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Her Story is brilliant but the UK game industry needs to gets to grips with games-as-a-service to have global significance

Time to break out of niche
Her Story is brilliant but the UK game industry needs to gets to grips with games-as-a-service to have global significance

It's many years since the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) only celebrated UK talent.

The rise of the global entertainment industry, combined with the repositioning of its main film awards as a pre-Oscar event, means it's become one of a number of organisations vying for coverage across a broadly similar selection of categories.

Local heroes

Both the film and game awards (the latter announced yesterday), still maintain a best of British slot, though: Batman: Arkham Knight being 2016's winner.

And more generally, UK-developed games gained a surprisingly high win ratio with The Chinese Room's Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, and Introversion's Prison Architect being two local winners.

And switching focus from local content to mobile games, Sam Barlow combined both, continuing his whirlwind of global awards success.


 At the game BAFTAs, Her Story racked up wins in the Debut Game, Game Innovation, and Mobile & Handheld Game categories.

The App Store view

Another organisation - albeit rather different - currently highlighting UK mobile game success is Apple.

UK lacks big free-to-play developers.

Its The Brit List on the UK App Store, "celebrates" the London Games Festival and the BAFTA Game Awards.

Apple being Apple, it has its own angle to play with six of the nine highlighted games - including everyone's favourite Her Story - being paid titles.

Of the remaining three free-to-play games, CSR Racing was released in 2012.

Still, given that the massive shift in the global games industry since 2012 has been the rise of free-to-play games - generating billions of dollars for the likes of GungHo (Japan), Supercell (Finland), Mixi (Japan), NetEase (China), Machine Zone (US) and King (Sweden) - the question of how well UK developers are competing in the global market needs to be asked.

Missed the boat

Of course, plenty of successful mobile game companies have a UK office.

  • Before its acquisition by Activision, King was headquartered in London and has a big studio there,
  • Zynga-owned NaturalMotion is based in Oxford,
  • Tencent-owned Miniclip is a Swiss/UK outfit.

But in terms of out-and-out developers making a real splash on the global mobile scene, the UK lacks big free-to-play players.

Space Ape Games (#40 on our Top 50 Mobile Developers 2016 list) may be one in the making, but it's not at significant scale yet.

And that means when we're celebrating the best of UK mobile games, we've left with the likes of ustwo, Sam Barlow, Inkle, Fireproof etc.

Bright, shining minnows

Let's be clear; games such as Monument Valley, The Room and Her Story are great, innovative and - in their own limited way - commercially successful.

They are exactly the sort of quirky, creative output the UK has always been brilliant at.

<em>Monument Valley</em> - brilliant but with niche appeal
Monument Valley - brilliant but with niche appeal

But as mobile gaming has ripped up the console rule book, the bedrock of UK development - Lionhead, Evolution Studios, Blitz Games, Free Radical, Sony Liverpool, Eurocom, Bizarre Creations - has gone.

UK developers haven't got to grips with how the games market has changed.

There are very few examples of teams making the transition successfully: well, only one I can think of. 

CSR Racing was the direct result of Disney shuttering its Black Rock studio in Brighton.

Conversely, Inkle, Fireproof and Sam Barlow, all previously worked in big console studios, and having moved to mobile are effectively now making small scale console games that happen to be released on mobile. 

My overriding conclusion is that UK developers haven't got to grips with how the games market has changed, either in term of global reach and the sort of games players want to play.

The reason?

UK developers remained focused on game, narrative and gameplay, while successful free-to-play developers are laser focused on their titles' meta-game and regularly in-game events.

These are totally different skills, although some argue the balance is moving  slightly back to gameplay.

Maybe in 2017, BAFTA can encourage a change of perceptive with a new Game-as-a-Service category?