Money talks, as they say, and if you work in a field with high demand, you’ll go wherever the money and benefits are the best. According to UK trade association TIGA, this very issue is causing the British development industry to suffer a “brain drain” of skilled development staff, with many jumping ship to Canadian studios such as BioWare and Eidos Montreal.
TIGA’s survey of 104 UK-based games businesses found that 20% of respondents had lost staff to foreign countries over the last 12 months, with the Canadian branch of the ESA noting in its recent report that “Canada itself has been notably successful in attracting investment and skilled personnel from jurisdictions like the United Kingdom.”
TIGA’s primary focus is in convincing the UK government to implement tax relief for games development companies — something which they have as yet been unable to do, but are making progress on. The fact that some US states as well as Canada already have such a system in place makes for more attractive future prospects for developers than the UK offers.
“The UK games development sector has an excellent workforce,” said Dr. Richard Wilson, CEO of TIGA. “As Danny Bilson, THQ executive vice president for core game brands, said in 2010: ‘the talent in the UK is extraordinary… I got to know a lot of teams in the UK — it’s one of the greatest talent centers in the world… so there’s no issue with talent.’ Unfortunately, some of our overseas competitors, powered by tax breaks for games production, have the financial resources available to entice some development staff away from the UK to work in their studios. This is not just damaging to the UK video games sector. It is damaging to the UK economy.”
The UK is home to many high-profile developers responsible for some of the most influential games throughout history. Rare, for example, were responsible for GoldenEye and are a key part of Microsoft’s Kinect strategy. Guildford-based Criterion were responsible for the Burnout series as well as the excellent Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Also in Guildford, Peter Molyneux and Lionhead may not always make the very best games, but you can’t fault their ambition. And Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet is also a very British invention. The list goes on.
“There will always be a flow of skilled people between countries, and this can be positive,” said Jason Kingsley, chairman of TIGA as well as creative director at developer Rebellion. “However, the UK government should be concerned about the loss of highly skilled people from the UK games industry. A brain drain of highly talented developers exacerbates skill shortages within the games industry and in the long term hurts the UK.”