Cambridge can maintain world games development lead through new initiative
Cambridge is reported to employ 12 per cent of UK game developers – around 1,200 people, writes Kevin Coleman CEO of Alliantus Limited.
However, the BBC has just reported that research from the government-funded NextGen Skills Academy indicated that 47 per cent of companies in the visual effects, animation and video games industry were experiencing a skills shortage – compared to five per cent of employers across other areas of the UK economy.
A new story you may think, but not really so, as in 2008 the same BBC were reporting that games developers were struggling to find in the UK the kind of high-powered mathematicians and computer scientists that they needed to build increasingly sophisticated products.
“We are facing a serious decline in the quality of graduates looking to enter the industry,” Cambridge’s own David Braben was quoted as saying.
Cambridge is at the very heart of the game development industry, home to a cluster that contains globally significant companies including ARM-Geomerics, Frontier Developments, Guerrilla Cambridge, Jagex, Ninja Theory and a growing number of smaller ‘indie’ studios.
Cambridge pursues excellence in many areas. It has a position of global thought leadership and is at the forefront in many areas and not surprisingly, perhaps, local success in Biotech, Silicon IP and Corporate Software areas, has often overshadowed achievement in the field of digital creativity and games.
According to TIGA, the trade body for game developers and digital publishers in the UK, there has been a recent surge in the number of game development start-ups nationally.
In order to maximise their potential, this new wave of small studios needs the support of a local, relevant business community and close proximity to the brightest graduate talent.
In 2014, TIGA proposed that Regional and National Games Development Incubators be established at universities in each of the English and UK national regions to enable more successful start-ups. It envisaged that these incubators would support creative enterprises and enhance the local connections between tech start-ups and academia.
These connections are essential for sustained success in the global ‘tech’ industries, as we have seen from the accomplishments of clusters like Cambridge Network, Cambridge Wireless and OneNucleus.
Self-help, rather than handouts, has historically been the region’s mantra, and the games industry has not sat idly by. It has a close relationship with the Universities and the tech hubs, which is highly advantageous for the games developers.
This is strengthened by organisations such as Games Eden (which has been successful largely because of the efforts of one man, Jeremy Cooke from Gameware Europe) and Creative Front driven by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), which has provided a focal point for a wider community of digital creatives.
Together they organise the annual Brains Eden gaming festival, regular meet-ups and the Christmas Games Industry Quiz, amongst other things.
Now they are working on their biggest challenge yet, a new local initiative called REACTOR that can help catapult smaller companies into new markets and support and enhance young talent.
Games Eden is taking the lead once again and has obtained match funding for the kind of incubator envisaged by TIGA. Supporters already include ARU, Cambridge University (Judge and ideaSpace), Cursor Finland and Gamesco. REACTOR will improve the chances for digital companies to succeed and obtain onward commercial investment.
REACTOR is not just focused on traditional gaming but recognises that the application of games techniques has uses in the products, services and supply chains for areas such as health, logistics and education.
REACTOR will stimulate thinking and creativity around emergent digital technologies, provide a physical space where commerce and academe can meet, think, create and chat and provide support to young start-ups. REACTOR will also support the creative minded 20% that, according to TIGA, don’t come from the traditional graduate track – University attendance will not be a pre-requisite for being involved.
To achieve this, REACTOR is looking for industry ambassadors from within the rich and diverse ecosystem for digital creativity within Cambridge. It is also looking for investment, as every pound from private donors and the industry will enable it to pull down equal amounts of European investment for the creation and support of a new generation of digital creative companies and to support the needs of SMEs in the applied game sector as this grows.
According to TIGA, the games development sector contributes around £1 billion to Britain’s Gross Domestic Product each year, employing 9,000 skilled workers.
If the region is to continue to play a pre-eminent role in this industry, support for the thriving creative clusters of new game developers that could emerge in the region needs to be a top priority.
This initiative will complement existing university schemes, enable outreach to non-student start-ups, and ensure that new companies have the best possible support through the dissemination of best practice that will enable the region’s new wave of game developers to quickly compete on a global scale.
Without the support that this kind of initiative offers new developers risk struggling with the problems that were fixed years ago. The new problems, generated by a digitally connected planet, are also best addressed with assistance from those that made it through.
So if you want to help this initiative to succeed please let the team at ARU know by dropping an email in the first instance to deborah.hayden [at] anglia.ac.uk and declare your support.
As they proceed there will be opportunities to participate, mentor, coach and provide sponsorship/funding support. REACTOR will stimulate and support digital creativity and provide a focal point for academic/commercial engagement.