendation that the two groups should speak with a unified voice in order to affect crucial change in the UK.

But TIGA CEO Richard Wilson has made clear that the board of the development body believes that the industry's needs are best served by the two bodies remaining separate, and that evidence shows the vast majority of mergers and acquisitions "break down".

Both Troughton and Gilray argued that a general merger of UKIE and TIGA is the best way to help the UK's development industry lobby government effectively and reverse the current trend of closures and job losses.

Both also believe that other UK groups, such as GameHorizon, should be incorporated into the single trade association.

"The problem we've got in the UK is there are lots of different camps and opinions flying around, there seems to be little solidarity at times," said Gilray.

"I think UKIE and TIGA should likely become one. We are losing people from the UK industry as at times it's a bit of a headless chicken, so to unite certain bodies would give us a single voice, especially if we can save the various groups like GameHorizon and Game Republic."

The issue of mixed messages being presented to government has caused friction between the ranks of UKIE and TIGA in several cases, a schism which some believe has damaged the industry's relationship with the government.

The potential wisdom of a merger between the two bodies has been an elephant in the room for some time, but UKIE board member Ian Livingstone brought the matter to a head on Tuesday by calling for a greater level of cooperation, and tacitly encouraging a unification of the two institutions in the conclusions to the Livingstone-Hope skills review presentation on Tuesday.

"Progress is all about simplification not complication. In order to be clearly heard, it is important to speak with a single voice. To be taken seriously the videogames industry and its trade bodies must be united to raise awareness of the opportunities it offers and the issues it faces," wrote Livingstone.

Pitbull's Troughton is very much in agreement, calling for a unified body to carry the needs and opinions of the UK games industry to parliament with a single voice - taking in the memberships of all major UK industry trade bodies to ensure a total representation.

"I definitely agree with them [UKIE and TIGA] merging together. I don't see any point in having two bodies representing the games industry. If they don't agree and they're going to government with plans that even they can't agree on, then what's the point? There's no way that the government's going to agree if they're fighting," he said.

"In the UK I think there's more than just those two bodies that need to merge together. There's GameHorizon, which until recently has represented the North East, but they're looking at a more national goal as well. It's going to be another body representing the games industry - why do we need that? Maybe the North East does need something, or it did before, but I don't see why the UK needs another nationwide body."

As the head of an independent studio, Troughton hasn't felt that his best interests have been addressed by the actions of the existing system, and feels that TIGA's campaign for tax breaks has been firmly targeted at helping big business rather than grass roots development.

"I'd like to see one body that represents all studios. I think TIGA, in the past, have concentrated on the large studios. Most of what they were asking for with the tax breaks would benefit long-standing, very large studios but independent developers wouldn't really see any gain from that.

"A lot of the arguments for tax breaks were to the benefit of studios. I run my own studio now, but I'd rather see things which benefit the staff than just lining my own pockets. If you look at what happened with Midway Newcastle, that studio was liquidated because it was owned by a US studio and they had Midway Newcastle as a development house. They were funding the studio with only just enough to make the games, never putting any more in. If the games ever made a profit, that was the publisher's profit.

"So when Midway was going bankrupt it was a very easy studio to close because they could just argue that it had never made a profit. I think that if the government had stepped in at the time to help Midway, it wouldn't have helped the staff there at all. That money would have just gone into the studio and Midway would have used it as a cost reduction.

"That's not what the UK needs, we need to stem the flow of people going to Canada, we need improve the education system, keep people here, train people better. We don't need to help large publishers make more of a profit. That's not the right way to do it. What the government wants from the tax breaks is to see a return on their investment. I don't think that, under TIGA's proposals, they'd see that. So what I'd like to see from a merged body is something where real people can put something into it and before all this stuff goes to government they can take a look at it and decide if it's the right thing to be asking for."

It makes an awkward point for TIGA. As what has traditionally been a body which is intended to represent the needs of developers, as opposed to the publisher-centred UKIE, TIGA needs the support of small developers as well as large, established studios. CEO Richard Wilson believes that they have just that, and that the needs of all of TIGA's members have to be its absolute priority.

"We feel we deliver a very effective and efficient service to TIGA members - not only in terms of lobbying, but also with media exposure, trade support, knowledge transfer, best practice for business - so on and so forth. I think TIGA performs a very good job with very limited resources, it's a very efficient service for its members," he said.

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Dan Pearson