How the video games industry in Yorkshire can look forward to levelling up once again - Jamie Sefton
In fact Game Republic, to celebrate our 20th birthday this year, is having a public vote to decide which game is the best ever game from Yorkshire and the North – an incredibly difficult task with so many great games to choose from.
However, it’s good to mention that after my last column on supporting the talent pipeline to create more games jobs in our region, there are more and more interventions from the games industry itself and from government and local authorities that are having (and set to have) a very positive effect on skills, investment and job creation.
Recently we hosted an Investor Lunch in Sheffield and I co-hosted a Games Investment Summit at EGX in London - a major takeaway was that things are tougher for companies at the moment, with an “adjustment” happening with some games companies who expanded hugely during the pandemic now experiencing slower growth and investment becoming a little more difficult to get or coming with more strings attached.
It’s not all doom and gloom - games are still being bought at a record level, games publishers are still signing titles and venture capitalists and angels are still funding companies, but there has been a tightening of belts recently as people globally generally have less money to spend on entertainment when their fuel bills and their mortgages or rents are soaring.
So it has been of great relief to see financial support for our games companies coming from organisations such as the UK Games Fund, which was recently boosted with £5m from the government specifically targeting grants of £50,000 to £150,000 for more established games companies to take their games to market. We’ve also seen investment in a new £35m fund for the creative industries through Creative UK, with Creative Growth Finance II, again aimed at crucial match-funded investment for growing companies.
Another key challenge for companies in our region – other than investment and funding – is access to talent, and with Brexit making it more difficult for our companies to get skilled people from the EU to work here in Yorkshire (work visas can cost companies thousands of pounds per individual) combined with the competition for talent from other industries such as tech, finance and gambling, the games industry has had to work harder and faster to get the right people to fill job vacancies.
There is only so much we can do as an industry to help ourselves – we need help and intervention from government, local authorities and LEPs to help with funding towards skills initiatives to help us bring people – including those from disadvantaged backgrounds – into games. It was a joy earlier this year to work with Screen Yorkshire and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Tracy Brabin, West Yorkshire Mayor to deliver the Next Gen skills initiative – a small pilot for developing games industry individuals (and those in film and TV) in mid-level roles to take them on a path to a lead role in their discipline, and in fact the first games industry skills funding we’d had in the region for more than 10 years.
This has since been followed up by further local interventions, including the West Yorkshire employee upskilling initiative which will be delivered by Mastered, providing 90 percent-funded bootcamps for the games industry, and a forthcoming Graduate Work-ready Bootcamp for the Games Industry from Game Republic supported by York and North Yorkshire LEP and Department for Education, taking graduates and those interested in a games career on a pathway to getting a job in games or starting their own businesses.
All this is great, but we still have to do more in the education of parents/carers about how games is now a legitimate career for their kids – both the Yorkshire Games Festival at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, and the National Videogame Museum in Sheffield do a great job in hosting workshops in games-making and showcases for local development talent to show the next generation that there is a career in games waiting for them in this region.
We’re also seeing an increasing number of people from other industries wanting to get into games.
In spite of tough economic times at the moment, the games industry is still the fastest-growing creative industry in the UK with 9 per cent of the games industry right here in this region. We’re now getting in better shape to continue the incredible legacy of the past 40 years so we can look forward to levelling up once again for a bright future of more games being made in Yorkshire and The North.
Jamie Sefton is managing director of Game Republic.