Last month we looked at a few video games developed in London that went on to set the direction that games would take in the subsequent decades. In this follow-on piece, we explore the current shape of the industry in the capital.
Very little research has been done into the importance of London to the UK market (more on this later) so reliable figures are scarce. The UK picture shows 33 million gamers spending over £3 billion per year. However, as we saw last time, video games are one of the few creative industries in the UK that does not have London at its core. The West Midlands and Scotland both employ more people in the video games industry than London. That said, the capital does produce some of the best-known and most lucrative titles.
The London scene
Development is centred, perhaps unsurprisingly in Soho. Microsoft recently opened a studio here and Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) also chose London as the home for its imaginatively named ‘London Studio’. Among other titles, the studio is responsible for the SingStar series of karaoke games that distressed all our ears some years ago. More recently, it created the wonderful Playroom app that comes pre-installed on all PS4s.
Another Soho success story comes in the shape of King.com, the company that overtook Zynga as the most successful Facebook game developer. It also created the bafflingly popular Candy Crush Saga. King recently caused outrage in the games community with its applications to trademark the words ‘Candy’ and ‘Saga’ in games. It later dropped the attempts following a backlash.
Moving out of Soho, we find Rocksteady in Camden. This company developed the excellent Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City games, the latter of which sold 4.6 million copies and was on most peoples’ game-of-the-year lists. Rocksteady recently announced its next addition to this series, Batman: Arkham Knight.
Shoreditch, home of Silicon Roundabout, represents the east as the base of many noteworthy creators. Moshi Monsters, the cartoon-like social network for young children has 80 million registered users and was conceived and built here by Mind Candy. It has since spawned its own industry in spin-off merchandise.
Shoreditch is also home to Sports Interactive, whose game Football Manager 2014 spent a record 17 consecutive weeks on top of the official PC game chart. This series of games can fairly be said to be one of the most addictive ever, and has caused a generation of university students to choose between games and lectures.
There is some evidence that the Silicon Roundabout project is suffering. A recent article by the tech-activist, Shoreditch resident and all round good guy Cory Doctorow details its perceived slow death brought about by escalating rents and mass property development (hands up if you've heard this story before).
New spaces for start-ups are in the pipeline. Developments at Wood Wharf (beside Canary Wharf) and the Olympic Park both say that they hope to foster tech innovation and startup culture. These hubs are still some way off, however, and it's yet to be tested whether a thriving hub of creativity can be synthesised from scratch, rather than the organic build-up we've seen in Shoreditch and Soho. And then there's the question of the potentially lofty rents.
To get a better handle on the industry's potential, the Greater London Authority has allocated £50,000 to fund research. It will report its findings to the Mayor in late June 2014. With this research will come engagement with the sector, which could lead to game development being brought into the Mayor’s portfolio of creative industries alongside the film and fashion industries.
If this happens, we could see more investment in the industry at home and more opportunities to promote London-based games abroad. A useful analogy here might be the London Design Festival which is run with heavy financial support from the Mayor’s Office. It features many different events ranging from large trade shows to smaller artistic installations and results in £89m in new sales each year for the design sector.
These proposals have been broadly welcomed by the trade body for interactive industries, The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKie) told Londonist:
“The Games industry is a completely unique sector sitting between both creativity and technology. We have already worked closely with the GLA team on initiatives like our Game Art Exhibition that we held at City Hall and we would welcome any further support offered from the Mayor of London, helping us to grow the amazing games businesses already operating in London and to promote the fantastic UK games industry on a global stage.”
It's difficult to predict what will happen to the games sector in the future. What is certain, however, is that London plays home to some of the most talented and successful developers in the world, and that is not going to change any time soon.
By Neil McComb