Mobile Mavens

Made in Britain: Do developers have a responsibility to reflect their national culture in play?

Made in Britain: Do developers have a responsibility to reflect their national culture in play?

The PocketGamer.biz Mobile Mavens is our panel of experts drawn from all sectors of the mobile gaming industry.

Last week, UK trade association TIGA complained that not enough developers are instilling a sense of Britishness in their games – that even titles made on UK shores all too often resort to 'Americanisation' in order to court popularity.

The drive comes following news that developers wishing to take advantage of tax breaks in the UK may need to pass a cultural test of sorts, demonstrating a sense of national identity in play.

So, we asked the Mavens:

Is it the responsibility of developers to push forward the culture from the country their based in?

Should Rovio, Supercell and co. games employ a Finnish flare, and should Halfbrick and Firemonkeys be promoting an Australian agenda?

Will Luton Luton & Son Founder

I don't see what benefits "being British" brings, other than letting us qualify for tax breaks.

Indeed, I don't think we should attempt to simulate culture: God Save the Queen, double-decker buses and the London Eye (see Neon Play's Traffic Panic London video below) are a gift shop caricature of Britain.

Look instead at Channel 4's The Snowman and The Snowdog, Thomas Was Alone or Dear Esther. Those titles aren't being British, they just are British.

Volker Hirsch Co-Founder / Board Member Blue Beck

Alongside multiple industry roles, Volker is the co-founder Oystercrowd, Blue Beck, and Digital M. Former posts at BlackBerry and Scoreloop add to an enviable CV, which also includes the co-founding of Connect2Me

The beauty of mobile games is that a team of five can address a market of billions.

Why would I restrict myself to a small subset of the market - unless in the very rare cases where national or regional flavour makes intrinsic sense to the game itself?

Sounds like some PR was needed on St George's Day, I suppose...

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

I think this issue is about the Americanisation of Britishness as a whole and maybe is not so applicable to other countries by and large who embrace the Americanised version of Britishness and particularly our language, without even realising it.

Over the course of the last century we lost an Empire, and towards the end of that century we also lost power in the influence of our creative artists in music making, films and games.

I think Volker is correct from an international perspective - why should anyone care? But here in the UK we still feel it very deeply.

Volker Hirsch Co-Founder / Board Member Blue Beck

Alongside multiple industry roles, Volker is the co-founder Oystercrowd, Blue Beck, and Digital M. Former posts at BlackBerry and Scoreloop add to an enviable CV, which also includes the co-founding of Connect2Me


Grow up, folks. We all live on the same planet...

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

Volker - business is business, but loss of culture is loss of culture.

We can swallow our pride for the sake of our business but it does not mean we can totally ignore the loss of global cultural influence we are feeling.

David Thomson Founder Ludometrics

National culture should play whatever role the developer deems necessary for the game they're making - GTA: London might be an example of that.

This is a problem with the cultural test overall though. As Will mentions, some things just are inherently British, and wouldn't (or couldn't) have been made in the same way anywhere else (Monty Python is probably a good example from another industry) - they all also turned out to be hugely popular worldwide, but would they have passed the cultural test?

You could probably get enough points, yes, but equally would they have been needed (or even available) for games made by very small teams?

On the flipside, perhaps partly because of the cultural tests, the UK film industry has spawned (with a few exceptions) a whole series of kitchen sinks and what one filmmaker I know calls the "piss in a bottle and throw your granny off the bus" genre.

Worthy films, perhaps, full of artistic merit in some cases, but in no way commercially successful - which is the purported reason for having the tax breaks in the first place.

All that said, there are lots of British stories ready for the telling in new and interesting ways, so I'd disagree with Will on the point that it would purely generate tat. Plenty of material for war games, for a start, so an equivalent of Sid Meier's Gettysburg! could be supported.

But then again, it might be more useful for the BBC or Channel 4 to fund more games that do that in the same way they fund TV shows that tell those stories - I know they have in some cases, but they can always do better.

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

The legality overhanging political correctness, wider libel laws and legally protectable cultural reference have all helped to choke the irreverent under the skin humour that has historically underpinned much of British media culture.

I am guessing other nations with less vicious humour have not been impacted so much by this.

