Game Development in the UK and How Hard It Is

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Author:

Kyle Smith

Publish Date:

25 Nov 2020

At an initial glance, the UK isn’t really known for having much of a game development scene. When people say games dev to me, I usually think of America, Canada and Japan. Although, it’s weird that I think like this, because so many of the greatest games have come from and been developed in completely different areas of the world. In this article I am going to be specifically talking about games development in the UK and generally give context and opinion of whether I believe it to be easy to develop games in the UK or not.

First, let’s take a quick look at the hall of fame for UK developed games, and cast our minds back to the many great developers the UK currently have, or have had: Back in the late 80’s, the golden age of gaming, The Oliver Twins (Andrew and Philip Oliver) created a little game series we know, and love called ‘Dizzy the Egg’. Dizzy was a game which crossed the boundary binding both platformer and point and click adventures together, which I believed has helped path the way for so many 3D adventures titles of today. The game was Published and introduced into Codemasters; a team who is still very much still going today based in Southam, England. Let’s jump forward by about 10 years and we will find Lionheads Studios who have introduced easily two of the most iconic games that we consider today as cult classics. The demi-god wielding RTS, Black & White, and the RPG classic, the Fable series. Unfortunately, in 2016 Lionhead studios was closed by Microsoft, in which they had to work closely along with UK law to ensure that it would not cancel its latest projects, until all fans had been refunded. This aside, Lionhead went on to turn into four different predecessors. Jump a little bit forward to 2006 where a little development team was created called Media Molecule, which is one of four predecessors of Lionhead Studios. Media Molecule was signed into a deal with Sony Computer Entertainment which slated the team to come up with the little infamous platformer ‘Little Big Planet’. Ultimately this title aimed to give gamers the capability to build their own platforming adventures, with the crux of the game allowing users to continually grow the game through creation. Jumping a little more forwards to today, these developers have grown exponentially on this vision to bring us Dreams, which allows fans to create their very own game! Infamous game developers Rockstar believe it or not, have 5 development teams that operate out of the UK! They have Rockstar Leads, London, Lincoln, North (Edinburgh) and International. All of these teams are backed within the UK and have brought us some of our most beloved Rockstar titles such as: Bully, GTA Vice City, GTA IV, GTA V and Manhunt. That’s quite the list of titles for a Curriculum Vitae (UK’s version of a Resume for the overseas folk). To list some of the other games that have come from the UK, just to bolster our excellent history, we have brought to the table: Carmageddon, TimeSplitters, Legacy of Kain Series, Tomb Raider, No Mans Sky, Goldeneye, Battletoads, Conkers Bad Fur Day, Banjo-Kazooie, Sea of Thieves and this is just scratching the surface, as there is so much more that I could list. So, the UK has got a great repertoire of games under its belt, but the question stands – Is games development in the UK is becoming easier or harder to do?

In the UK, most industries are mediated by regulation and regulators. Simply put, there are several rules that are put into place, that industries need to follow to ensure that their actions, processes, procedure and basically everything they do, is backed by the government and law. Gaming is one of the many industries that is heavily regulated, which is amazing for consumers, but for businesses its just another hurdle that needs to be achieved to be able to release a game. Most of the regulations are ones that you would expect across the world, such as: • Intellectual Property, Copy Rights and Licencing • Age Classifications (PEGI and formerly BBFC) • Gambling Policies and Legalities • Employment Law Beyond this, the UK is becoming increasingly aware of the impact of a digital footprint, in which comes one of the key hurdles that I want to discuss. Now to be clear, this hurdle isn’t actually something Game Developers need to think about too actively, although the punishment for getting this wrong is hugely consequential. In the EU, a legislation and law of how data is handled, was passed in May 2018, which challenged businesses to assess how they handled customers data and whether they had consent for how data would be shared. This has broadly been known as GDPR – General Data Protection Regulation. The problem is, if you didn’t follow the 99-part handbook, then the price for breaking the regulation is high, which is a maximum fine of €20 million (about £18 million) or 4% of annual global turnover. To point out the obvious here, you have to pay whichever fee is highest. GDPR is not just empty threats either, it’s a legality that has been applied to the world when interacting with EU citizens. Just to set an example of how serious this can be, Google was fined €50,000,000 for infringement of several GDPR policies. Now equal to the blockers of the games development industry there are some associations that look to protect the interest of businesses too. These associations act as private bodies that offer advice, support, and guidance for their target audience in specific areas. They also represent the gaming community to governing bodies as well. To summarise just a few key ones, the UK has: • The Independent Game Developers' Association (TIGA) who is the network which protects the interests of independent games developers by representing and strengthening the games development and digital publishing sector. • The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE): The UK's leading video games trade organisation, with the mission to make the UK the best place to make, sell and play games. • The Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) which protects software publishers and users, to combat software piracy. • Business Software Alliance (BSA) is the trade organisation representing the global commercial software industry With all this limitation and legality to consider, my question stands: Specifically, how easy (or hard) is it for a game developer in the UK, to set up their own Development Team/Company in the UK?

