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Waving, not drowning

Disappointed, but not surprised. That's the mantra we keep hearing from the UK games industry in response to George Osborne's decision to scrap tax relief plans for developers, and to annul the regional development agencies that have helped fund game production assistance in this country.

Not surprised indeed – the country is in economic crisis, so anything that appears to make an immediate saving was always going to be first against the wall. There's another reason to not be surprised, though. It's because there's a long tradition of UK governments not taking the videogames industry seriously.

"Poorly targeted," said Osborne in reference to the planned tax relief. You could almost taste his contempt, a Victorian sneer towards something seen as not being a serious business. The justification for this execution of hope was that £40 million 2011 would be freed up there and then.

£40 million. It's not, in the grand scheme of things, that big a number. At least, not compared to the hundreds of millions of pounds and thousands of jobs that could well have resulted from supporting this industry.

The UK could and should be a bastion of games development. This country's output has been culturally vital to the diversity of games, from the near-mad abstraction of the 80s Spectrum scene to Rockstar's (one could say cruelly) tight grip on the reigns of cool. The likes of Bizarre, Lionhead, Rare and Rebellion create some of the contemporary industry's most successful games. We might not have Infinity Ward, Bungie and Blizzard, but this country is part and parcel of what videogaming is.

The UK as a videogames presence won't die because of one government's reckless decision, of course, but it means nations such as Canada, which do provide relief for what's now one of the world's most profitable entertainment industries, will prove more attractive to studios and UK creatives alike. A developer brain-drain would be tragic.

Equally tragic is that the successful likes of Rockstar and Rare may have contributed to the calls for a firing squad. While the Conservative government is historically lenient towards the rich, the prospect of the creators of Grand Theft Auto dodging their tax could well have been seen as a step too far. The size of the cheque that Rockstar hands into HMRC each year can scarcely be imagined.

We don't need a hundred Rockstars. But we do need to get back to an age of Bullfrogs, Mucky Foots, Free Radicals and Bitmap Brothers. Hopefully, looking at what has been achieved here and at those studios which are still thriving, and at smaller projects such as Channel 4's investment in independent developers, the British videogaming industry will stand tall even without the government's support.

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Alec Meer avatar
Alec Meer: A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.