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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Developing a UK centre of excllence for videogame development

In 1933 the British Film Institute or BFI as it is now known was created to promote greater understanding, appreciation, access and support for the film and television industries in the UK. Its main aims were to encourage public appreciation of film, advise educators, carry out research and act as a mediator between industry, teachers and their audiences. In 2007 we are in a very similar position with the UK videogame industry and the time is right to take this opportunity and create a future for growth.

For the last two years Pixel-Lab has been lobbying government, working with regional development agencies and most importantly industry to create a centre of excellence (physical or virtual) that would build upon this countries excellence in game development and provide a sustainable future. Last week Shawn Woodward called for a school for geeks . We should not be looking at industry for the first steps – the major players in this country are American or Japanaese and are indifferent about where their talent stems. We have a number of UK players who are committed to the UK continuing its development excllence but we need more than this. The first steps need to come from government. A new industry needs supporting, it needs catclysts and it needs to be led. There is a demand from industry for higher skilled workforce, for investment in technology, and for more smaller new companies to be formed, and we need to develop the supply of organizations who can create these.

Seventy years after their foundation, the BFI continues to develop new audiences and filmakers with a passion for cinema. They are proud of their expertise and knowledge and while building on their reputation as the guardian of film past, they are championing the very latest in cinema technology and working with young filmmakers to understand British Cinema.

The BGI will sit at the epicentre of videogaming incubation, research and teaching. By creating a dynamic environment for growth the BGI will provide the catalyst for creating a mature future for videogame development, one the UK deserves. If one word will encapsulate the work of the BGI, it is passion – a passion for videogames and videogame culture in all its forms. To an outsider looking in, the BGI’s passion for games will be obvious. The BGI will be the guardian and champion of videogaming in this country.
If further supported how much additional impact could the games industry have on the GDP of UK plc?
How much is being spent on games courses in academia with no central lead?
How are regional development agencies making up their own strategies with little conversation between them, and a lack of centralized support?
How will the UK ensure it’s heritage in videogames is developed?
How will the UK continue to innovate and develop its creativity?
With US and Japanese publishers buying up UK development studios at a rapid pace and those independent studios who are left working in an environment that will only allow the very strong to survive, who will offer a haven for independent content creators?
A centre of excellence is the anwnser to these questions and many more.
• A campus of new and established game companies equiped with all the tools needed to survive and grow over the next few years.
o The centre will create a pool of talented, experienced individuals with a real portfolio of game that developers and publishers will snap up on graduation. This will follow the model provided by the London Film School, New York film School, RADA, or the ARRTS centre in the UK;
• The incubated companies will have access to good students for in-house projects; The opportunity to influence the formation of the next generation of games engineers;
• Input and access to leading-edge research;
o Joint ownership of intellectual property (IP) arising from the Centre and the opportunity to develop it for subsequent wealth generation;
o Obvious publicity benefits, such as visibility at conferences, in academic papers and press coverage;

Along with the growing significance of computer gaming in the UK – both with regards to its cultural impact on society as well as regarding its economic importance to UK plc. – emerges the need to facilitate a multitude of relationships, support programmes and information exchanges. For example:
• As government learns about the economic promise of a thriving games sector it needs to understand how best to support the industry;
• Independent developers require up-skilling in many areas ranging from basic management skills to learning about newest industry trends in the UK and abroad;
• Computer games is a new industry that requires investment and support services;
• Global publishers and small developers require a forum that facilitates information exchange between the two groups; and
• Children, parents, government and companies all need to better understand how players interact with computer games content.

In the UK, the games industry is not primarily based in London but in the UK regions and nations. The Midlands, North East, and the South East all boost an impressive list of computer games companies. This uncommon decentralisation of the sector provides a chance to establish a sector support organisation with national reach and ambition in one of the nations and regions and to support government’s drive to foster economic and cultural development outside the capital.

In short, in the games sector, there is a real argument to be made for the establishment of an institution similar to the British Film Institute – an organisation which fosters sector culture and advances the understanding and literacy of industry practitioners, government and citizens. Moreover, as recently established media support organisations such as FACT in Liverpool have increasingly started to gap the bridge between cultural support and business support, there is an argument to be made for equipping a “Games Institute” with business and management support and training remit.

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