Leaving the EU Could Really Screw the British Video Games Industry

But fingers, eyes, and asses crossed that it doesn't, or studios like Rocksteady, Rare, and smaller indie teams could take significant hits.
June 28, 2016, 9:15pm

2015's hit game 'Batman: Arkham Knight' was made by Rocksteady, a studio based in Kentish Town, London

Some time ago, Wired published a piece by Matt Kamen in which the writer asked a number of British video game studios for their thoughts on what Britain leaving the EU would mean for the industry. Team17 MD Deborah Bestwick was one voice amongst many confident that an exit would be bad news for a domestic industry that was worth well over £4 billion [$5.3 billion] in 2015, contributing over a billion pounds to the UK's GDP.

"As a business we do not think leaving EU is a good move for both the economic side of the business and the recruitment one," Bestwick commented. "[The] UK games industry is strong and talented also thanks to people coming from across the world."

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It wasn't just games-makers who expressed concerns—Paul Sulyok, CEO of retailer Green Man Gaming, told Kamen: "UK developers looking to build and market their games have the option of attaining funding from European regional funds such as Creative Europe. Clearly, if the UK leaves the EU then we lose access to that talent pool and access to European funds for developers, which could be a significant issue for the economy."

Today, we know how the British public has spoken. The numbers are clear: 17.4 million people have voted to leave the EU, representing 51.9 percent of the overall turnout. Perhaps you're happy about this. Perhaps not. TIGA, the non-profit trade accusation representing the UK games industry, has since released information on what the major issues are in light of the referendum result.

On access to finance, TIGA has stated that "there may be a reduced appetite for investment" given the current uncertainty over what will happen to the UK economy, at least in the (relative) short term, adding: "Outside of the EU, the UK games industry will not be able to access schemes such as Creative Europe and Horizon 2020 programs." It recommends that the British government, whatever that will be some months from now, with David Cameron's announcement that he will stand down as Prime Minister," should promote policies that encourage investment, maintain sector specific schemes such as the Video Games Prototype Fund, and consider a Games Investment Fund to help start-ups and small businesses".

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TIGA stresses the need for the UK to maintain its tax relief scheme for UK-based developers—which we covered back in 2014—and that EU talent should still be able to work in Britain without "serious administrative restrictions." Says the statement: "It is vital that any new arrangements are not onerous or complex and that the industry is not held back by skills shortages."

And on the topic of intellectual property, TIGA states: "IP is the lifeblood of the video games industry, and the impact of Brexit here could be significant… The UK is part of both the Registered Community Design regime and the EU Trade Mark regime and also recognizes the Unregistered EU Design Right. Such rights provide protection to rights holders across the EU Member States. Potentially, such EU-related rights might lose their validity in the UK. The implication being that those parties who originally held such EU rights may need to apply for UK trade mark and design rights to protect their rights in the UK. This may result in issues relating to existing development and publishing arrangements, IP licenses, and security over IP rights."

TIGA must remain politically neutral on the UK leaving the EU (not that all industry professionals need to), likewise trade body Ukie, whose CEO Jo Twist has released her own statement today:

"Ukie is committed to ensuring the UK is the best place in the world to make and sell games and although [the referendum] decision and the political uncertainty it brings will have an impact on our businesses it is important to remember that we are already a globally successful sector and a leading exporter in the digital economy. Ukie will continue to work hard with colleagues in government and other sectors to ensure we continue to have the best possible business environment for our sector, and we will be following developments closely and advising members as they unfold."

There are a lot of ifs and buts in all of these official lines on what could easily prove a sorry situation. I'll personally remain hopeful, for now, that the UK's gaming landscape doesn't take too hard a hit after the referendum's leave verdict, but maintaining that optimism isn't going to come easy. Send cake, and booze if you like, to the usual address.

Follow Mike Diver on Twitter.