Developers, publishers and game industry professionals in the UK should care what the government thinks, whether that's to the industry's advantage or detriment, says UKIE chief strategy officer and acting co-CEO Daniel Wood.
In his talk at Develop: Brighton 2023, Wood spoke about the current state of government regulation and support in the UK, as well as further scrutiny both directly and as a result of new bills. UKIE is an industry body that has repeatedly called for greater attention to be given to the UK games industry, as well as further game funding, who also received a big win recently when the government announced a huge boost to UK Games Fund of £5m.
But the battle for recognition is far from over, especially as greater attention also equals greater scrutiny. As put rather succinctly by Wood, "Because we matter we are getting scrutinised."
Big brother is watching
In his talk, Wood described policy work around the game industry in two ways: more tangible, practical support and regulation, an invisible force. Practical support included the UK games fund, skills funding, video games expenditure credit, trade and investment support, local and regional support. While regulation covered a swathe of aspects such as the much-dreaded online safety bill, legislation on lootboxes, the house of lords committee on creative futures and more. In this way the double-edged sword of government attention comes to light.
Wood began by talking about the state of government recognition of the games industry. He notes that the current government has designated the creative sector as one of the five they want to help support, and although he critiques the lack of attention for games in particular - let alone individual platforms such as mobile - he does view it as a major step forward. His advice to game makers is that, just as government influences the industry, the industry can influence the government.
"Because we matter we are getting scrutinised."
He also noted the positive influence of financial support such as the Video Game Financial Expenditure Credit however he highlighted issues with it relating to the "B-word", that being Brexit. He noted that the Video Games Tax Relief can't be applied to workers outside the UK being employed by UK studios, creating a massive issue for studios that utilise remote workers filling skill gaps domestically. But, there was still a silver lining, in this case certain vague wording such as "used or consumed" regarding expenditure.
But what this specific instance indicates is how complex and byzantine government legislation can be. Despite how it usually falls to the wayside in favour of internal industry movement, the judgements made by the government- as Wood notes with the example of lootboxes and legislation against them - can severely impact the industry. You may also remember Paul Gardner of Wiggin warning at PGC London this year that compliance would become a major challenge, and as legislation expands this lesson is more vital than ever.
So should you care what the UK government thinks? Absolutely says Daniel Wood. But remember the UK games industry, and those from abroad seeking to work in it, are not alone. With organisations like UKIE the key strength is the ability to lobby effectively, as other industries do, for better treatment.
When the government asks, “What does the games industry need?” he says it's important for the game industry to answer. There are three separate areas of consultation, skills, funding and regulation. With the first we see one of the primary problems facing the UK game industry specifically, where 10% of roles can go unfilled according to Wood, where a lack of a fixed education pipeline to the game industry can make entry frustrating and difficult for prospective new game makers.
Funding and regulation, as we've already covered, are also both vital, as they offer support and present new obstacles in equal measure. Regulatory decisions such as making PEGI the sole age-rating body endorsed a self-regulatory approach, but with initiatives like the Online Safety Bill, it's still not clear how they may affect the game industry for better or for worse.
These are issues that affect all platforms, mobile, PC and console included. With UKIE set to debut its manifesto in August/September of 2023, the fight to seek better recognition from the UK government is far from over.