Also, the sophisticated word play inherent in much of British and Irish culture is lost on people who speak Americanised English as a second language. Without the sophisticated understanding of our language. our humour is reduced from Blackadder to Mr Bean.

Will Luton Luton & Son Founder

David - I didn't say it would generate tat, so you're not disagreeing with me.

Oli [Christie, Neon Play CEO], would tax breaks have stopped you making titles like Pro Football Touchdown and Pro Baseball Catcher Hero in favour of games with more British themes?

Oli Christie CEO Neon Play

A 25 percent tax break is considerable, so I think you would think more carefully about the type of games you made.

That said, you need to appeal to a global audience, like we did with Traffic Panic London. But there are only so many games featuring Big Ben and the London Eye you can launch.

The challenge is that the culture test won't make games too contrived and crowbarred in...

David Thomson Founder Ludometrics

Will – apologies. I misinterpreted your 'gift shop caricature' comment; I see what you were getting at on re-reading.

I don't think the cultural test needs to involve crowbarring - pretty sure things like Shaun of the Dead and Attack the Block! would handily qualify for the equivalent film tax break.

Incidentally, isn't Mr Bean one of the highest-earning exports Britain has ever produced? It's a genius piece of creation in a number of ways, no matter what you think of the actual show content.

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

Mr Bean has been a massive success abroad, but it's still viewed with some scepticism at home and highlights the discrepancy in British tastes and international tastes.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

It's an interesting question. It's not something we worry about in the US, but I've heard that France and Canada are two examples that really worry about making sure a minimum percent of media reflects their culture in some way and have laws that make sure that happens.

My Mom was born in Canada and I'll never forget seeing a maple leaf on almost every store and Canadian product that I saw. Or my visit to Quebec where they had ordinances that forbid stores from having English names.

Starbucks needs to call itself Café Starbucks.

Growing up in the US, we just don't think about culture but yet we devour any culture that appeals to us.

Japanese Anime is a perfect example of a culture that many countries around the world heavily consume.

As far as UK culture that we devour: Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, The Office, Trainspotting, Snatch, anything by Terry Gilliam. And then we start getting into music - The Who, Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles...way too much to count.

It's ridiculous to think that forcing - or highly incentivising - people to create content will be effective at safeguarding culture. If it's force fed, people end up being resentful about it or just ignore it.

It's like the government making an anti-drug game, who plays that crap? Who really wants to make a game about double decker busses? I think the only effective way to effectively keep a culture alive is for auteurs within that culture to be truly inspired and create content based on what is important to them.

The cultural showcase might not be so obvious that it hits people over the head but the culture they grew up in will seep into it here and there.

Christopher Kassulke CEO / Owner HandyGames

I think it's not a question of culture here. It's a question of getting a tax reduction.

Will it help our whole industry if we all make games that depend on where we are based?

I am sure HandyGames is also entitled to UK Government money - we developed such a a game with sheep in it called Clouds & Sheep and we also shoot down German airplanes in Aces of the Luftwaffe. It's the RAF at its best.

Concentrate on making great game for a worldwide audience and don't count getting some cents or pennies from your state. It should be up to the developer if they want to put their culture within a game - it can be the salt within a game.

Develop titles for your gamers and not for some few politicians who want to see something your audience doesn't want.

Oscar Clark Consultant, Co-Founder Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

I find it symptomatic of the short term thinking of UK politics that we have to demonstrate our 'Britishness' to get tax breaks to even the playing field in this highly competitive global industry.

It's clearly not enough that Britain's cultural and design provides a huge influence in global aesthetics; disproportionate to the size of our population/GDP but we have to labour the point, with big 'Made In Britain signposts' to have our politicians support this amazing industry.

If you want a promote Britain campaign great (and Chris should be able to go for that too), but thats not the same thing.

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

Maybe shoehorning in Vinnie Jones (English rogue), Hugh Grant (English gent), Steve Coogan (English eccentric), Kiera Knightley (English rose) and "gaw Blimey" blokey types like Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins will really help to seal our fate as being trapped in some never-ending timewarp of red buses, black taxis and tea.

God help us.

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

Vinnie Jones is Welsh!

