Games Britannia: Educating the next generation of creators

Jonathan Weinberg

There can't be many youngsters who, if offered the chance, wouldn't want to be paid for playing computer games.

And if the organisers of new event Games Britannia have their way, that's a dream which could come true for many of the country's children and teenagers.

The expo in Sheffield takes place next week and has been organised primarily to show students the benefits of choosing a career working in the UK gaming sphere.

From designing to coding to testing, and everything in between, there are plenty of opportunities on offer within an industry worth £3.2 billion in UK consumer spending in 2011, making it the biggest gaming market in Europe.

Alongside the money generated from sales, Britain has a creation heritage that can rival the likes of Japan and America, including the Football Manager franchise, cult kids online world Moshi Monsters, studio Rare - who were eventually bought by Microsoft - plus the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Tomb Raider.

Games Britannia's organiser Mark Hardisty said: "I want kids to realise that we have a vibrant and innovative games industry in Britain - responsible for some of the greatest games of all-time, and probably responsible for many of the games they have on shelves in bedrooms and at home.

"I want to give kids the inspiration to look at the industry as a legitimate career choice for them, and to arm themselves and their teachers with the required knowledge to go out and forge a career in this creative, high-tech world."

Mark also believes it's time games were seen to be as important as books, art and film as tools for education.

He added: "I started Games Britannia to get kids excited about learning, to draw on their passion for video games, and use games, and the culture of games in the classroom, as a tool for education in parallel to traditional creative mediums."

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Research suggests one in three Britons play games and the UK has on average at least one console per household. Last year, £452m was spent on console hardware in Britain, with £646m on peripherals and accessories and a whopping £1.42 billion on boxed software.

A further £520m was spent playing online games, £158m on mobile gaming - including in-game purchases - and even £60m on toys and merchandising spin-offs.

But while some development studios within the UK have closed over the years and others have been absorbed into bigger worldwide operations, Britain can still boast more than 200 studios, employing 28,000 people - including 9,000 working in highly-skilled games development.

Most experts believe this proves the future is bright, and cite the popularity of app-based mobile gaming, new tax breaks from Government and recognition for many industry workers from the honours system as reasons for the positivity.

Industry stalwart Andy Payne OBE, chair of UKIE and British publisher Mastertronic, said: "Games Britannia is an inspiration pure and simple. The UK has such a rich heritage in game making and technological innovation and that continues today.

"As connected devices such as smartphones and tablets become more and more popular, it has never been a better time to make games for these.

"There is huge potential for the games industry to help the UK economy to grow. However, the potential to grow is hampered by a shortage of people with the right skills coming out of this country's education system. Games Britannia will signpost and highlight to young people that the art and science of making games is both possible and credible and is a real career opportunity."

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David Darling CBE was founder of Codemasters and now runs iOS app developer Kwalee. He said: "I've been involved in British gaming for over 30 years and I’m more excited about it now than I have been at any time since the pioneering days right at the beginning.

"This is because of the digital revolution and the rapid transition from games on physical media sold at bricks and mortar retail to digital games distributed almost instantly around the world over the internet. 

"With digital the cost of entry to game publishing is very low, anyone can set-up as a developer and a lot of very talented people are doing just that, so we are seeing some extremely innovative and creative games taking advantage of all the new mobile technology."

But he added: "Our industry needs a constant stream of new talent, it is one of the few industries that are expanding strongly in these difficult financial times."

Another turning point came recently with the Government's commissioning of the Livingstone Hope Review. The independent report recommended ways the education system and other authorities could make it easier for school leavers and graduates to be enticed into the video gaming and visual effects ranks.

Its co-author Ian Livingstone OBE, who was President of Tomb Raider makers Eidos, told Yahoo! News: "The games industry and digital creative industries in the main suffer from an education system that doesn't understand their needs. One of the main problems is that the current ICT curriculum focuses on office skills rather than computer science skills that empower people to create content, not simply consume it.

"We have to bring computer science into the National Curriculum as an essential discipline and raise the profile of the industry, which would in turn give games makers more opportunities to gain access to finance. We must also invest in super high-speed broadband to allow high-speed uploads as well as downloads."

Ian added: "I think there is a great opportunity for youngsters to learn their trade by making apps and derive a successful living from it. 

"But I hope it would also inspire many of them to move into big production games in the same way as making a big budget Hollywood movie after making an indie film. Graphic-intense, cinematic games remain at the cutting-edge of technology and production."

Games critic and broadcaster Johnny Minkley believes Games Britannia is just the start of a rapidly unfolding success story.

He explained: "It is a great example of one of the many grassroots events popping up around the country celebrating the artistry and huge variety of interactive entertainment made in Britain, while encouraging the next generation of game designers.

"The talent behind many of the legendary British games was nurtured in an era of the BBC Micro in the 1980s, when children were taught the basics of computer programming at school.

"But the return of computer science to the National Curriculum later this year, inspired by a games industry-led campaign, and initiatives like the £20 Raspberry Pi PC, are big steps towards inspiring the next generation to embrace computer technology in all its forms."

Find out more about Games Britannia here.