Rory Cellan-Jones

Calling all game developers

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 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.

BBC BoxStill, 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.


  • Comment number 1.

    So you're giving people 15 days to create a flash game that they earn the rights to? And your publicity consists of a post on this blog and a post on the Facebook Garage website. Neither of which fully explain a set of rules or how to participate.

    Excuse my scepticism, but I fear you won't be getting quite as many quality entries as you might have hoped for.

  • Comment number 2.

    I don't whole heartedly agree with that study there.

    I don't think skillset is lacking, I'm just not sure our industry has enough clout to compete.

    Some of the American and Japanese games run on huge budgets at the very forefront of technology and I just don't see the companies in our country as capable of competing.

    Maybe the tax breaks is exactly the answer?

    Either way, dropping down the development list doesn't mean we are in any way, shape, or form, less innovative.

    I'm a proud and passionate, 25 year old gamer who's been through it since the Atari 2600 to Xbox 360 and I've played my fair share of games, although, no doubt there's people far more educated that me on the topic but I can say one thing...

    ...The work that Lionhead Studios has been doing over the past few years has been excellen. Fable and Fable II for example great examples of innovation and talent and all from a British Studio.

    We've got the talent but we just need to match the big players then maybe we might be further up that list.

  • Comment number 3.

    Quantity very rarely equals quality, especialy in the games industry. You only have to look at Electronic Arts for blinding proof of that fact - a games company that produces hundreds of titles a year but typicaly only throws out 1 decent game every 2 or 3.

    That fabled list only really shows the amounts of games a country is producing. It does it actually consider quality and even success of those titles? I doubt it.

    So While the UK might be 3rd and may soon drop to 5th, I think it is still quite safe to say that when it comes to actual quality good top-class a-rated games, we are right up there at the top and will likely continue to be for a very long time ... and its not like thats a new thing either. Elite was one of the most successful games from the original Commodore and Amiga days, British. Theme Park was the same deal, not only British but the same company as the afore mentioned. Tomb Raider, the GTA titles, Little Big Planet etc etc.

    As in everything British, what we lack in numbers we makeup for in quality.

  • Comment number 4.

    At the moment we do produce some of the best games in the industry, the Fable series, GTAIV, and Media Molecules excellent Little big Planet as well as many other titles.

    It seems the lack of a world wide publisher is a problem, perhaps a government back uk publisher should be developed.
    Instead of tax breaks may be a direct development loans would be a better idea where the government give 100 million over a ten year period for studios to developed their own intellectual properties, the aim of the money would be to developed the initial concept which could be taken to investors. These loans would have to be paid back to the government but with very low interest rates. This would act as incentive to make sure any games developed are profitable.

    I also think making money available to further developed university courses is key, targeted investment in 10 to 15 universities and turn these into centres of excellence would be a good start.

    I think competitions like the above by the BBC are a good idea and need to happen more often. So may be a other joint scheme between industry and government, a yearly competition that anyone to enter to developed a game concept and even implement it. This could then be developed into a PSN/xbox release.The game concept should be built by a small development studio chosen as random each year, with say 250,000 pounds prize or developed by the contestant themselves if they have the skill to do so.

    I think tax breaks should be a last resort but government should aim to keep us in the top three in the world. I am not sure if the above would necessary do that but I do not think they would cause the industry any harm.

  • Comment number 5.

    Something that never gets enough exposure is what qualifications you *need* to get a job in the games industry. It's not how many games you've played, how many home brew games you've created or helped to create (although these things may help perk up your CV), it's a good quality degree in maths or physics (not games programming)

    It's all well and good getting kids to make flash games for a competition, but if they truly want to end up as games coders they need to work hard at maths and science. Kids tend to turn their nose up at that and then wonder why they can't get a job at 16 as a programmer.

  • Comment number 6.

    I certainly don't agree with the qualifications required for game development. I'd much rather see a potential employee show a flair for programming with a selection of flash demo's than a math degree.

    Maths and physics are important in game development, but there are many other disciplines as well.

    I've been in the industry some 22 years and don't have anything beyond an O level.

  • Comment number 7.

    More tosh from the UK gaming industry to make up for their own failings.

    There is no lack of qualified and talented programmers out there, but when gaming studios all add on the "requires 5 years experience" sentance they are slitting their own throats.

    I have seen adverts for Graduate schemes that require not just several years practical experience but knowledge of up to a dozen different technical requirements. That is just impossible for anyone who is a 'graduate' to achieve!

    I have seen others wanting a list of skills as long as my arm and offering just £20k for them.

    Is it any wonder that people are leaving the industry in droves when this is how it treats it' potential employees?

    There are plenty of good ones out there, instead of recruiting by CV filtering how about holding open days where you can talk to candidates, interviewing them and taking on the brightest with a view to spending a year training them. That way you get far better employees than the current methods.


    I've been in the industry some 22 years and don't have anything beyond an O level.


    Sadly that means that you began back in the age where I would have loved to be a games programmer, when two guys could create a hit game in their shed. That age has gone the way of the dodo and expecting kids to start from there is stupid.

  • Comment number 8.

    To me it seems the UK games industry's greatest competitor for staff is not Canada, but other UK software fields. This stems from game development being a "dream job", an idea that keeps wages down. Several of my colleagues have moved to other fields of computing so they can raise their families in financial comfort.

    On the other hand, the low wages mean that the UK is a very popular country to develop in. As recently as two years ago the UK offered the cheapest game development amongst western countries (I must admit I've not pursued these figures since then).

    As a solution? A governemt tax break for games companies would allow them to offer better wages to their staff, which would prevent them from moving to other programming fields.

    The employee wins by getting more wages.
    The employer wins by retaining employee knowledge and reduced recruitment costs.
    The industry wins by retaining employees and maintaining internationally competetive development costs.
    Hooray, everyone wins! (except Canada?)

  • Comment number 9.

    I've just started my first job in the games industry as a developer. My friends from university are almost all getting paid more than me for doing less skilled work. I put up with this because I enjoy the work, but it does seem unfair...

  • Comment number 10.

    We produce some amazingly high quaity games in this country, but the problem isn't the skill sets... They are out there its the ridiculous level of qualifications for the incredibly low pay offered.

    The industry in this country also pays very little attention to the community also. I don't think any of the companies in the UK have community teams quite like Bungie, Microsoft's community teams, Blizzard, Valve... Jobs that enthusiastic gamers can get involved with that are necessarily programmers or coders.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    "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."

    ... or someone who has read 'Spook Country' by William Gibson.

  • Comment number 13.

    I don't think the problem in the UK is a lack of skilled people by any means. As others have rightfully said there is the work done by Lionhead Studios, the GTA series from Rockstar and more recently Wipeout HD from Studio Liverpool and Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet is probably the most innovative game in years.

    Others here have mentioned the seemingly paltry wages and salaries paid to those undetaking what are really extremely skilled jobs which is probably a huge cause of any "inadequacy" in the UK games industry.

  • Comment number 14.

    I am very glad, that people are calling the game developers to make good games.


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