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Barclays and Ukie on how their Mobile Games Growth Program will provide a boost to the industry

Daniel Wood of Ukie and David Gowans of Barclays discuss the support available through their investment program
Barclays and Ukie on how their Mobile Games Growth Program will provide a boost to the industry

The Mobile Games Growth Programfrom Ukie in partnership with Barclays has closed its doors to applicants and we await to see who the cohort for 2022 will be. We spoke to David Gowans and Daniel Wood about the scheme, why it exists and what their hopes are for those involved. I want to talk about how the program came about in the first place, and more about the aims and ambitions of it.

Daniel Wood (Ukie): So to give it some background, basically this is building on the success of some other programs that UKIE has already run. We’ve run a couple of business programs in partnership with Creative UK as part of their creative enterprise program, a foundation program for earlier stage games businesses and again, scale up for more experience in gaming businesses. So, they’ve already been really successful. In terms of the mobile in particular, we speak to lots of mobile games business leaders, founders, andCEOs, as to what we do.

One of the things we consistently hear back from them is that it’s a lack of business skills that can hold them back, particularly in the growth stage. So the new mobile program, delivered obviously in partnership with Barclays, is really important to give these CEOs and founders a real competitive boost in what is clearly a competitive, global marketplace.

David Gowans (Barclays): We feel it’s really important to support, and we can make a big impact on entrepreneurs, fledgling businesses, to help them grow in skill. And at Barclays, what we’ve done for several years now, we’re kind of the only bank of our type to have a dedicated games and esports team. And games makers are creating games and needing to compete at a global level, they need support from every different angle possible. Us, as a global bank, we can support all the way from an entrepreneur with a games idea up to some of the biggest games companies in the world with their global needs. But with mobile we’ve seen a massive amount of creativity and innovation that came from mobile developers. Often those developers can start very small, communal, just a person or a couple of people, those creative people have a real drive in creating, they are experts at that. But they sometimes can have a small-focus on creating the best game possible, that they need a bit of extra help and support when it comes to business skills – making sure that they can scale, and operate their business so they can keep doing this and make the best possible games in the future.

I think there is a real need for a dedicated mobile program for the creators in that space. Because of the nature of how they could start. So, I’m really, really happy we can partner with the Barclays Business Building programs we have and with UKie to really make an impact in that sector.

Do you see it that way because mobile is a huge market which is relatively easy to get into?

Daniel: Yeah, absolutely, you know there are hundreds of early stage and start-up mobile businesses all with a mode of ideas. I think one of the key things about this program though, is that we recognise that mobile has a very distinct system, from the platforms it uses, the business models, to the techniques from integrating game economies and so on. I think that is the distinction, certainly from the other programs we do. It’s key to stress that this program is designed by and for mobile businesses. We consulted pretty widely, we worked with the Ukie mobile groups, a cross-section of our mobile membership, and we’re widening that to shape a program to make sure it is – when the businesses are going, we’ll be hearing from people who’ve been in the mobile industry – they know what they’re talking about – and they are speaking their language. I think that’s the distinction point to make there as well.

David: I’m with Dan on that. As I’m sure you know, mobile is an incredible area of growth. It accounts for a lot of the video games industry’s growth comes from mobile. In fact, a lot of people’s first experience with games now comes from engaging on mobile platforms. It’s quite democratised to be able to pick up the tools and develop and self-publish more and more and remove some barriers that are there. But instantly you are competing at a global level with your game. It’s down to there’s so many stories and so many experiences that are out there, that really are invaluable, can really go through this program that we can bottle some of that.

There must be some economical motivation? I’m assuming that Barclays see the mobile games industry, the games industry in general, as being very important to the UK economy. Is that where you came from with this?

David: Yeah, but we do bank a good chunk of the games industry, mobile developers, console PC, a good chunk, and we have done for many years.W e see it in our data as well, the incredible amount of growth when we put out our report earlier this year – the increase in customer spend when it comes to games. And people are turning to games more and more as their primary source of entertainment or to engage and connect with friends. I think for us, what I really hope is that we can be on top of supporting and helping the industry grow, that we can be a bank that can understand and be part of the conversation with games makers, with mobile games makers, the journey that they face as a business. And that we can support them every step of the way, whether it’s entrepreneurs,through our business-building programs that we have in place there. To reach our high-growth programs, all the way through – world-wide successes that we can support at every single step.

I really hope that through what we’ve done – and you know we’ve been a partner with Ukie for years and done a lot of activities with them. We’re always learning about the games industry, about how we can support them further, and how we can become a true partner. And when it comes to addressing their needs that it has, the unique sector that it is.

