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Paul Jackson on why it's time for change at ELSPA.

Earlier this month ELSPA published its manifesto for 2007, revealing plans to modernise the organisation and work more closely with members.

The move comes less than six months after Paul Jackson took over from Roger Bennett as ELSPA director general. Jackson, who formerly worked at Electronic Arts and has been a member of the ELSPA board for more than 12 years, took on the role in August last year.

Following the recent announcement, sat down with Jackson to find out more about what needs to change at ELSPA and what challenges the organisation now faces - plus how it will attempt to tackle piracy following the closure of the Evesham office and several investigator redundancies. have you decided it's time to modernise ELSPA? What are the old fashioned elements which you think need shaping up?

Paul Jackson: I wouldn't really talk in terms of old fashioned. In a sense we can, as a trade association, be the victim of the fast pace of the industry. We need to make sure that we're ready to fight the political and public opinion battles that we face.

We also need to make sure that we're perfectly prepared to deal with the new forms of theft that are coming forward - things like theft on the Internet. So we just need to realign ourselves so that we have the right resources to do the job in front of us.

When announcing the changes, you stated that ELSPA wants to engage more with the industry. What does this mean?

I think we need to engage more clearly and effectively with our members. The industry has grown rapidly and we need to make sure that we're meeting and talking with everybody - so it's not just the board and I who are deciding what ELSPA does.

We also need to engage much more fully in two areas. Firstly in the political arena - we've started this process but we need to develop it more agressively, not just with Government ministers but with shadow spokespeople and Lib Dem spokespeople.

We need to understand where the political consensus is going and be able to affect the political consensus going forward.

What kind of reaction is ELSPA getting from politicians at present?

What's been said to me is that so far we haven't really been punching our weight. Everybody is keen that we really step up to the plate, and we're equally keen to do so.

Do you think the Government now takes the games industry more seriously than it has previously?

All political parties are taking our industry more seriously and I think that's partly because we're a big part of the British economy. We feel very positive about that.

When I first joined the ELSPA board in '92 or '93 there was almost no interaction between us and the political world. There's been a huge growth in the interest in and appreciation of our industry in the last five or six years particularly. But I would say that we're facing enormous challenges, and that we as an industry need to step up and take them on.

It seems that one of the sticking points between the games industry and the Government is the issue of violence in videogames. How do you plan to deal with this?

It's a challenging issue and we need to make our argument - which I feel is a very strong argument. We need to make our case in the political world but we also need to make our case in the public arena. It's too easy to tick off videogames as violent and say that that's all they are - and not think about the issues of education and culture and all the really fabulous things our industry is involved with.

Interestingly enough, I really think that the Government is aware of these issues and the strength and importance of our industry. It's really public opinion that we need to work on.

That's why we need to engage with things like the London Games Festival, which brings our culture out and allows companies to interact with the public. Secondly there's our interaction with organisations like BAFTA, who are very keen for us to be their third pillar alongside film and television. That really helps us to engage with the public.

Shaun Woodward, the minister for creative industries and tourism, has been in the news recently saying that we should have a "games academy" to train people up. However, some people in the industry have questioned whether there's a need for such an institution. Where does ELSPA stand?.

At the moment we're seeking opinion within the industry. There's a need to make sure that we have a strong and effective pool of talent to keep our development studios fully staffed - that we have enough talent coming through.

We're not sure what the best way might be of doing that or if there's a consensus about it. So we're trying to understand what the industry consensus is and we're trying to work with Shaun to find out what the best course of action is.

Going back to the subject of the changes taking place at ELSPA - you've talked about the importance of taking a tough stance on piracy, but you've also closed down the Evesham office and halved the number of investigative staff. Won't that make it harder to tackle piracy?

We're changing the way we attack piracy. The landscape for the theft of IP is changing rapidly and we need to do two things. Firstly, we need to engage with Government and ensure that we're getting stronger and better law enforcement, and that it's better funded. We're making good progress already.

Secondly, we need to become cleverer in dealing with complex online piracy issues. So our aim is to do a lot more in-depth investigative anti-piracy work, as opposed to the anti-piracy work we've been doing in the past. And that needs a different type of anti-piracy unit, which is what we've been constructing."

But it is a smaller anti-piracy unit since you've got less staff?

Yes, the team is smaller, but it will be much more closely targeted on the big pirating organisations which we need to concentrate on and take down. So there will be as many resources put into anti-piracy as before, but it won't necessarily be in investigators.

To summarise, what are ELSPA's key goals now? Where does the organisation need to go next?

There are two key things I want to achieve over the next three years. I want to ensure that the agency is fully engaged in all those areas that a mature entertainment industry is engaged. I want to make sure we're engaged in the political debate, the public arena; I want to make sure that we've got strong industry cultural events ns that will enable us to show our full worth.

Secondly, I want to make sure that ELSPA itself is very professionally organised and ready to help support the industry in all of those things.

Paul Jackson is director general of ELSPA. Interview by Ellie Gibson.

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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.
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