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On Wednesday 2 June, Teesside University hosted the 2021 Animex Festival, bringing together people from across the world of animation, VFX and gaming to celebrate and reflect on a remarkable year for the UK gaming industry.

The festival kicked off with a discussion between Dr Jo Twist, CEO of industry trade body Ukie, and George Osbourn, Ukie Head of Communications. The pair looked back over the previous 12months and how they will shape the future of UK gaming.  

Despite the challenges of 2020, the UK games industry experienced a record-breaking year, with a total valuation of £7bn, up 30% from 2019.

The release of next generation consoles such as the PlayStation 5 and XBox Series X, combined with the retail boom instigated by lockdown, saw the industry climb to new heights.

On top of the impressive market growth, the uptake of gaming throughout lockdown also created a shift in public perception, as Dr Twist explained: “It shows people are realising the social connection and social value of games, aside from just pure entertainment.”

This increase in consumer confidence has in turn boosted investor confidence across the sector, which is something Dr Twist believes will play a fundamental role in securing the future of the UK’s gaming industry.

With a rich ecosystem of businesses, start-ups and students, the future is bright for the UK’s gaming industry, but it will not come without its challenges.

For example, few industries evolve and innovate at such breakneck speed as does gaming. Keeping up with developments presents a unique set of talent and skills issues that industry leaders must come together to navigate.

Dr Twist commented: “We need to make sure we're investing in the skills and talent that are going to keep our industry fresh, with new ideas being brought to the table.”

Despite a healthy network of support between the sector and education, the pace of change in the games industry must also be something which translates to better learning outcomes. Failure to bridge the gap between industry needs and current teaching practices could create a skills shortage for the gaming sector, particularly post-Brexit given that 19% of gaming workers are from EEA countries.

One thing that was emphasized throughout the discussion was the importance of community across the gaming world, both in the UK and internationally. Like all industries, gaming is not immune to the prevalence of toxic behavior, something Ukie is working hard to combat through advocating for better community management, support and education.

Dr Twist said: “We are entirely reliant on community. We don't talk about players as audience or users, we talk about them as players. People and community are incredibly important, and we want our community to feel safe to continue coming back to games, enjoying them in a safe and balanced way.”

There are currently 3bn gamers worldwide, and the figure is only likely to grow. With growing customers comes growing customer demands and even now the industry is seeing an appetite for gaming amongst generations and demographics who have never had an interest before.

As the industry grows and adapts, it’s important that growing audiences are properly educated.  

“We want the UK to be an easy place to set up and be in business,” Dr Twist explained. “But we also need to demonstrate the industry’s responsibility to educate parents, carers and people who might not understand games. Helping them to understand things like spending and screen time controls, and filtering out inappropriate content, are key to ensuring a safe and fun experience for everyone.”

A theme that prevailed during the discussion and throughout the Animex Festival was the relationship between gaming and mental health.

From a consumer point of view, Dr Twist drew on the Oxford Internet Institute’s pilot study which showed a positive correlation between game play and mental health. She called for further robust studies in future to further explore the trend.

Unlike video or telephone calls, where the focus is on the conversation being had, gaming shifts the focus, something Dr Twist believes creates a more open environment that encourages different kinds of conversations.

At an industry level, gaming charity Safe in Our World leads a number of discussions around mental health and the games industry, focussing on topics like burn-out, anxiety and the steps needed to create more supportive workplaces that focus on wellbeing.

Discussions also took place throughout the day exploring diversity, inclusion, culture and the role gaming has to play in combatting the climate crisis.

Attendees heard from industry experts who reviewed best practices, top tips and the current state of the UK games industry.

The META Games Industry Index is a campaign powered by UMi, with the support of Ukie. The index highlights and celebrates the creativity, innovation, job creating and positive social impact of the games industry across the UK. For more information, please visit https://www.metagamesindex.co.uk/.

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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