Daniel: I think in the program we make it very clear this is all about business and growth. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think the last commercial consumer spend was £1.5 billion in the UK on mobile, so it’s clearly a big market. And in terms of what we want the program to do and what success looks like, we want to give our business the best chance to scale and grow. So at the very least, we want all the businesses in the program to be more confident in running a successful mobile games business. As David said, they can all make games but being a successful business? I think that one of the quotes stands out from our game scale-up program that we did. One of the participants said that they now think like a successful business, and that minds-shift is a real key win within that. From that, they could then propel their business forward. And of course, again, just going back to some of the success we’ve had with the other programs, we obviously want tangible signs of growth, so that’s investment, or growing their team, or growing their revenue. Ultimately, it is about growing a business and this is all about giving the business the boost to do that.

Yeah it’s always the business side that is the difficulty for creatives.

Daniel: Absolutely, and one of the things you want to do as part of the program, sort of a key theme throughout, is you want the business to leave with a polished ‘pitch deck’ and that’s not necessarily a pitch deck you’re going to be out touting for funding to investors. It’ll be the essence of your business – it will help you crystallise your thinking. What is your business, who is your audience, what do you want people, your customers and your major investors to know about you, so you’re crystal-clear on what you’re doing. And you can therefore set your direction from that. But that’s something that’s a tangible output from them.

I’m interested to know how you choose the cohort for this program? What’s the process you’re going to go through?

Daniel: Yes, we’ve certainly had lots of interest and it will be a competitive process. We will have more applications than we’ve got spaces for. What we’re looking for is founders, CEOs, leaders of promising UK mobile games developers, and not just developers, games businesses, mostly developers I think. Who are looking to improve their business skills knowledge. We’ve kept the criteria fairly broad, deliberately, because we want as wide a sample to apply. But what we’ve done to give some guidance: we’re looking for applicants who can show an entrepreneurial outlook; they have to be in for the business side as much as the creative side. They will be asked to show how their businesses can demonstrate ambition and potential for growth. So that can all be fairly subjective, I guess.

We asked in the application form things like “Is your business incorporated? Have you already assembled a team?” Not necessarily a big full time team, you might contain freelance, you’re working with some people you know, but you’re doing it in an organised, regular way. “Have you already released a game?” or you’ve got a game in fairly advanced production. Or have you already generated revenue, or raised funding? These aren’t all “you must tick these boxes to get on it” but these are indicators we will be looking for. What it is, is to make sure businesses that are serious about their business and they are committed to learning the skills. Because it is a competitive place, we don’t want to offer to people that aren’t going to seize it with both hands, as it were.

David: And I think working in this field and speaking with people, the amount of people who could benefit from programs like this already - I speak to mobile developers, and they wish that they had had some more structural help. I think what really appeals to us with the program with Ukie is that it puts up as few barriers as possible. So that we have a really open and diverse as possible application base, so that Dan can go “right, where can we make the biggest impact and have the best support for people who are serious about moving forward with their business within mobile?”. That’s what really attracted us to partnering up and adding some value and support with the program, and more importantly, to the creators themselves.

Once you have the cohort in place, will there be any further news - follow-ups, success stories, that kind of thing?

Daniel: Absolutely, yeah, I mean we will have a vested interest in how well they are all doing. We want to make sure that they benefit from being on this program but getting promoted as part of it. We want to be able to put them in front of investors, we want to be able to do all sorts with them. We also want them to foster a community among them. So one of the things we’ve learned from other programs is that one of the real benefits of it is getting a cohort of businesses who are all in the same position as you, and the ability to kind of lean on and learn from your fellows in the cohorts, is really important. So to be fostering, trying face-to-face stuff, and as much collaboration as we can between the cohorts. Yeah, it’s a point of pride for everyone to know about it and the cohort themselves to get to know each other as well.

David: I would love that [to follow up on progress]. I guess it’s the stories that are important, from people that are going through this process, as this program is running, and people that aren’t part of the programme that can share and learn from what’s happening on the program. I think that’s equally as important.

I think that it’s great how the gaming industry is competitive, but not to ‘let’s just trample over each other to be successful’ levels.

David: Absolutely. I think you’re bang on there. I think that the thing with the games industry, apart from it being the best, most fun industry that there is, with the most loveliest people – it is that kind of, ‘rising tide raises all boats’ approach, where everyone does well, the industry does well, and everyone is in this. There is so much support out there, you know – the industry talks to each other, it shares. We want to harness that and focus that a little bit with this program. Through experts and mentors and kind of, real shining lights in the industry to share what’s worked for them. You’re absolutely right. It’s all just people. It’s all people trying their best, using the skills that they’ve developed. Hopefully we can give them a kind of head start or a look at the path that is in front of them and prepare them better for it.

Fantastic. Is there anything else that you want to add, Daniel?

Daniel: I don’t think so, no, just that we would love as many people from as many different backgrounds to apply.

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