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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 Size Active Companies Employees Total GVA
1 - 9 1,865 3,664 £339.7m
10 - 24 116 1,668 £268.5m
25 - 49 52 1,692 £472.2m
50 - 99 27 1,813 £269.1m
100 - 249 24 3,089 £280.3m
250+ 9 4,236 £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.

Position Work Area Companies FT Employees Total GVA
1 London 588 5,107 £1.39bn
2 South East 376 3,266 £356.3m
3 North West 174 1,315 £157.3m
4 Scotland 113 1,156 £131.2m
5 West Midlands 134 1,209 £130.8m
6 North East 52 518 £99.9m
7 East Midlands 95 906 £74.1m
8 East of England 166 1,209 £54.3m
9 Yorkshire and the Humber 149 767 £42.9m
10 South West 152 423 £32.5m
11 Wales 54 172 £14.4
12 Northern Ireland 35 77 £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.

Position Work Area Companies FT Employees Total GVA
1 London 573 4,980 £1.362bn
2 Slough and Heathrow 62 595 £116.2m
3 Leamington Spa 34 907 £100.7m
4 Newcastle Upon Tyne 20 372 £85.8m
5 Crawley (inc Horsham) 24 579 £83.7m
6 Edinburgh 32 657 £80.3m
7 Manchester 82 369 £66.1m
8 Guildford and Aldershot 64 855 £64m
9 Liverpool 35 152 £38m
10 Dundee 33 306 £30.9m
11 Cambridge 47 853 £28.7m
12 Crewe (inc Knutsford) 8 558 £28.6m
13 Lincoln 8 328 £26.7m
14 Brighton 65 277 £24.1m
15 Medway 4 146 £21.6m
16 Nottingham 31 194 £18.5m
17 Milton Keynes 17 95 £17.7m
18 Sheffield 43 331 £17.3m
19 Burton Upon Trent (inc Twycross) 8 113 £17m
20 Oxford 26 312 £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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Christopher Dring avatar

Christopher Dring

Head of Games B2B

Chris is a 15-year media veteran specialising in the business of video games. And, erm, Doctor Who