Icon Games' Richard Hill-Whittall says the Conservatives must stand up for the games industry

My meeting with Zac Goldsmith

I have been increasingly frustrated with the lack of support the games industry has received from the Conservatives.

Being a Conservative voter myself, it feels all the more disappointing.

I firmly believe we (the games industry) could be a strong performer in the UK’s economic recovery, given the right care and attention to encourage growth and stability within the industry.

In order to achieve this, we really do need people in the Conservative party who will champion the industry, promote it in a positive light and really help to raise awareness of the many positive aspects the industry offers to the UK.

We are one of the best in the World, but in the last few years we have dipped from third to sixth place in the global development rankings, and we continue to slide.

So, after lunch on New Year’s Day I thought I’d email my local Conservative MP, Zac Goldsmith (pictured), to ask for a meeting. I was quite surprised when he responded a few days later and agreed, so in preparation for the meeting I did a little more research and was rather dazed when I read his Wikipedia entry and dozens of other news pieces describing how charismatic and good looking he was (apparently 17th place in a list of the best looking men in Britain).

As someone with a distinct lack of charisma, I’ve got to be honest and say I was more than a little daunted by the prospect of meeting Zac and trying to get him interested in the games industry!

I met with Zac on 27th January, and while it is fair to say I don’t think he has ever played a video game before, he listened as I presented a series of points (which I have included below). I also left him with a copy of TIGA’s rather good “Supporting Start-ups in the UK Games Development Sector” report, which outlines TIGA’s key policies, including those for Games Tax Relief.

I also sent him over a recent-ish NESTA report which covers many of the issues facing the UK games industry.

I’m currently pressing for a follow-up meeting in the hope that I can convince Zac on the merits of the industry and to lend his support.

While I think I may have my work cut out to get him onside, I certain aim to do that – it really is a great industry, with a lot of potential which just needs more attention to keep it world class.

Meeting Points

• The games industry globally is expected to grow to $82.4billion by 2015, driven by the continuing transition to online and mobile distribution channels and a widening player demographic.

• The UK video games industry is the largest in Europe. In 2010 the UK game development sector contributed just under £1 billion to the UK’s Gross Domestic Product and generated £378 million in direct/indirect tax revenues to the UK Government.

• In 2010, the UK games industry employed 25,000 people including 9,000 highly skilled people in game development. In 2010, the UK had 441 games businesses.

• The UK games industry workforce shrunk by over 10 per cent between 2008 and 2011. 41 per cent of the jobs lost between 2009 and 2011 relocated overseas.

• The loss of jobs in British games studios has seen the Exchequer receive nearly £100m less direct and indirect tax revenues, while the sector’s contribution to UK GDP has fallen by nearly a quarter of a billion since 2008.

• Research published by NESTA in 2009 showed that the advent of Games Tax Relief would: incentivise global publishers to increase funding in UK studios; encourage independent development studios to seek new external, non-publisher funding; and encourage private investors to finance more projects in the games sector and to create new games finance vehicles.

• Game developers in countries including Canada, France, Singapore and the USA receive tax breaks for games production. Ireland is currently planning something along similar lines.

• The UK video game development sector is a sector with a pronounced tendency to export. A typical developer creates 45 per cent of their turnover through the export of games.

• The Government should look again at tax measures which will enable the UK video games sector to grow, such as Games Tax Relief, enhanced R&D tax credits, and measures to improve access to finance for early stage games development studios, including a Creative Content Fund. With the right Government support, the UK games development sector can contribute towards an export led recovery

• Access to affordable sources of finance is a constant challenge for creative media companies, and a significant barrier to growth and stability.

• Former staff of a single major studio (Bizarre Creations) closed by its global publisher owner (Activision) in 2011 indicate that up to 35 per cent of them left the UK, mostly to Canada, and that disproportionately senior staff went overseas versus those that stayed in the UK.

Richard Hall-Whittall is the founder of Icon Games and occasional contributor for Develop. His views do not necessarily reflect Develop’s

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