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Opinion: Pixel-Lab Discusses UK 'Games Academy'

Opinion: Pixel-Lab Discusses UK 'Games Academy'

January 22, 2007 | By Beth A. Dillon

January 22, 2007 | By Beth A. Dillon
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The UK's game industry school/consultancy Pixel-Lab has queried UK minister Shaun Woodward's call for a games academy, suggesting that the current discussions need to go beyond a dedicated ‘school for geeks’.

The company, which was been working on the idea of a ‘centre of excellence’ for over 18 months, is calling instead for a full British Games Institute along the lines of the existing British Film Institute, and has released the following statement from Toby Barnes, founder and Managing director of Pixel-Lab:

"We welcome the support that Shawn Woodward’s comments bring as we feel it is important to publicly debate the overall picture of support for the UK games development industry. Skills development is of major concern for many games companies, large and small, but we need to also focus on the development of short-term research, both technical and cultural. Many of the smaller organisations across the country need support when developing their business, and a lot of the current provision for business development is a misunderstood world.

Pixel-Lab has been in discussions with many publisher owned and independent studios to investigate the demand for support beyond simple tax breaks and grants, and is also talking to a range of the countries top universities, regional development agencies, sector skills councils, and government agencies.

We have been reflecting on and discussing a number of established models, some successful some not so, from across the globe. Publisher owned universities, private education institutions, MIT, SAGE, FACT, Centre NAD, the film council, Hyper Island, and older models such as the British Film Institute all play a part in the planning. The centre should be the UK Bauhaus for the games industry – developing on and with education, performing cultural research, pushing the boundaries beyond commercial boundaries, and delivering real benefits from day one.

We need to look at ways to ensure there is a sustainable future for UK development, and we need to develop the already world-class talent we have in this country to ensure it stays world beating. Skills development is the number one priority for the UK at the moment in the industry.

Looking to complement the excellent work that is already happening in higher education we believe there is a huge demand for production management intelligence, creative management as well as more established business skill training. Replicating work in higher education would be a mistake, asking the private sector to solely fund education would be a mistake too. Game development is a specialist path, not one suited to all, and we need to ask why should a centre exist.

Relying on the UK’s independent companies will mean we may miss the boat. The major employers in this country are global players who although supportive of the UK are not tied to it. The government needs to be the catalyst for this work. We are talking to organisations like Nesta, the DCMS, and RDA’s to take potential take this lead. Yes, Industry must play its part, but this must be hand in hand with academia and the public sector.

In 1933 the British Film Institute or BFI as it is now known was created to promote greater understanding, appreciation, access and support for the film and television industries in the UK. Its main aims were to encourage public appreciation of film, advise educators, carry out research and act as a mediator between industry, teachers and their audiences. In 2007 we are in a very similar position with the UK videogame industry and the time is right to take this opportunity and create a future for growth.

Seventy years after their foundation, the BFI continues to develop new audiences and filmmakers with a passion for cinema. They are proud of their expertise and knowledge and while building on their reputation as the guardian of film past, they are championing the very latest in cinema technology and working with young filmmakers to understand British Cinema.

A British Games Institute potentially would sit at the epicentre of video gaming incubation, research and skill development. By creating a dynamic environment for growth the centre will provide the catalyst for creating a mature and sustainable future for videogame development, one the UK deserves. An Institute would function as the guardian and champion of video gaming in this country. It would shake off the perception that companies are staffed by ‘geeks’ and develop a mature and culturally aware industry.

In short, in the games sector, there is a real argument to be made for the establishment of an institution similar to the British Film Institute – an organisation which fosters sector culture and advances the understanding and literacy of industry practitioners, government and citizens.

Moreover, as recently established media support organisations such as FACT in Liverpool have increasingly started to gap the bridge between cultural support and business support, there is an argument to be made for equipping a “Games Institute” with business and management support and training remit."


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