The gaming industry leads the way in levelling up the UK
With companies spread from Brighton to Belfast, Cambridge to Cardiff, the video gaming and esports sector is creating a boom in high-quality, highly productive jobs across all regions of the UK.
The pandemic has presented huge challenges to industries across the world. But one sector that’s thriving is video games. And it looks set to grow even further once restrictions are fully lifted.
The UK market for video games reached a record £7bn last year, representing a year-on-year rise of 29.9 per cent, according to the 2020 UK Consumer Games Market Valuation report from Ukie, the sector’s trade body. This doesn’t solely focus on the sale of video games (digital or boxed). It also takes in games consoles, accessories such as controllers, keyboards, toys and merchandise, as well as online streaming content on platforms including Twitch, YouTube and Facebook Gaming.
These are significant figures that can’t be ignored. They show video games are the leading entertainment medium of our time. Big games have big budgets, and they attract well-known actors, music artists and other creatives to them – Jeff Goldblum and Kit Harington have voiced characters in Call of Duty games, for example.
Importantly, it also includes the emergence of ‘esports’ – short for electronic sports, or competitive video gaming – where the UK could become a world leader. Some £45.6m was spent on streamers and other content creators, proving the public likes to watch other people play games too, whether it’s esports teams, tournaments or individual entertainers.
In the UK, we have a hotbed of games development talent
One of the reasons for last year’s rise in gaming is, of course, the pandemic. With many people stuck indoors and looking to pass the time, they turned to games. And some started playing for the first time, creating a whole new subgenre of gamers known as ‘Covideogamers’, who started gaming during lockdown.
Events such as the ePremier League, the F1 Esports Series and Virtual Grand Prix saw personalities from the sport and the online worlds come together to take part in gaming tournaments online.
The F1 Esports Series 2020 drew a record number of fans, with a total of 11.4 million live-stream views across all digital platforms (up 98 per cent year-on-year), while participation increased 117 per cent to 237,000 players.
These initiatives attracted traditional sports fans who may not have previously been aware – or understood the appeal – of esports. Some believe this may raise the games market even further once things return to normal, as we have more people playing games than ever before.
During the pandemic, games companies including League of Legends developer Riot Games, began broadcasting competitions such as its League of Legends European Championship from the teams’ and commentators’ homes. After a while, it reintroduced stage events, with safety measures in place including social distancing and glass screens between desk hosts.
In the UK, we have a hotbed of games development talent, including Rockstar North, Codemasters, Sports Interactive and Creative Assembly, to name a few. The games and esports industry is spread throughout the UK with clusters in Guildford, Falmouth, Leamington Spa, Cardiff, Manchester, Dundee, Edinburgh, Oxford, Brighton, Cambridge, Sheffield, Bristol, Wakefield, Belfast, Walsall and many more.
The games industry employs more than 50,000 people in the UK, and is focused on exports with 90 per cent of games companies exporting globally. It provides high-quality, highly productive jobs and has led the way in levelling up throughout all parts of the UK.
The games industry provides many creative jobs, with new roles emerging all the time. I’ve always been a big advocate of games, having introduced tax relief for video game developers in 2014, and I look forward to seeing this exciting industry grow and prosper in years to come.
Lord Vaizey is a Conservative member of the House of Lords, vice-chair of the British esports Association (BESA) and former Culture Minister.