Thursday, 21 July 2011

Opinion: Are We Destined To Become A Nation Of iPhone Developers?

With headlines almost daily about the harsh economic climate that we’re all living in, there is an air of Darwinism about, a feeling that only the fittest will survive. Despite the UK games industry turnover being roughly £2.9 billion in 2010, with £ 1.5 billion of that coming from software sales alone, there have been casualties on the home front.

Earlier this year, UK developers Bizarre Creations (creators of the Project Gotham series, Geometry Wars and more recently Blur) closed its doors, this was followed almost immediately by Disney’s Black Rock Studios (the guys behind Pure and Split/Second) going bump. Although this is not an issue linked solely to the UK, the government isn’t making things easier for developers over here to keep creating the games we love.

Games studios in Canada and those based in some US states receive tax breaks on production and manufacturing costs allowing them to hire more and better staff to really create something really special. The UK games industry lobbied the government to try and receive similar benefits to allow a level playing field to compete on. This, however, didn’t happen.

Codemasters man Andy Wilson, (Director of the upcoming Bodycount) said:
"It's a tough economy for sure, but we need to start supporting the industry properly or the whole thing is going to melt into iPhone developers - and there's only so many 4-man teams who are going to find success.”

And the man may have a point. Let’s face it; the large development costs needed to develop a new IP on console or PC can be prohibitive. But to create an app or a simple game for online distribution can be done by just a few people and the rewards can be massive. Think Angry Birds, Farmville or even Minecraft (which was programmed by just one person).

But the future is not all gloomy, although we don’t have tax breaks here in blighty just yet, UK Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt said that “the issue of tax breaks for the game industry is always under review" and there are still people who are UK based and proud of it, Andy Wilson added:

"Codemasters already has a studio in Malaysia for production of art assets, but I would think it unlikely we'll move fullscale development overseas any time soon. We're still flying the flag as the last British publisher, after all."

One possibility that we are beginning to see emerging is the move to digital distribution. By using Steam, Origin, Stardock or one of the many other digital distribution networks out there, devs and publishers can sidestep manufacturing costs all together; this also has the nice side effect for us gamers by lowering the price we pay. (An example being a £5 reduction in the price of Portal 2 when purchased from Steam). Digital distribution also makes software piracy easier to root out and stop people with copied games playing them altogether. That said, one of the main pluses in my opinion, is cutting out high street games retailers with their lucrative 2nd hand games market which developers see no return on. But that, ladies and gents, is another story entirely.

[Source: Gamerzines]