Fragile video game renaissance for the U.K.

Article  by  Vincent SARRAZIN  •  Published 24.04.2013  •  Updated 24.04.2013
[NEWS] After years of torment, the British gaming market is back on its feet, with productions that are regaining vibrancy.
Has the light at the end of the tunnel finally emerged for video game production in the U.K.? Across the English Channel, the past three years have witnessed a marked weakening of the sector, with a slump in growth and a series of studio shutdowns in 2012. Sony Computer Entertainment’s withdrawal from Britain brought about the closing of two major studios, Sony Liverpool (founded in 1984 and formerly known as Psygnosis) and BigBig Studios. Meanwhile, other large developers such as Eurocom and Monumental Games have also shuttered over the course of this gloomy period for one of Europe’s oldest video game industries, whose extreme dynamism in the 1990s subsequently suffered, given the transformations that have rocked the industry in recent years. The big budget console gaming model is now attracting fewer and fewer players, and the days of multiplayer subscription games seem numbered. Both sectors have been particularly affected by the studio shutdowns, given a morose international context in which the U.K. has no choice but to adapt to the new rules of the game.
 
And yet, the series of studio shutdowns does not seem to have killed the national industry, which has entered into a phase of substantial renewal: according to a study published by The Independent Games Developers Association (TIGA), an organization for the promotion of British gaming, the shuttering of these former major studies in recent years has led to the emergence of a wealth of small new developers (100 such studios are said to have been created in 2011 and 2012), now focusing on the mobile gaming sector rather than that of game consoles. Some 37% of British studios are now mainly devoted to mobile development, reviving the sector with growth of 4% in 2012. This is encouraging news for the (largely independent) new players coming onto a booming market, all but free of entry barriers.
 
Industry defenders such as TIGA nevertheless may have erred in too quickly declaring victory: while the mobile gaming market is currently relatively accessible, competition is heightened in this sector, leaving new developers little room to maneuver: 21% of new studios created in the U.K. in 2010 have already shut down.
 Sony’s shutdown of its development studios in Great Britain revealed the faltering competiveness of the country’s production.The sales volume necessary to ensure the profitability of a mobile game is extremely high, and it is likely that the current British revival will count a number of victims in the coming years. The tax reductions being called for by sector professionals in order to boost the competitiveness of local companies are also in jeopardy for the time being, blocked by the European Commission, which refuses to grant British video game production the status of “cultural exception” able to facilitate tax relief in the cultural production sector. While local organizations expect the tax breaks to ultimately be approved, the delay imposed by the European Commission could prove dangerous for the U.K.’s fragile gaming renaissance. Beyond competitive tax reforms, industry professionals must lay out a theoretical groundwork for specialization and brand image able to boost international confidence in British production, along the lines of the efforts undertaken by the Syndicat National du Jeu Vidéo (SNJV) in France.
 
Translated from French by Sara Heft
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