With a population of nearly 40,000 and at least 13 game developers based within, Leamington Spa has rightly earned its nickname of ‘Silicon Spa’; it represents the largest concentration of game developers in the world and one of a few gaming ‘clusters’ (many game developers geographically close together) in the UK including Brighton, Guildford and Dundee.

The flock of game developers that have sprung up in Leamington owe much to the success of Codemasters, famed developer of the F1 and Collin McRae racing series, based in the countryside nearby. Bruce Everiss, chief marketing officer of Kwalee and previously in charge of marketing at Codemasters, explained to me when I visited the Kwalee offices “at the beginning of Codemasters there were several people who worked as sub-contracters… they eventually set up companies in Lemingtion Spa just to be near to Codemasters really, and then over the years people have left Codemasters to set up their own companies as well”.

Bruce Everiss also notes the changing nature of game development, in terms of the financial burden on developers, as a key element in the proliferation of  clusters of relatively developers; “the cost of entry to make a videogame, just in 2007, would have been 10 million pounds or something to make a console game, but now the barrier to entry is 99p to apple to become an app store publisher. So the cost of entry comes down so much that lots and lots of people are setting up small development houses.” It’s no suprise then, based on the miniscule entry price, that, of those I found, over half of the developers in Leamington Spa are based on a mobile platform.

“They eventually set up companies in Lemingtion Spa just to be near to Codemasters really, and then over the years people have left Codemasters to set up their own companies as well”.

The gaming industry hardly has the best record for treating its employees well. The controversy surrounding Team Bondi and L.A. Noire has perhaps been the best illustration of some of the inhumane working environments and draconian working conditions that plague the industry. The perpetuation of gaming clusters presents workers in the industry with a weapon against poor working conditions: self-determinism. If you’re unhappy at your workplace, or you believe your employer is holding you back, you can rest assured knowing there’s jobs available literally just around the corner.

In addition, recent events have illustrated the instability of many game developers and the uncertainty of job security that naturally comes with a career in the games industry. Last year we saw the likes of Sony Liverpool, Big Huge Games, Rockstar Vancouver and numerous others worldwide fall to their knees, and just last week, industry heavyweight THQ joined their midst’s. Within a cluster, as big developers crumble around them, employees are free to enjoy the relative calm that comes with an unmatched job security. Surrounded by employers, and with the weight off their shoulders of not having to hastily move across the country to find work, gaming clusters truly are a paradisaical island in the gaming ocean.

The United Kingdom is, in terms of revenue, the third largest video game market in the world, and the largest in Europe. In 2012, the UK games market generated 2.6 billion dollars in revenue and its profits have continued to exceed the British film industry since 2009. These figures haven’t been ignored, in March last year George Osborne reintroduced (the measures were introduced initially by Labour in 2010 but were withdrawn in the coalition governments first budget) tax relief for the UK videogames sector.

The United Kingdom is, in terms of revenue, the third largest video game market in the world, and the largest in Europe.

Government has taken a keen interest the games industry and gaming clusters are at the centre of this; Kwalee, amongst many other game developers within ‘Silicon Spa’ was just last week visited by the Minister of Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey, together with MP for Lemington Spa Chris White. Silicon Spa are no stranger to Government officials turning up on their doorstep; Last year Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Growth, visited and met with David Darling.

What this demonstrates is the growing political role of gaming clusters; it represents a virtue for employers as much as it does for employees by both representing the industry in, and allowing for greater participation in, wider economic governance. Game clusters tend to come into existence naturally around larger developers, so there’s no real ‘advice’ that this article can provide to the industry, but I do offer a prediction; gaming clusters, as a means to ensuring worker autonomy and the gaming industry’s continued role in government, will soon become the norm. As far as I’m concerned, the sooner the better.

Tom Mackay

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Image: Elliot Brown via Flickr

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