Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Brits Blitz E3

Los Angeles: E3 is gamer heaven, and also many people's idea of hell - a hall filled with deafening sounds and searing lights with sweaty crowds jostling to get to the stands.

But much of the real action takes place away from the Los Angeles Convention Centre. In hotel rooms across the city, developers are holding meetings with publishers and hoping they will come away just a little better placed to weather the uncertainties of an industry continually rocked by turbulence.

It was in the calm surroundings of a Japanese garden on top of a downtown hotel that I met one such developer. Philip Oliver and his brother Andrew are the co-founders of a great British success story, Blitz Games Studios. Over the last 25 years, they have built a business which has somehow managed to survive as an independent developer while just about all of their peers in the British games industry have fallen into foreign hands.

They now have a diverse stable, from arcade to casual to mature games, but it's family games, many based on popular American television shows, which are now proving their biggest money-spinners.

The company brought 10 of its 220 strong workforce over from the Leamington Spa headquarters and was preparing for battle, with meetings aplenty and a whole lot of networking to be done. They were in a bubbly mood, preparing to unveil a whole series of titles for use on Microsoft's new Kinect system, unveiled on Sunday evening.

As we sat at a table in the rooftop garden, squinting at laptop screens and mobile phones, the brothers enthusiastically pulled up videos of one game which involves a kind of acting karaoke, where players put themselves into scenes from famous movies.

Another, based on the a popular American TV show called The Biggest Loser, encourages players to get fit and lose weight, with their exercises scrutinised by the on-screen presenters.

But then things turned serious, as we talked about the rocky finances of the industry. Second-hand games, and the rise of casual gaming - simple games which cost little or nothing - are putting pressure on everyone's margins. Blitz's Philip Oliver was among those who lobbied the Labour government long and hard and finally won the promise of tax relief in the March Budget. Now he's telling the new government that support is vital:

"We compete internationally for games contracts - other governments around the world are actually subsidising their local developers and that puts us at a disadvantage."

Tiga, the body which lobbies on behalf of British developers rather than publishers, is also stepping up its lobbying with a report claiming the games industry can help fuel an export-led recovery in the UK. It says its research shows that 91% of British developers export, and have ambitions to sell even more overseas. Like every other industry pressing for government help, the games business claims tax relief will pay off in the long run. Tiga says its research shows that over five years the relief will generate an extra £415m in tax receipts for the Treasury.

Those figures, which sound remarkably precise, are obviously pure speculation - who's to say what other governments will do for their games industries if the UK joins the tax-relief party?

Blitz admits it would rather no country got government help - but if everybody's doling out cash, it wants a fair share for the UK.

By 0800, having finished our filming and grabbed a coffee, Philip Oliver and the Blitz team were heading out of their hotel to sell their wares. With government help still a distant prospect, British games developers are going to need to work long hours to keep ahead of the competition.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC�Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk