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All About: Financial And Cultural Influence of Video-Games

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Video-games combine creativity and innovation, offering a unique mix to players and require a wide blend of skills from developers. Although entertainment is a large part of their popularity they also engage culture like more traditional art forms.

From the innovation of the BBC Micro to ground breaking games like Tomb Raider, LittleBigPlanet and Grand Theft Auto, over the years the UK has played a strong role in leading both the technical and cultural development of video-games.

Creative Technology

Games uniquely combine creativity and technology. This gives them a unique place in our culture, not only a medium to be consumed or a way to tell stories, but a platform that involves the player, in many cases requiring their creative input to progress the narrative.

This combination of innovation and digital delivery enables video-games to create a wide range of experiences for different audiences. Some of these, like Grand Theft Auto, carefully craft a living breathing city as the setting for a rags to riches story aimed at adults. Others, like the Lego games, take a well known world and create a tongue in cheek rendering of its familiar stories for a younger audience.

What ever the setting delivered by the technology, video-games are designed to intrigue the player and invite them to play a part in the unfolding saga -- bringing their own actions, creativity and intent.

Uniquely, video-games combine engagement with a wide range of skills for both creators and consumers. Art for visuals, design for level lay-out, coding for mechanics and writing for story, it’s a mix of all these skills that make video-games the creative medium they are today.

Cultural Potential

Although often seen as entertainment, taken in their broadest form they best described as a cultural art form. They address issues as diverse as the perils of war to personal stories of cancer to urbanization. They are often created by small artisan teams of developers, risking investment and time on artistic projects aimed to engage players culturally as much as entertain.

Because video-games often deal with topics tangentially, letting the player discover themes at their own pace, playing a game can be much like growing to understand a favourite painting or discovering a moving poem.

It's a cultural medium that is growing compared to video and music. Games have consistently sold more than video or music in the last three years. The games software market grew by +7.5% to reach £2.5bn, while video decreased by -1.4% to reach £2.2bn and music by -1.6% to reach £1bn. (ERA)

As they have grown in consumption and ubiquity, video-games' cultural presence has also increased. In turn this has led to a wider demographic of creators to try their hand at game development. In this video-games continue to diversify and broaden their reach and breadth of topics addressed.

Economic Significance

The UK has a long history of making world class video games. With the global games market growing – expected to reach $102.9 billion by 2017, an 8% annual compound growth rate from 2013's $75.5bn (Newzoo) – this is an exciting time.

We're seeing lots of new businesses, inward investment and many more exciting opportunities emerging in the UK. As of April 2014, the UK games industry was granted tax relief, companies that have applied for the relief have budgeted £47m in UK spend (BFI).

Recent global UK successes include:

  • Grand Theft Auto V which is the most successful worldwide entertainment product of all time including movies (grossing $1bn worldwide in just 3 days). It is also since 2014 the Number 1 top selling game of all time in the UK both in terms of units (5m) and value (£208m). (GfK Chart-Track)
  • Batman: Arkham City developed by Rocksteady Studios
  • Moshi Monsters developed by Mind Candy which has over 60 million registered users

The digital sales of games (£1.5bn) are bigger than the combined digital sales of video and music (£1.3bn) according to ERA. The UK's success in developing video-games is matched by an appetite for playing them:

  • The UK is estimated to be the 5th largest video game market in 2014 in terms of consumer revenues, after the US, China, Japan and Germany (Newzoo)
  • The UK games industry was worth close to £3.5bn in consumer spend in 2013, up 17% from 2012 (if also counting new categories added in 2013 valuation, up 20%) (MCV and Ukie).
  • The Nesta and Ukie “Map of the Games Industry” report last year found that there were 1,902 games businesses active in 2014, which could contribute to the UK economy as much as £1.7 billion. (Nesta report).

A significant move in recent years has been towards app based games played on mobile phone and tablet devices.  This market grew versus 2012 at +83%, to total £430m (IHS Technology). A part of this growth is from free apps with in-app purchasing, representing 76% of the revenue share of the UK for apps (Distimo/AppAnnie)

Alongside enthusiasm to purchase and play app games the UK is increasingly successful at developing these experiences. Key examples include The Room, produced by Fireproof Studios, which was awarded the App Store’s iPad Game of the Year in Apple’s ‘Best of 2012’ line-up, and Candy Crush Saga, by King, which in November 2013 reached 500m installations on mobile and Facebook.

For more information around video-game industry numbers visit Ukie's website.

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Andrew Robertson
Andy Robertson is the editor of AskAboutGames and has written for national press and broadcast about video games and families for over 15 years. He has just published the Taming Gaming book with its Family Video Game Database.