The serious side to the video games industry helping other sectors innovate - Jamie Sefton

It is easy when you’re playing a brilliant, immersive game such as Super Mario Bros Wonder on Nintendo Switch, to reduce this creative artform to simply a leisure and entertainment activity. In fact, behind the games that we are playing, there is serious business.

In the games we play, there are often new technologies and innovations that have been developed and experimented with for the first time. More interestingly these technologies that we play with, then go on to lead the way in other industries too.

A recent piece of research led by Ukie, a Game Republic partner and one of the national organisations for the video games industry, showed the UK game technology used by non-gaming industries was worth £1.3bn during 2021. The research identified technologies that are being used in the games industry that have uses beyond games and have enormous social and economic potential. The research identified that these spillover technologies - included game engines, VR, and 3D rendering software and were being used by a wide variety of different sectors. The research report also said that by 2025, health will be among the top three industries to apply VR emerging out of games studios to its resources.

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I wasn’t surprised by these findings. Over the last five years, we have seen an acceleration of the adaption of game technologies in other industries right here in Yorkshire. In this region, we are lucky to have games companies that not only develop their own games or support games production across the world, but that are also building new engines, VR and new rendering software and more. These studios have been actively exploring how that technology can be applied to new types of businesses, and their efforts are breaking new ground.

A generic photo of the Super Mario Switch game. PIC: Alamy/PA.A generic photo of the Super Mario Switch game. PIC: Alamy/PA.
A generic photo of the Super Mario Switch game. PIC: Alamy/PA.

Back in October this year, we co-produced an event with Barclays and XR Stories in York called ‘XR, Virtual Production and beyond’, which attracted over 150 attendees from games, film, TV, events and other sectors. Speakers from games companies in Yorkshire and across the North showcased and talked about their work.

For example, Leeds-based Reflex Arc highlighted their work in Hollywood film visual effects on Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and since October the company has just won the Lovie Award for work with HSBC in accessible and responsible tech. Wakefield-based Dreaming Methods - recent winners of the Game Republic Most Innovative Technology Award, have built immersive tech to raise awareness of climate change in their VR title ‘The Abandoned Library’. The experience has been used in public spaces winning several awards and giving new audiences access to cutting edge technological experiences. Bradford-based Cooperative Innovations has created licensed immersive technologies such as Curatours for museums and galleries.

XR Stories from the University of York, which funds and supports research and development in digital storytelling across film, TV, games, media arts, heritage, advertising and technology, released a report a few days ago highlighting the economic impacts of their work which merges so many disciplines to benefit all kinds of companies and sectors – including the funding of The Abandoned Library. Their work so far has brought in over £6m to SMEs and created or safeguarded over 540 jobs in the region. It seems to me that Yorkshire, thanks to its leading position representing over 8 per cent of UK games studios contributing to the UK industry’s £7.05bn is in a prime position to make the most of these spillover benefits.

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In Yorkshire, we already knew about how games companies support the wider regional ecosystem of suppliers from lawyers to tech providers, from IT support to PR and marketing, from training to insurance, from event organisers to property owners – all combined produce growth in the region. But it is exciting to note now, thanks to this new evidence, that the incredible games industry we have in the region, will be producing wider economic benefits for different sectors too.

With a strategic combination of our innovative companies, increased public funding for research and development, creative networks such as Game Republic and our excellent facilities and educational institutions, we are in prime position to capitalise on the opportunities - to help other types of companies and industries to take the learnings that have come from the games industry into emerging fields, such as health tech.

So as we end a turbulent year for the economy, and a certain amount of readjustment in our industry after the Covid pandemic, I feel optimistic for 2024 and the opportunities for growth and jobs in our region. If you are lucky enough to receive a Yorkshire-produced video game this Christmas, remember whilst you enjoy playing it, that this game will not only have supported and created jobs in our region, but may well be helping to shape our museums, galleries, banking, shopping or local surgeries now or in the not so distant future. Now that is a real level up.

Jamie Sefton is managing director of Game Republic.

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