- 4 Dec 08, 10:17 GMT
A casual observer might think the UK games sector was in rude good health. After all, this is the country where the year's biggest blockbuster Grand Theft Auto IV was developed - even if the franchise is in foreign hands - and there are hordes of smart young games designers and developers competing to come up with the next big thing.
But according to the innovation quango NESTA (hard to find a better term for this non-governmental body), the picture is a lot gloomier.
Its report, Raising the Game, says Britain is going to slip from third to fifth in the global games developers league table, we haven't the skills we need, and studios and staff are heading to Canada to enjoy that country's generous tax breaks. The solution? Well I think NESTA is calling for similar tax breaks in the UK - but it's hard to be sure.
Still, here's one ray of light - provided by the BBC's Economics and Business Unit where I work. My boss has launched a competition to encourage keen young (or old) games developers to come up with something that could be used as part of a project called The Box. This involves tracking a shipping container as it sails around the world, and is a brilliant idea, which only a far-sighted BBC editor, keen to educate, entertain and inform the licence-fee payer, could have engineered. (There, I think my job may now be safe).
Even more imaginatively, he is now collaborating with a group of developers who've been working on Facebook applications. They are helping to run this competition aimed at making The Box even more engaging for schools which are now following the website and tracking The Box. The top five entrants will be selected by a panel, which will include BBC executives and school students, and they will see their games loaded onto The Box site. Then there will be a public vote - and the winner will be featured on the site for the rest of the project, which will probably last into next summer. They will retain the commercial rights to the game and can then make money from it in any way they wish.
So this is a small project - but one which could show us whether NESTA's view that the games sector in the UK is suffering a severe skills shortage is really accurate. So if you've got an idea for a game for The Box, get cracking. You have until 19 December to raise your game.
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