Grand Theft Auto, Fable, Total War, Batman: Arkham, Donkey Kong Country, and Tomb Raider. These are some of the world’s biggest and most-beloved video game franchises and all are developed in the UK.
Despite its long list of successes, the UK has never really embraced its status as one of the titans of the gaming industry.
According to the British Games Institute, the UK is one of the top five video game producing countries in the world.
The industry employs around 20,000 people according to a 2016 government report. And according to UK Interactive Entertainment, the video games industry contributes more than £1 billion to the UK economy every year.
However, in spite of all that, public funding for video games fell to just over £4 million between 2016 and 2017.
That’s something that the British Games Institute is aiming to tackle.
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What is the British Games Institute?
British film receives support and is championed by the British Film Institute (BFI). However, no such institution existed for video games until very recently.
The establishment of the British Games Institute took place after a campaign in October 2017. The campaign was backed by two trade bodies, and over 500 games, investment, arts, and education figures.
These included former Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries MP Ed Vaizey and film producer Lord Puttnam, the man behind Chariots Of Fire.
The aim of the campaign was for the British government to enshrine funding for the UK video game industry in its arts and culture budget, and create a national agency to fund and promote games. And thus, the British Games Institute (BGI) was born.
Unfortunately, the BGI failed to gain any allocation in the autumn budget, and the heads of the campaign, games industry veterans Ian Livingstone and Rick Gibson, were forced to begin looking for alternative ways to establish the institute.
Merging with the National Videogame Foundation:
This week, the BGI has announced that it will merge with the National Videogame Foundation. This will give the BGI a brick-and-mortar location at the National Videogame Foundation’s National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham.
It also means that the BGI now has a significant funding base. The National Videogame Foundation counts among its patrons, HTC Vive, Sega Europe, Supermassive Games, and the Oliver Twins; they created Blitz Games Studios, whose 71 games sold for a retail value of well over £1 billion.
The National Videogame Arcade already houses a museum dedicated to gaming and acts as a cultural hub, and operates various outreach programmes.
One such programme is Pixelheads which visits schools to teach children about creating video games and coding.
Speaking to the Guardian, Gibson explained how a well organised video games funding body could be a benefit to the whole of the UK:
“Skills, access to finance and perception problems are key challenges facing the industry. Our smallest and potentially most disruptive companies struggle to raise funding. There is a lack of awareness of the creative talent that this country has demonstrated and a historical negativity around the sector, so investors and parents don’t understand the investment potential and career opportunities. In a post-Brexit world, it’s an ideal sector for domestic investment and careers. This is a sector that deserves its place in the sun…
“… if you look at film, at the heart of it they have the BFI but they also have the arts councils, lots of local funding, the BBC, the Research Councils, all putting about £170m into the film sector every year. Last year, the games industry across all the funding initiatives from government, received just £4m. Why is the films industry getting over 30 times the level of funding as games?”
What will the British Games Institute be focusing on?
From here, the BGI will be expanding its cultural programme. New Culture Director, former National Videogame Foundation CEO, Iain Simons will be leading the charge. Speaking to Gamesindustry.biz Simons explained:
“To some extent, (culture) can be anything that touches upon the areas where games meet people – from your nan knitting a Sonic jumper, to the British Library creating an archive of console start-up sounds, to a group of nine-year-olds making an experimental game.
And it should be all of those things. From that starting point, which is very broad, our responsibility is coming up with focus points that change and adapt to what’s happening in the world that the BGI can [build on].
“Culture is where games meet people – but all people, not just middle-class white guys like us because we’re pretty well catered for. It’s everyone else that I’m particularly interested in, and if games are going to survive, they need to be made and consumed by all people.”
Although the BGI still has no government funding, bosses have met with Culture Minister Matt Hancock. They say they will continue to do so.
“We’re going out to arts organisations, to universities, to arts councils and other arts funding bodies in order to raise more funds. Then we’ll go back to the minister and say, here’s what we’ve raised, can you match this? That’s our plan.”
The BGI still has a long ways to go before it catches up with its inspiration, the BFI but the sector is rife with potential.