The once stigmatised videogame industry now has government backing and BAFTA recognition. Michael Leader looks to the future, with advice from the professionals on how young creative types – from artists to writers – can get a foot in the door of this dynamic industry…
The videogame industry is no stranger to debates and discussion.
But now, snobbery and moral panic are starting to look rather outmoded, as the headline questions of old – “Are videogames art?”, “Do they rot our children’s brains?” – are being replaced with others, such as, “How will the UK support its most promising industry?” And “How can young creatives get involved in making the next generation of hit games?”
After years of simultaneous success and scapegoating, the gaming industry is becoming a celebrated, championed and protected part of the country’s economy and cultural heritage.
Earlier this year, the coalition government not only promised tax relief for the industry, but also announced that the Information & Communications Technology curriculum will be scrapped, in favour of a skills-based computer science programme. Such developments, says Ian Livingstone, co-founder of Games Workshop and Deputy Chair of the Association For UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE), should allow the UK to become “the best place to develop games and digital content,” and prove that it is “the most creative nation in the world.”
And that isn’t hyperbole. The UK has been home to gaming excellence for over three decades. Last year’s mega-hit Batman: Arkham City was created by Camden-based Rocksteady Studios, while Livingstone himself has had a hand in the continuing success of Lara Croft, one of gaming’s most iconic characters. And more modest breakouts, from the art-adventure game Dear Esther to Hogrocket Studios’ iPhone-puzzler Tiny Invaders, show that smaller teams can experience similar innovation and achievement as the blockbusters.
The games industry is full of opportunities for young writers, artists and cross-disciplinary creatives. But how does one get involved? Barriers for entry may seem high, but there are now scores of accessible schemes and software, helping everyone make their own games.
Leading the pack is BAFTA, who for the last six years have been supplementing their film and television remit with videogames. “It’s a tremendously innovative and fast-moving industry at the cutting edge of modern entertainment,” says Games Projects Co-ordinator, Rob Jones. “It deserves to be celebrated.”
BAFTA’s lineup of gaming events includes talks, Q&As and workshops alongside an annual awards ceremony akin to their glitzy film and television shindigs, while the Young Game Designers Competition, aimed at aspiring developers aged 11 to 16, has just launched its 2012 iteration.
“It is important that the UK’s top development talent pass on their knowledge and passion to the next generation of bright young things,” stresses Jones. “We want to show young people that games are fun to make, and that anyone can do it!”
Nowadays, visual game creation tools such as Game Maker, GameSalad and Stencyl allow would-be designers to sidestep the rather intimidating programming code of big-budget games. “You don't need loads of expensive software to make interesting games,” explains David Hayward, organiser of Bit Of Alright, an event which recreates the thrill of playing and creating games in live settings. “I would advise anyone to pick up one of the many free or cheap tools that are out there and just mess around for a while. Quickly designing a lot of little throwaway games, and experimenting a great deal in the process, is the best way to become a good game designer.”
Peter Collier, co-founder of Liverpool-based Hogrocket Studios, agrees, asserting that “the democratisation of game development is happening at pace”. Easy access to software, he says, offers “a fantastic entry point into getting involved in the process of making a game and working together as a team. This also gives writers a fantastic opportunity to team up with other specialists and create something special.”
Indeed, with this mix of government backing, BAFTA recognition and cultural clout, gaming continues to make its case as Britain’s most promising art form. The opportunities, Collier says, are clear: “I'd say that the industry has never been more accessible. There is no reason not to get stuck in!”
BAFTA Guru – website featuring video interviews and lectures from notable industry veterans.
GameCity – Nottingham-based gaming festival.
Super Friendship Club – online community offering feedback, advice and guidance for budding designers.
Creative Skillset – advice and tips for getting started in the videogame industry.
UKIE Careers – a run-down of the gaming-related university courses.
Image: My Babies... Ms. Pac-Man & Donkey Kong by Rob Boudon on a CC BY 2.0 license.
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