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Let us play

Douglas Fraser | 15:30 UK time, Friday, 24 December 2010

Symbolic of secular Christmas, it's the very moment when church services start across the country that broadband will be under most pressure from people booting up their new gizmos.

Broadband provider TalkTalk has forecast that 11am on Christmas Day will see a record number of bytes whizzing down fibre-optic cables; once people have unwrapped their gifts: as they Skype their relatives around the world: and perhaps for some, as the winter sales get under way online.

The company cites an estimate of £2bn being spent on technology this Christmas - more than quarter of the total for the nation's presents.

It seems we've never had such a digital Christmas, and that reflects growing activity in recent months to respond to demand and technology changes.

The change seems most dynamic in the games industry. This week, a detailed report on the gaming industry across Europe showed how fast things are changing, and moving to interactive gaming online and on mobile.

Commissioned by the European Commission, 'Born Digital/Grown Digital' reported the games industry is growing four-times faster than the rest of the media and entertainment industry. Globally valued at more than £35bn in 2009, it's expected to grow 70% in the next three years, while the rest of the industry grows 17%.

In Britain, gaming outgrew the cinema market during 2009, and Ofcom is quoted saying earlier this year that online games are now as big as downloading music and video.

Super Mario

The UK consumer's role in this is striking. In mobile gaming, for instance, Britain saw 37% growth in 2008, taking it far ahead of the rest of Europe, with revenues of £261m. France was next on £167m, Germany on £98m. Britain was proportionately far ahead of the US, and trailed only Japan and South Korea.

The consumer demand is reflected in Britain's lead within the European industry. The report shows the UK, in May this year, was rated as having 23 of the 27 top ranking games developers.

Realtime Worlds was one of them and a great hope for Dundee, but it turned into one of the most prominent Scottish collapses of 2010, brought down by the development costs and unsuccessful launch of its APB game.

However, Rockstar North, also based in Dundee, was placed third in the world for games developing, after America's Blizzard and Japan's Nintendo. The next biggest European company outside the UK is France's Ubisoft, at number 39.

In the year of his 25th birthday, Super Mario the plumber finds that his Italian home turf barely features.

Controlling the food chain

The report found that American and Japanese presence in the console hardware market leaves Europeans at a disadvantage, as those who make the platforms tend to "control the food chain".

There's a hope that companies such as Finland's Nokia can make up ground with its mobile gaming platform.

There are other lessons to be learned from success elsewhere. The games industry in Britain has been pushing hard for the tax breaks its Canadian competitors receive. It had some from the outgoing Labour government, but lost them when austerity overtook the Treasury last May and the measure was reversed.

South Korea is particularly proud of making gaming the first major technology in which it's taken a world lead. Like Canada, it's taken a long-term view and used government intervention, creating two quangos to promote the industry, while setting up ratings and qualifications systems. Since 2000, it's even offered skilled game developers an alternative to military service.

That, it seems, is how seriously the industry is being taken. This, it's argued, is an example of a sector that has been "born digital", but which continues to face disruptive innovation and opportunities for new entrants.

Including technologies that create environments and respond to movement, it has big potential for applications spreading through the convergence with other creative output, as well as e-government, health, culture and education.

So once the Christmas wrapping of this year's Wii has been put away, we're being advised to treat this more seriously, as a sector that's a lot more than an adolescent play-thing.


  • Comment number 1.

    At a time when most bloggers on the BBC are after taxing us to death, it is interesting that such a successful industry as the gaming industry needs tax breaks. Anyone up for a flat tax at 16% and the removal of tax on savings income to cut the financial services down to size?

    I thought not.

    We need more Engineers.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hullo Douglas

    May the Flying Spaghetti Monster go with you :)

    Let’s look forward to good progress up that Scottish Independence road next year.

    A great Christmas and a happy New Year to you & your good buddy, Brian!

  • Comment number 3.

    While some play games, others in the East are making money by making the gizmos.

    I give the UK ten more years of illusion.....

  • Comment number 4.

    Why do people need to fork out on games to immerse themselves in a fantasy world devoid of reality and in the end utterly meaningless when they can pick up a Labour party manifesto for free?

  • Comment number 5.

    "Commissioned by the European Commission, 'Born Digital/Grown Digital' reported the games industry is growing four-times faster than the rest of the media and entertainment industry."

    Sounds like just another case of the Eurocrats jealous and paranoid of American success in an industry or market that they feel they need to intervene with government handouts to try and prove they can do the same, or better.


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