Tiga adds teeth to UK games industry

A new industry organisation hopes to give independent games developers more support in finding investment - and in recouping that investment from the publishers

Representatives of the UK's independent video game developers say they hope to gain greater influence with software publishers and the government with the formation of a trade association, the Independent Games Developers Association (TIGA).

The purpose of TIGA, whose 14 founder members included Argonaut, Blitz Games and Kuju Entertainment, is to represent independent organisations within the UK that develop computer games. TIGA's founders hope to make it easier for such companies -- who often only employ a handful of people -- to secure funding from investors, and also plan to lobby the government for tax concessions.

The video games sector makes a significant contribution to the UK economy. Annual software sales of £1bn means that this market is bigger than cinema or video rental, according to latest figures from strategy group Human Capital. The launch of TIGA is an attempt to match the authority of organisations such as the Motion Picture Association of America.

E-minister Patricia Hewitt attended the launch of TIGA, at an event held at the Department of Trade and Industry in London. Chris Matthews, deputy director of content and applications at the DTI, indicated that the government was taking the launch of TIGA seriously. "We at the DTI want to ensure the voice of game developers is heard in the policy-making process, and TIGA will make this easier," he said at the launch, which was also attended by representatives from Xbox creator Microsoft.

A popular theme expressed during the launch was the problems faced by developers in securing investment -- without which they cannot finance the process of creating a game. Julian Morse of Beeson-Gregory, a corporate adviser and stockbroking firm, warned that many investors found it difficult to understand the gaming market, but he claimed that the gaming sector was currently undervalued by the stock market.

According to Jez San, chief executive officer of Argonaut and a TIGA director, developers are losing out because they have to hand over much of the eventual profits to a publisher in return for the funding required to make a game. "If developers could just own the intellectual property for a little longer, they'd be able to get a better deal in the long run, but how do you break that vicious circle when developers won't just accept an idea on a piece of paper," San asked.

However, one venture capitalist warned developers that, in an industry where a delay of a couple of weeks can mean missing the vital pre-Christmas sales period, taking a stake in a small game developer was a big risk. "As an investor, if you only have plans for one game then I can't take the risk. If I see a portfolio of three or four games, then I can assess the risk," he said.

"I suggest that if you're a small developer with only a few people, then gang up into a group of thirty people. You'll find it much easier to get funding," he explained.

The gaming community is awaiting the launch of Microsoft's Xbox console, which is due to ship in Europe in early 2002. Sandy Duncan, Microsoft's European vice president for Xbox, attended the launch of TIGA and announced that Microsoft had already taken associate membership of the organisation.

"Microsoft is encouraging TIGA because it will boost creative game development. We think the most important ingredient for great Xbox games is creativity," Duncan said.

Duncan also called upon the government to take positive action. "We need the Government to make some tax breaks available for gaming. That, I think, is the most important thing that needs to be achieved".

For complete gaming news, see GameSpot UK.

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