GUEST BLOG: Oli Christie says the games industry needs government support to thrive globally

Culture minister Ed Vaizey said recently in an interview that the ability to build an app is now seen by young people as a "sexy" thing to do, as well as being a useful way of contributing to the British economy. We couldn't agree more and we've been trying to get the government to recognise the true potential of mobile gaming and app development since we launched Neon Play and scored a hit with our first game Flick Football in June 2010.

Our lives are increasingly built around digital skills and services and the CBI estimates that the creative industries, including video games, visual effects, film and publishing, are set to employ 1.3 million people by 2013. But in order for it to reach its potential urgent action is required to train people in the relevant technical skills and currently our education and skills infrastructure is just not up to it.

Vaizey's comments, however, pre-empted what could turn out to be a defining moment for the future of the creative and digital industries in the UK. Industry has scored what we hope will be a decisive victory in government policy as education secretary Michael Gove has announced the scrapping of "harmful and dull" information and communications technology education in favour of promoting computer science and programming skills in schools.

The shift in policy is the result of the hard work of Ian Livingstone, life president of games publisher Eidos Interactive, and Alex Hope, MD of SFX firm Double Negative, who were commissioned by the Government to deliver a report into skills in the video games and visual effects industries. The Next Gen skills report and subsequent campaign has the backing of some of the biggest names in tech and has galvanised the industry into pressing for education reform that will benefit not only the games industry, but will provide the entire creative sector with relevantly skilled people. It can also provide a much needed boost to the UK economy in the coming years.

But while this shift in education and skills is a cause for celebration, the slow nature of implementing new elements into the curriculum means that the effects may not be seen for a number of years yet. In the short-term the UK games industry is facing troubling times.

In the last few years we have seen the generous tax breaks and incentives offered by countries such as Canada and France pulling investment and talent away from the UK games industry and the figures bear this out. The Independent Game Developers' Association (TIGA) - which has campaigned tirelessly to gain tax breaks for the UK games industry - reports that from 2008-2010, Canada's games industry grew by 33% while in the same period, the UK industry shrank by 9%. Worrying, yes, but irreparable? Not if the Government acts now.

Growth economies are hard to come by in post-recession years but with the UK games industry worth around £1bn a year, it seems that we have one right here on our doorstep. Mobile and social gaming in particular can be considered as the boom economy of the 21st century. For the likes of Neon Play and our fellow Cirencester app developers TapMob, competing on an even  global playing field is crucial to the viability of our companies and can safeguard the long-term success of the UK mobile apps industry.

Small developers are the lifeblood of this industry. We provide jobs and create tax revenue that helps to keep the economy ticking along. But this will only get more difficult if the government continues to refuse to give us a helping hand that it so often offers to other, more traditional, industries. Education and skills reform is an important step in protecting the UK's position as a leader in design and technological innovation, but the Government should do all it can to provide the best possible environment for tech start-ups to thrive in the global marketplace.

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