British Games Institute cements UK cultural hub for video games

The National Videogame Arcade – soon to be home to the British Games Institute.

The recently formed British Games Institute, which aims to become a video game equivalent of the BFI, is merging with the National Videogame Foundation to create a new body dedicated to supporting and promoting game development and culture in Britain.

The British Games Institute will be housed at the NVA’s National Videogame Arcade building in Nottingham, where a games museum as well as cultural and educational programmes have been in operation since 2016.

A campaign to establish the British Games Institute was announced last October, backed by two trade bodies and more than 500 senior games, investment, arts and education figures, including Conservative MP Ed Vaizey and film producer Lord Puttnam. Set up by games industry veterans Ian Livingstone and Rick Gibson, the campaign called on the government to support a national agency so that it could fund and promote games development in Britain, as well as aid diversity and inclusion in the sector. A petition to garner government support for the initiative attracted more than 10,000 signatures.

Rick Gibson and Ian Livingstone of the British Games Institute
 Support … Rick Gibson and Ian Livingstone of the British Games Institute Photograph: British Games Institute

While the British film industry is supported by dozens of regional agencies and trade bodies as well as the British Film Institute, the video games industry has no government-funded national body to support development, education and promotion. The games sector contributes more than £1bn a year to the domestic economy and Britain is the sixth largest developer of games in the global industry, which is worth an estimated $100bn (£70bn) a year. However, small UK studios face difficulties with securing investment and recruiting talent, and there is a lack of knowledge about the nationwide development scene.

“Skills, access to finance and perception problems are key challenges facing the industry,” said Gibson. “Our smallest and potentially most disruptive companies struggle to raise funding. There is a lack of awareness of the creative talent that this country has demonstrated and a historical negativity around the sector, so investors and parents don’t understand the investment potential and career opportunities. In a post-Brexit world, it’s an ideal sector for domestic investment and careers. This is a sector that deserves its place in the sun.”

The National Videogame Arcade, which has attracted more than 100,000 visitors to its exhibitions and education programmes, will operate as cultural hub for the BGI. Initiatives such as the Pixelheads programme, which visits schools and arts centres to teach children about coding and game design, will continue.

“The merger means the BGI – which was until recently just a very good idea backed by an unprecedented number of games, education, culture and finance companies – goes from being a great idea in principle to a bricks-and-mortar presence in the real world,” said Gibson. “It’s a platform for the BGI to extend the reach and cultural context of games in society.

“The BGI is creating a new centre of gravity for games culture with the finest playable museum in the country and a fantastic track record of events, festivals and publications – from a team based in the Midlands. The BGI will then be expanding its skills and diversity and finance programmes to achieve the goals it has set out.”

Gibson claims that games suffer because they are not as well understood as films – a knowledge deficit that the BGI will address. “There is a lack of recognition of the cultural and economic impact that our sector has had over the last 40 years,” he said. “There are still many stakeholders, policy makers and funding people within our arts bodies who have a sense that games are important but they don’t really know why and they’re not sure how they can fund them.

“I’m not saying existing organisations aren’t doing a great job but if you look at film, at the heart of it they have the BFI but they also have the arts councils, lots of local funding, the BBC, the Research Councils, all putting about £170m into the film sector every year. Last year, the games industry across all the funding initiatives from government, received just £4m. Why is the films industry getting over 30 times the level of funding as games?”

The institute is continuing to call on the government for financial support. Gibson claims that, although it has been told there are no new funds available now, Ian Livingstone has met with culture secretary Matt Hancock and hopes to meet with him again in three months. “We’re going out to arts organisations, to universities, to arts councils and other arts funding bodies in order to raise more funds,” said Gibson. “Then we’ll go back to the minister and say, here’s what we’ve raised, can you match this? That’s our plan.”


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