Interview

Trade bodies TIGA and UKIE out of touch with indies, reckons Mobile Pie's Will Luton

Both using broken business models

Trade bodies TIGA and UKIE out of touch with indies, reckons Mobile Pie's Will Luton
Just as mobile developers fret over whether to go the paid or freemium route, so there's now a debate surrounding how the associations charged with representing them should fund their operations.

In a post on the studio's blog, Zee-3 co-founder Ste Pickford challenged trade association TIGA's decision to charge non-members for a guide to self-publishing, going on to claim the body's membership fees also alienate indies.

It's a view TIGA CEO Dr. Richard Wilson called into question, claiming it needs fees so it can fight for the industry's interests, such as lobbying the UK Government for tax breaks.

In the view of Mobile Pie's creative director Will Luton, however, such a defence simply doesn't wash. While he agrees associations such as TIGA and UKIE need money, the way they accumulate funds needs serious revision.

We caught up with Will for his take on the best way to tame TIGA for indies.

Pocket Gamer: What did you make of Ste Pickford's claim that TIGA has lost its connection with small, independent studios?

Will Luton: I think he is right. It's an unenviable position for both TIGA and UKIE to be in.

They've spent years making themselves valuable to big physical media publishers and 100 plus man cash rich development teams. The UK industry has changed shaped quickly. "Big games" have mostly either shrunk, died or gone overseas.

We are becoming a nation of, previously sneered upon, social and mobile developers. Which is good, because they're forward looking industries and have bright futures.

However, the trade bodies haven't caught up yet. Tax breaks, age ratings or car boot piracy aren't at the top of the list of concerns for small digital startups. It's how to get noticed, how to develop their business, get funded, how to grow an audience and how to deal with legal situations.

TIGA and UKIE are starting to recognise this, but they aren't showing the value they offer yet. Mobile Pie isn't a member of either, simply because we don't see what we would get for our money.

Ste argues that TIGA's membership fees make it impossible for many indies to join, but what do you make of TIGA's defence that it wouldn't exist without them?

TIGA came out saying is isn't a charity, but it isn't showing the benefits it could offer independent developers. The only tangible answer I've had is you can get a discount for conferences.

Most devs should have enough hustle to get free or cheap entry to conferences anyway. I think we've maybe paid for entry to less than 20 percent of those I went to last year - certainly less than a membership would cost.

A report or two wouldn't swing it either - I can read all that information on blogs and sites like PocketGamer.biz sooner and for free.

The work TIGA does or the things it offers don't benefit us directly. So being a member of a body - and we've considered it - would feel like a charitable donation right now.

So that's a problem for TIGA and UKIE and why so few indies are members. It costs considerable amounts of money, but ostensibly doesn't offer a great deal of benefit.

That's a business model problem they need to sort out. Either it's such good deal it's a no brainer - they act more like a charity with donations rather than subscription - or they give some sort of free, paid and sponsorship mixed model.

I have had a lot of contact from UKIE, both from former CEO Mike Rawlinson and now Jo Twist, and I think it understands these problems. UKIE is talking with other indies too, so I think things will evolve.

In fact I'm organising a free Games Jam with UKIE in association with Develop and London Games Festival at the moment. UKIE have been really good, even though I'm not a member.

Ste cites how the development community has always shared information amongst itself for free, making TIGA's decision to charge non-members for its guide to self-publishing out of step. Is this your experience?

I'm voluntarily running the Best of British group - it's 20 or so UK mobile devs. We get together in the office of Osbourne Clarke in London once a month and talk. Very openly.

It's part of the manifesto to help each other and be open and honest. That's what makes making games great. Like Ste said - all of the gossip and chatting. There's lots of small studios right now and they can't go toe-to-toe with Zynga alone. But if we Power Ranger up - join forces - then we stand a better chance.

That's what BoB is about. Using collective force of lots of small bits. How that evolves is unseen - we've been looking at bundling and cross promotion - but even if it's just a monthly drinking and bitching club, so be it.

TIGA has made much of its efforts to lobby the UK Government to bring in a tax break for games developers. How important do you think that has been?

I think TIGA, UKIE and individuals, like Ian Livingstone, have done brilliant jobs. We need people in the faces of policy makers. I certainly don't know how to do that.

My concerns, however, is that tax breaks are about bringing big games studios back to the UK. I hope it will benefit Mobile Pie and others like us, I'm just not sure if it will.

More broadly speaking, what do you think the role of a trade association for the industry should be?

As I said at back at the beginning, it's an unenviable position to be in. I regularly speak with UKIE and would happily do the same with TIGA - I want it to succeed.

I think there's a solid place for trade bodies within the industry, but it should be about bringing people together, helping new companies and individuals to get on, old companies evolve and representing UK games to the world.

Tax breaks, piracy and ratings are mostly irrelevant to digital startups. I think their business models and revenue streams will have to change.

It should be a land grab - the body that gets small skint companies supporting it today will have big rich companies supporting it tomorrow.

I'm hopeful this is just a painful transition for them and that we'll be a member of a trade body in the future.
Thanks to Will for his time.

You can find out more about Mobile Pie on the studio's website.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

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