Last night saw the first meeting of the new cross-party group on videogames technology at the Scottish Parliament. Convened by MSP Joe Fitzpatrick, whose constituency covers Dundee, the group is designed to look at the whole games sector and how it can do business more effectively in Scotland.
Despite many companies attending the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco, the meeting was packed. Representatives from TIGA and UKIE, Creative Scotland, the University of Abertay, the University of the West of Scotland, Napier University, many local development studios and digital media companies were joined by MSPs including Joe Fitzpatrick, Jenny Marra and John Swinney.
Two of the initial topics, introduce by Dr Richard Wilson from TIGA were, not surprisingly, tax breaks for games companies and access to finance for start-ups and young businesses. While these are familiar issues to those in the interactive sector, they remain a key topics for the whole of the UK, given the growing number of regions and territories offering this sort of support for creative companies. Yet the increasing numbers of smaller studios, focusing on simpler, titles for non-dedicated platforms such as mobile, social networks and web browsers, may reduce the significance of the tax breaks issue.
The issue of access to funding is one which remains problematic. New creative businesses in Scotland have a variety of channels to approach, from the Small Business Gateway to Abertay’s Prototype fund. Yet institutional funding and venture capital is an elusive beast in Scotland and a ‘funding gap’ between very early start-up costs and progressing into larger projects shows no signs of shrinking, let along vanishing.
John Swinney pointed out that the Scottish government is committed to the creative industries as a key sector for the Scottish economy, but reminded the audience that many of the issues surrounding tax are reserved for the UK government in Westminster. He did welcome the cross party group however and welcomed ongoing dialogue with the industry.
NESTA’s Graeme Downie reminded attendees that NESTA has been supporting the interactive sector for several years now. The organisation (which is now a registered charity) has provided mentoring to four of the studios in Scotland and was instrumental in setting up Appy Nation, the games consortium and publishing organisation which is now up-and-running in the UK. NESTA’s interest in the digital media sector is alos opening up opportunities in the hyper-local media sector and intriguingly will see four local authorities opening up their data, allowing companies to… explore and create new services (hopefully).
Linda McPherson, the creative industries director for Scottish Enterprise spoke of a number of initiatives from the organisation which are hoped to make SE a ‘one stop shop’ for companies seeking investment, including a new online presence which should be live by the Autumn. Along with new flexible workspace initiatives in Dundee and Glasgow aimed entirely at new companies, increased business mentoring and an intellectual asset centre, Scottish Enterprise loves the games industry and hope to show it across the rest of 2012.
Creative Scotland, which has yet to make a significant impact with the games sector is now actively looking for partnerships and has a focus on content with a £1.25 million innovation fund, which is open to creative interactive companies. It’s also working with Abertay on something called Dare+, which we’re hoping is a move to bring more of the content and titles created during the world’s leading game creation compeutition, out onto the market and support them (and we’ll chase Abertay and CS to find out more).
Abertay’s Paul Durrant reminded the group that the Prototype fund is there for start ups and companies looking to drive growth.
Then there was Colin Anderson. We love Colin. You should love him too. Aside from being the MD of Denki, Colin is one of the people who can outline the opportunities and highlight the potential and wonder of the whole interactive sector. Colin suggested that the games sector in Scotland has an opportunity similar to that in the industrial revolution. It wasn’t the invention of steam which kick-started the entire process, but the James Watt’s creation of a far more efficient process. Scotland already has the skills, the talent and the experience, but needs far more efficient processes to help drive the infinitely more complex processes required in the new digital media world.
Colin called for far more focus on creating a culture of entrepreneurship and encouraging the creation of new generations of problem solvers rather than simply training people in specific technical skills.
We couldn’t agree more.
Questions from the floor probed the issues of access to finance, the recognition of the games industry in places other than Dundee and the bewildering variety of organisations and groups which all offer some form of help and support to companies in the interactive sector (Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Development International, Creative Scotland, Interactive Scotland, the Cultural Enterprise Office, TIGA, NESTA, UKIE, Creative Edinburgh, Small Business Gateway, Interactive Tayside, etc. etc. etc.)
Then there was wine. And a bit of a tour around the parliament chamber, which is incredibly impressive. Some wag described it as Star Trek meets Ikea, but everyone ignored him…
While the first meeting of the cross-party group on videogames technology did not reveal anything particularly unexpected or revelatory, it was a very welcome demonstration of the Scottish parliament’s support for the sector.
As Mr Anderson so eloquently put it, Scotland has an incredible opportunity right now. We have a great deal of skill and experience in the games market. We have similar skills and experience in other areas of the media and the arts.
The games industry is evolving incredibly rapidly. What constitutes a ‘game’ is being redefined in fundamental ways and as a result the very definition of a ‘games company’ is changing on an almost daily basis. Interactivity and digital media are changing the other creative industries from film and television to literature and performing arts, almost as quickly.
For the cross-party group to be truly effective it will have to accept a very broad range of companies, organisations and participants. It may be impossible to provide clear focus on the future, since nobody truly knows how the hell everything is going to change in the next decade. However, the support understanding and recognition of the government and parliament HAS to be a good thing.
We hope that the commitment and interest shown last night is ongoing and the support and goodwill shown at the first meeting of the group can be taken and result in greater understanding and support for the whole digital media and interactive sectors in the future.
If you want to ask questions, discuss the results of last night’s meeting, or suggest topics that the group should consider, you can leave a comment below, join the Scottishgames Facebook group or join us on Twitter with the hashtag #HolyroodGamesGroup.