Volker Hirsch Co-Founder / Board Member Blue Beck

Alongside multiple industry roles, Volker is the co-founder Oystercrowd, Blue Beck, and Digital M. Former posts at BlackBerry and Scoreloop add to an enviable CV, which also includes the co-founding of Connect2Me

I was waiting for this - so at least I wasn't the only one with a cultural lapse.

Charles Chapman Director / Owner First Touch Games

Born in Watford I believe, so about as Welsh as Tony Cascarino was Irish. Talking of football - or soccer - brings us back to the topic, though.

I guess we've had to be culturally anti-British really calling our games 'soccer' rather than 'football' as it's easier all round to have a single consistent app name world-wide, and with USA being such a big market - even for football/soccer - it's a practical change.

Scott Foe Chief Product Officer Ignited Artists

I don't see what the big hubbub is: I, for one, am all for ensuring American cultural superiority through the next century.

Brian Baglow Executive Producer Team Rock Games

I think we're all missing the point a little.

There are a number of organisations and projects in Europe (as in the EU), which support and encourage 'cultural' projects. Not just games and technology, but across the creative sector including film, concerts, festivals, etc.

The definition of cultural incorporates a wide range of definitions, including the employment of local talent, focus on a local audience, revenue coming into a specific country or region and then the actual content.

So you can create a game that is built in a specific country, using talent from that country, funded within that country and aimed at an audience within that country. You can make the content feature big red buses, Rich Tea biscuits, beefeaters – or, indeed, kilts, whisky, shortbread and chips, but that's not actually required.

The cultural angle means that projects with little commercial potential, or small, very focused audiences can still be supported and ensures that the EU as a whole recognises and supports the value of diversity.

The issue of tax breaks HAS to contain a cultural test, in order to avoid the idea of 'state aid' which opens up the a whole variety of problems from unfair competition to discrimination.

In short, either we (the EU member states) all get tax breaks, or nobody does.

France did have a tax relief system that utilised the cultural test (and cinema/film in France/UK/etc has done for years) - that was the foot in the door that allowed the UK to apply for a similar system.

The current position of the European Commission is that they need to investigate whether the games sector actually needs support in terms of tax relief, because it looks to them like it's doing pretty well without any sort of support.

Does that all make sense?

Forgive the total lack of wit or humour, I've spent a week talking to Government and public bodies about topics in and around the entire area and I fear I may never crack a smile again.

Having said all of that, I look forward to the inevitable debate on 'British' content as Scotland heads towards a referendum on independence.

Oscar Clark Consultant, Co-Founder Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

Brian you are of course right that there is a Realpolitik about all this.

And, of course, the cultural measures in practice won't just be about how the number of cockney, Welsh or Yorkshire accents we feature. I imagine even Scottish influences might count.

But we don't have to like it.

Plus, there is problem in how we measure what counts as 'sufficiently cultural'. Their very nature makes it likely that we fall into a retrospective approach judged against a imaginary/political ideal of who is most British.

To be entirely honest, I actually understand the EU objections. We shouldn't need a subsidiary to make games. But this is a global industry where other successful territories are offering tax breaks. There is a clear observable effect which our tax breaks are the proposed solution.

However, personally I'd rather we looked at this differently.

Perhaps we could focus instead on the investment culture for games?

David Thomson Founder Ludometrics

I don't think anyone misunderstands what the cultural test is (and isn't), and what the EU's stance is.

I'm on record as saying that I think pursuing them is a misguided adventure, and just because other countries have them doesn't mean they're the right answer.

But TIGA and UKIE's lobbying has certainly helped put us on Westminster's Sentinel-esque radar, so a tip of the hat to them for that.

I said earlier that national culture should play exactly the sort of role the developer requires it to play, but to some extent it's impossible to avoid that being the case.

The examples of Rovio, Supercell and Halfbrick are good ones, because although I couldn't look at their games and say "Finnish" or "Australian", I certainly feel that the humour and approach of the games matches what I know of people from those countries.

In the same way, lots of games feel "Japanese", and while I don't know the nationality of the writer of Lego City Undercover, a lot of the humour is most definitely British. So asking for games to be more British isn't a very good call to action, because, firstly, nobody knows what the hell you mean and, secondly, they already are British.

Oscar's point about changing the investment culture for games is probably what the actual question needs to be. But that's a whole other discussion!


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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Phil M
Nope.