In the UK, the government has identified that the gaming industry is one that is growing quite rapidly, with a consumer base that is consistently growing and becoming more popular. To this effect, the government has begun to fund a few initiatives that seeks to support communities in approaching games development - The most iconic initiative is the ‘UK Games Fund’. What is the UK Games Fund, I imagine you are asking yourself? Well, it launched in 2015 as a not-for-profit organisation funded by the Government. The fund has targeted itself with helping to develop the UK games development sector, by primarily supporting one of the hardest parts of starting your own project, which is turning an idea into a project. The UK Games Fun wants its funding to help create jobs, promote diverse new teams, and increase the amount of unique gaming IP’s coming out of the UK. To just name a few of the excellent project this titan effort has helped: Roki, American Fugitive, The Occupation, Forgotten Sea, Skeleton Crew, Sovereign, Dungeon Golf, and many other titles. One thing that is worth mentioning, currently the UK is really considering the law around paid ‘Loot Box’ mechanics and is becoming increasingly stricter on this element of gaming. So, the UK Games Fund, will not offer a non-repayable grant to projects that have any gambling elements (or appear to have gambling elements as decided by the UK Games Fund). You can find out more about this excellent offering here: https://www.ukgamesfund.com/ Another nice element that the government has introduced to people trying to start a new business, is free business start-up services. These services range from low-interest, repayable loans of up to £25,000, all the way to access of support and advice. But to dive into the more topical point, let’s talk about those advice and support services. People with the plan to start up their own businesses can get free advice from business advisors, who will help you prepare and understand the rocky roads that are ahead of you, when going through the motions of starting your very own business. Additionally, this free service will give you access to several different bodies that will support you in your specific industry. Also, most importantly for game design, these services offer you a channel of legal support for selling products over-seas and believe it or not, it is a massively understated service on the government guidance. This easily can be one of the biggest mountains for indie game developers to face into due to lack of experience. Most indie devs tackle this by using supporting organisations like UKIE to support with this. But in my opinion, it is always worth knowing the rules yourself, to be able to make the best decisions for your product from as early as possible to avoid delays.

Now we are at the crux of it, is UK games development easy? Well if you’re a huge organisation like Rockstar who is sitting on a large sum of money and is able to take on more risk. Then yes, REALLY easy. There might be a few more regulations to manage, but ultimately these are in the best interests of your consumers. Although as an Indie developer I would say we aren’t quite there yet, but we are extremely close. We have fantastic support for indie start-ups currently, in-fact the amount of money that is possible to be gained for a project is great. Also, with all the free business advice that is available, the government has made it easy for people with an ambition to understand the risk involved before undertaking that dream. My issue is that currently, in a world of ambitious AAA titles, indie games can frequently go un-noticed, and therefore are at risk of not paying back their loans (if taken). Additionally, most platforms ask for a royalty of 33% for each sale, taking even more revenue from these ambitious small developers. We have seen some games that manage to break through this barrier and become huge successes, Fall Guys – I’m looking at you. But the problem is, how many other indie titles have fallen into a position where their product is unnoticed because of so many other great titles that drown it out. I would say that for the UK to help make the games development scene strive and to be a safe place for Indie Developers to deliver on their dreams, the funding is perfect. It’s not too excessive, but it’s a very fair amount to get things going. But to sell a game as best as possible it takes a lot of market knowledge. You have to consider release schedules, aiming to release your game in a quiet window, where there is less risk of your title being drowned out by AAAs. Unless it’s had a fantastic reception during development that is. The game has to also be opened up to advertising, and it is expensive enough just to simply create a game, let alone think about advert costs. So from my perspective, I believe that there has to be more comprehensible access to marketing strategies, advertising and most importantly, a bigger safety net that protects these developers, when they don’t quite hit the return that they aspired to achieve. Remember in games development the cost is all upfront. You pay for the software, music, licences, tools, and hardware right at the beginning. You spend weeks, months even years, paying wages and building your game with no return and then you release it. Its only at that point of release where the game starts to make a return. It is a high-risk area and putting out a game is one of the scariest and most anxious times for developers. They have pushed out their vision, their art, something they believe in, in which the world will play and criticise it. You want people to love it and appreciate the effort that has gone into it. During this time the leaders of these visions, will be going through this, as well as planning/working out, how they will distribute their return from sales to offset any loans taken, and they worry about if it will do well enough to not leave their business in debt. Thank you for reading this lengthy article, I hope you enjoyed it. Let us know what your thoughts are on our social media pages (linked below) and we look forwards to hearing from you!

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