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Scotland Week: Introduction

A preview of a special week of content

Much is said, on almost a daily basis, about the various challenges facing the games industry in the UK. If it's not bad press from age ratings issues, it's the lack of decent courses that's leading to under skilled graduates, or the pressures that Canada, France, Wisconsin, Singapore et al are applying with various financial incentives to lure existing talent away.

A great deal of focus is given to the lines of communication between trade bodies such as ELSPA, Tiga and central government, and while baby steps of progress are being made in terms of getting the games industry's message across, it may come too late for certain sections of the development population.

There's still a huge question mark over precisely how, on the subject of tax relief, the way forward leads. Does the World Trade Organisation clamp down on Canada for destabilising the global picture? It would be interesting to see how such a solution would work, and how long it would take to implement.

Maybe the UK adopts a more European approach, following the decision in France earlier in the year to allow tax breaks for 'cultural' games? That's maybe more likely, but under current economic conditions, while videogames could well be a valuable stabiliser for the UK in the long term it's easy to be sceptical that anything much can and will change in the short to medium term.

But are tax incentives actually necessary for allowing the industry to flourish? Videogames is one of the only media sectors to be spread out so much around the country, and not simply focused in the overly-expensive capital, and with new platforms and distribution models to consider, isn't there an argument for a stronger, more effective form of local support that takes a much more 'on the ground' approach?

That's the main reason why earlier in the year spent a few days in Scotland, principally Dundee. While much is made of some of the games that come out of Scotland - Grand Theft Auto IV and Crackdown being the obvious examples of truly world-beating products - there's an entire ecosystem there that's nurturing fresh talent on one end, while working as a community and providing a genuine choice of career paths at the other.

Cast a net around a few square miles of Dundee itself and you'll pull in a wide variety of companies, working on very different parts of the industry, with different shapes and sizes - yet there's an atmosphere in which everybody seems to know (and get along with) everybody else.

Throughout this week will tell the story of Dundee - and one or two other places as well - and its blossoming industry scene. We'll look at how the seeds from big companies like DMA and VIS have settled, found fertile ground, and are now springing up in new smaller - but profitable - companies, where a healthy approach from the council and local government is helping to sustain and grow them.

Among the companies we'll be talking to are people working on handheld and mobile platforms, companies working for hire to fund the original IP dream, companies working with publishers on conversions of well-known products - all the way through to the multimillion dollar investment in a triple-A MMO product.

Along the way we'll also take a look at the city of Dundee itself, and how it no longer justifies its industrial reputation; why the environment is conducive to a strong sense of community, and what help is on offer - both financially and in terms of advice - to those studying, living and working there.

Of course, Tayside isn't the only place in the country that does demonstrate a progressive attitude towards an industry that - although it only employs a relatively small number of people - generates a huge amount of revenue. Clearly there are other clusters of excellence that do exist, and systems in place to support that.

But it does represent a nicely complete picture, and particularly one that you don't hear about a great deal. Taken as a whole, Scotland Week will piece together all of these and show what's possible when everybody works together to pull in the same direction - and maybe there are some lessons to be learned about the overall benefits of championing videogames companies.

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