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State of Play

Ian Livingstone on what the Government can do to help the UK games industry.

This morning, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee held its sixth evidence session as part of an ongoing inquiry into new media and the creative industries. Representing the games industry were Ian Livingstone, product acquisition director for Eidos, and ELSPA director general Paul Jackson.

A broad range of issues were discussed during the session, from the increasing trend towards outsourcing, the ongoing problem of software piracy and the effect that games with violent content may or may not have on those who play them.

Afterwards, sat down with Livingstone to look at some of those issues in more depth. Read on to find out what he believes the Government must do to support the British games industry and how Eidos plans to exploit the opportunities offered by an ever expanding market. How do you think today's select committee meeting went?

Ian Livingstone: I was very pleased with the way it went. I was expecting a lot more interrogation, but I think they were quite receptive to our industry, which was very encouraging.

Do you get the sense that the UK Government is taking more of an interest in the games industry?

Yes. I think they got off to a slow start, but now they're trying to catch up and they understand the value of digital content, of interactive content - economically as well as culturally - for this country. We are very good at making games. We should not risk losing our premiere position in developing games in particular, and publishing.

What were the key messages you were trying to get across to the committee today in terms of what the Government needs to do to help the industry?

There are a number of areas that are of concern to us. Software piracy, which is effectively theft, and what they can do to address that; the incentives offered by other governments in terms of subsidies; the fact that games should be viewed responsibly in the media rather than negatively; and all the good things about games that often go unnoticed like community, creativity, choice and consequence, problem solving, learning, trial and error... I think they're all great things that people learn when they're playing games.

For too long, they've concentrated on the negative aspects of games, so we're trying to change that perception.

The Government should also look at education. In Korea and other Asian countries in particular, they've put huge resources into training graduates with skills that we need for our industry, and again we've got off to a slow start. We've talked many times to DTI and Government ministers about the fact that we have film school, drama school, art school - and yet we've never had a computer games school.

Somehow there's always been a sense of this irreverent industry with no value because we're in entertainment, but finally, with the initiative from Skillset, there is now a scheme in place. I'm very pleased to be chair of the Computer Games Skills Forum, and hopefully that initiative will carry on and attract more interest.

So basically, it's copyright protection; the value of intellectual property; piracy and theft; education; don't be scared of games, they're good for you, and don't ignore the economic value and cultural value of games for this country.

As an observer today, there was a sense that the Government understands the economic value of the games industry, but actually there's still not an understanding of what videogames are, who's playing them, how the market is changing...

I think a lot of people in Government, because they haven't grown up with games, they don't understand what it is that makes a game. They think all games are violent games played on consoles - they don't understand the breadth of the content, nor the huge market.

It's not just for teenage boys, but for people of all ages - from young children to old people, both male and female. It's really an integral part of our culture, and just as important as music and film. Hopefully, through this initiative, they will become more aware of the value we bring to society.

Who do you blame for that misconception? Is it the fault of the media for focusing on negative aspects, or the games industry for not communicating effectively enough, or the Government for not looking at games in enough depth?

I think it's a bit of everything. Games are seen as entertainment; probably as an industry that's here today, gone tomorrow - whereas it's growing to such an extent that it now contributes to UK PLC more than any other creative industry.

People who don't understand games have always criticised them because they're suspicious of them - as I said today, rather like my parents were scared of my Rolling Stones records and my Superman comics. The media only wants bad news, they don't want good news, and that entrenched negativity is a real problem. But the Government is saying good things about games, and that can only be a positive thing.

Perhaps inevitably, one of the first words to be mentioned in today's meeting was Manhunt, followed swiftly by Bully. Do you get tired of having to defend the games industry because of games like those?

It's a question I always expect. My usual response is that if you judge the whole of the computer games industry on the back of a game like Grand Theft Auto, it's like judging the whole of the film industry on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

There are so many aspects to games now, from grannies playing bingo online to housewives playing casual games, to games on mobile phones, things like Singstar and Buzz... These appeal to a whole new market. We've gone beyond the niche of hardcore games into mainstream entertainment, and I don't think people have actually twigged that yet.

With reference to Eidos specifically, how are you trying to build your product portfolio at the moment? Are you still going for the traditional, 18 to 24 year old male market, or do you plan to take a broader approach?

We have a history of creating action adventure games like Tomb Raider, Hitman and Just Cause, probably because the console gamer has traditionally been male and in their twenties.

But we are expanding our portfolio to reach the new markets that are available. We've got one game, which hasn't been announced yet, that specifically targets girls on Nintendo DS, and we have a couple of other Wii titles - again which haven't been announced - that will target a whole new audience.

What's most interesting for me as the content guy is that innovation in gameplay is now being facilitated on DS and on Wii, and on casual games on PC. It's fantastic that it's not just about an arms race in terms of graphical quality.

Gameplay, at the end of the day, is driving the experience, and capturing a much wider audience. There's a huge opportunity for publishers to explore different areas or create new game ideas that are innovative and fun. I think it's the dawn of a new era for the games industry, and it's very exciting.

Ian Livingstone is product acquisition director for Eidos. Interview by Ellie Gibson. Visit next week to read the rest of the interview and find out Livingstone's opinions on the next-gen console race, Sony's decision to delay the PS3 in Europe and the ESA's plans for the new E3.

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Ellie Gibson avatar
Ellie Gibson: Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.