Following the Coalition Government decision to withdraw the earlier promised games tax relief, the Scottish Affairs Committee launched a full parliamentary inquiry.
Following fact-finding at Abertay University, the Committee is now set to hear evidence about what the industry needs to thrive, or what some participators such as Ludometrics CEO David Thomson (right) would phrase it, "needs for the 'transition' period it is going through."
Among his thoughtful suggestions is that games publishing and distribution was one sector that really needed Scotttish attention.
Keynote speakers at Power to the Pixel cross media forum point out this transition in what (left) Michel Reilhac, executive director ARTE France Cinéma calls "the next big wave may be the game-ification of the networks that the world has transformed itself into… If so, the art of storytelling and experience design, as everything else, will be deeply and seriously re-shaped by this game layer."
The drivers affecting change and where opportunities for new revenue-generating models might exist over the next 3-5 years in the advertising industry, were examined by (right) Jean-Paul Edwards, executive director futures, Manning Gottlieb OMD.
And some like Wendy Bernfeld found and MD of Rights Stuff Netherlands, covers various ways that rights holders can monetise/ fine existing or new programmes via new media, distinguishing various emerging consumer and buisness models ranging through ad-supported, rental, subscription and sell-through/download-to-own.
Abertay University - as an International Centre for Excellence in Computer Games Education - is calling for a range of measures to improve the supply of working capital to games developers, because the often lengthy and labour-intensive games development process can require considerable upfront investment.
Given pressures on public finances and the Government’s commitment to tough deficit reduction measures, Abertay recognises the difficulty of securing extra tax incentives. However, important support can still be provided through education providers, industry, investors and the Government working closely together.
“Games development is a very valuable industry for the UK economy, and the explosion of gaming on mobile phones and social networks means there is enormous growth potential for companies of all sizes,” said (right) Paul Durrant, director of Business Development at Abertay University, ahead of giving Committee evidence.
“We continue to strongly support the industry’s call for games tax relief, but recognise the important role of other support mechanisms, including ways to incentivise private sector project finance. At Abertay we incubate start-up companies, link talented students with companies seeking new staff and new ideas, and are managing a £5m project to invest directly in new games prototypes.
“The development of original games IP is a particular UK strength, and when this is combined with supply of talented Abertay graduates, it can stimulate inward investment.”
“The Abertay prototyping fund is a great example of targeted public investment with the potential to attract further private funding. By providing mentoring and business support – alongside funding of up to £25,000 per project – we can help new companies grab the attention of funding partners.
“Having a strong prototype gives a small, start-up firm serious credibility and the opportunity to really fight for serious funding to turn a fantastic idea into a profitable enterprise. We’re aiming to create up to 400 new jobs through this fund, providing a real boost and real momentum to this dynamic, exciting industry.”
As well as offering world-leading courses in computer games development, Abertay is also supporting the games industry through close links between researchers from disciplines like psychology and business, and providing incubation facilities for companies with great potential.
Two such companies are Play2Improve and YoYo Games, both currently based within Abertay while they develop their products and grow. Play2Improve is developing a games coaching training system to improve players’ skills online, while YoYo Games lets anyone easily make and share games without any programming skills.
Matt Seeney, CEO of Play2Improve (left) (job vacancies are dated June) said: “As a small company preparing to launch a new product this year, being based within Abertay has been a substantial help. As well as incubation facilities, that include access to high-end hardware and software, we have direct access to skilled students and lecturers to support our development before we go to market.
“Sharing knowledge on a daily basis is an incredible opportunity. We’ll be working with psychology researchers to test the effectiveness of our games training product, and have a student helping us solve some complex AI problems so that a gamer’s individual style can be copied, allowing you to play against a friend, even when they’re not online!”
The company, which plans to launch the product at the NEoN digital festival in Dundee in November, has also worked with business students to develop marketing ideas and refine its business plan. This semester over 200 students will use Play2Improve as a ‘live’ case study for their coursework, with the best ideas feeding directly in to the firm.
Sandy Duncan, CEO (right) of YoYo Games, adds: “Through our Game Maker software we now have over 95,000 games on our website, and are planning substantial growth over the next 18 months. Being based in Abertay University gives us instant access to very talented students and graduates to complete short-term and long-term work.
“The games industry has great potential, but for growth to be sustained over the next five to ten years requires support for mid-sized project finance. We believe that investment tax relief for companies turning over less than £10m a year would be a substantial boost.”
In its official submission to the Scottish Affairs Committee, Abertay University argues that new ways of generating private project finance are needed for the games industry to realise its full potential.
It's an arguement that will resonate across a wider audience of developing, but fund starved business and industry in Scotland that seem to lack the game 'glamour' or supportive Universities to force Commission of Enquiries into funding relief.