Byline: Linda Whitney
WHEN the Chancellor announced in his recent Emergency Budget that Labour's pre-election plans to offer tax cuts to video games companies was "poorly targeted", the industry reacted by warning that games companies may be tempted to downscale production in the UK.
However, even without the hoped-for tax breaks -- and despite some tough competition from Canada which offers significant tax advantages to games developers -- the UK video games industry is still a leading force.
It contributed [pounds sterling]1 billion to the British economy last year, is the largest video games industry in Europe and the fourth largest producer in the world.
As Richard Wilson, chief executive of the UK games industry's trade body TIGA, puts it, the UK video games industry is "export-oriented, high-tech, highly skilled and low-carbon in output" and as such it is "an industry of the future".
So despite the debate over tax relief, this is still a sector hungry for skilled staff. Many of the top companies are based in London and the South-East where they are finding it difficult to attract talent -- and this presents opportunities for those wanting to move into this industry.
Kim Parker Adcock, of games industry recruiter OPM Response, says: "We have 78 vacancies for experienced games professionals in London and the South-East right now. The number of vacancies has risen in the past five months and is steady."
London games companies include small independent studios focusing on web games and games for iPhones and Facebook, and larger companies such as Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, the UK's largest developer, in Great Marlborough Street. Rocksteady Studios, developer of Batman: Arkham Asylum, which won game of the year at the Games BAFTAs 2010, is based in Highgate.
Guildford and Brighton are also industry hotspots. Guildford employers included Kuju Entertainments, a large studio which also has offices in London and Brighton, Lionhead, source of games such as the Fable series and Black & White, and Criterion -- the name behind the Burnout series of racing games. Brighton is home to Relentless Software, developer of the Buzz! quiz games, and Black Rock Studios -- owned by Disney, and famous for PURE and Split/Second games.
Parker Adcock says: "The smaller studios are more flexible and where we have seen the greatest demand. Many of the roles are short-term fixed contracts but we are seeing a resurgence in demand for permanent staff too."
Richard Wilson, of the industry's trade association TIGA, says one of the big issues is finding the right people, saying: "There is a skill shortage across all areas, especially programming, particularly at higher levels."
Want-to-be programmers should be experts in writing C++, the most common code for writing games. Employers look for experience in games or a proven track record in an associated field, especially entertainment.
GETTING IN TO GAMING
It is possible to get into the industry with no qualifications, but most new entrants have degrees.
With hot competition for scarce graduate jobs, employers expect a 2:1 degree or above, while a masters or PhD can help.
Candidates should start thinking about the sector they want to get into even before A-levels, let alone degrees.
Programmers need a degree in computer science, maths, physics, software engineering or games programming. Artists and animators need animation, fine art, graphic design, multimedia design, games design or architecture, while audio programmers are expected to have a degree in music technology or similar.
Alternatively, open learning provider Train2Game offers courses for people seeking careers in the games industry. The courses, which cost about [pounds sterling]3,000, are approved by TIGA and turn out work-ready employees. Courses are online so career changers could study while keeping an existing job. …