Video games boss warns of hard Brexit threat to sector

Jamie Sefton, MD of Game Republic.
Jamie Sefton, MD of Game Republic.
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Crashing out of the European Union with no deal is likely to have a negative impact on the video games industry in Yorkshire, according to the boss of an industry business network.

Jamie Sefton, managing director of Game Republic, told The Yorkshire Post that many developers in the region have been boosted by the rise of online publishing platforms.

However, leaving the EU under unfavourable circumstances could make it more difficult for them to sell their games to the European market online.

Mr Sefton said: “There are crucial things that need to be sorted with digital games and data, which we take for granted but they go across international borders.

“There’s these new data rules coming in this year with the EU. There’s all this data protection.

“There’s also the ability to sell digital games across into Europe. If there’s any interruption in that trade it will be terrible for the industry.”

A hard Brexit could also exacerbate the skills shortage faced by the industry. Mr Sefton points to the example of Sheffield-based games studio Sumo Digital hiring a developer from the Netherlands.

Mr Sefton said: “He produced in a game jam a game called Snake Pass. They ended up developing that into a full game. That is now their own IP, they’re making money out of that. It came from somebody who was from the European Union.

“If we lose that ability to have skills from the European Union and bring them in to our region we are going to suffer an even bigger skills gap than we have got at the moment. The biggest obstacle to growth for our companies is skills.”

He added that universities and colleges were working actively with industry to ensure future needs around skills were met.

“But if we do crash out under bad circumstances it is definitely going to have a negative impact,” Mr Sefton said.

However, the fall in the value of the pound, as a result of the Brexit vote, has boosted some developers who sell into the American market.

Generally, the video games industry in Yorkshire is in good health.

Firms in the region are at the cutting edge of new technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).

The UK games industry was worth £4.3bn in 2016, according to the video game industry body Ukie.

Mr Sefton says the region is a hotbed for pioneering games companies. Yorkshire is home to big name developers such as Rockstar Leeds, which developed the Red Dead Redemption title, and Team 17, known for the Worms video games.

There has been a shift in attitudes towards the video games industry in recent years with the Government taking it more seriously. What was once considered a pasttime of teenage boys is now being enjoyed by every demographic.

Mr Sefton said: “Games just keep getting better and better and more people are playing games.

“I got into the industry nearly 20 years ago and back then it was very much seen as teenage boys playing in their bedroom and the government didn’t take us seriously.

“We were a bit of a joke to the government. Now, it’s completely changed. Everybody plays games.”

The ability to publish on online marketplaces such as the App Store, PSN store and Steam has helped the region’s developers.

“The big shift as well for this region which has really helped us has been the digital marketplaces,” Mr Sefton said.

He added that it enables developers to reinvest in the region creating new games and establishing more studios.

Game Republic was founded 15 years ago and was part of Screen Yorkshire until 2011.

When public funding ran out, Mr Sefton decided to run it privately with funding from games companies.

The organisation runs networking events for members and also does business development.

A need to promote strengths

The region needs to do more to promote its strengths in video games development as that will not only help attract more talent to Yorkshire but also investment from venture capitalists.

Jamie Sefton said: “We need to be a lot better at promoting ourselves and being bullish about what an amazing industry we have here.”

Attracting finance is one of the key challenges that a lot of developers face.

Big tech companies such as Apple are taking note of what developers are doing in this region around virtual and augmented reality, Mr Sefton said.

“The games industry at the moment is writing rules of how you engage with VR,” the MD of Game Republic added.