As the UK's capital, it's hardly surprising that London boasts a vibrant games scene.
Though the city has faced numerous challenges in recent years, such as the desire to make the UK industry less London-centric and the skyrocketing cost of office space, it is still a central hub for the country's games market.
"London is an amazing city that even in this challenging landscape, there are still so many studios that continue to produce great work," Infinite Whys director Yoyu Li says. "And there are so many talented people I can look up to."
Game Dev London organiser Adam Clewes-Boyne adds: "London is a vibrant place to be as an indie games developer. There are large groups working to support networking and communication for indie game developers, such as Game Dev London and Into Games, as well as smaller and more specialist groups, including the Unity and Unreal User Groups and area-specific groups.
"London remains a hotbed for talent due to the number of educational institutions and game development studios located within the city limits. All this being said, it can be difficult to enter and/or access the indie games scene in London, due to both the very high cost of living in London and the impact the commercial success of London has on the opportunities for funding.
" For example, many funding bodies note that you must live outside Greater London to apply for their funding, meaning that smaller and indie studios, who are more likely to need funding in the form of grants and loans, may have less access to these funds when located in London. This can make London a difficult place to start a company, but an easier place to settle if you had started the studio elsewhere."
In recent years, the London games scene has become part of the industry-wide consolidation that has been happening around the world. OlliOlli maker Roll7 was snapped up by Take-Two's Private Division label, while Fortnite maker Epic Games acquired Fall Guys studio Mediatonic back in 2021.
"Broadly the London indie scene is still thriving," Roll7 studio director Simon Bennett says. "I think there's probably been some consolidation – notably us with Take-Two. For those studios lucky enough to raise money or be acquired during the pandemic, there were opportunities for independent organisations and studios to have a bit of a payday or at least some sort of investment into things, which after working on something for that long is valuable. Overall, the scene is still thriving."
Given London's central position in the UK, it's perhaps not surprising that the city's indie games scene has a robust support structure. This includes organisations such as Games London, which runs London Games Festival and a variety of other events.
"Games London has done a fantastic job supporting new indie studios in the area," Li explains. "I've been fortunate to have been involved with various initiatives run by Games London. The Games London Accelerator is well organised and I met many people who I can now call friends from my cohort. The Ensemble exhibition showcases the games industry's diversity, which is certainly a strong, positive message.
"And London Games Festival too: the Games Finance Market is a great place to make industry connections and pitch new games. The London Games Festival Steam event, which just concluded in April, presented many games produced by studios based in London. We saw good traffic coming from the event. Although these were not funding support, my studio definitely benefitted from those initiatives."
Support isn't limited to bigger organisations like the above – it's widely available across the city.
"There is a lot of support available in the form of advice and general assistance," Clewes-Boyne says. "From local bodies like libraries, universities, and enterprise centres giving advice around starting a studio, to game development groups giving more direct support around building a game and sharing their experiences of starting a studio, there is a lot of help available.
"Most studios are open to giving new studios help, but it can be a challenge to find the right person to ask at any given studio. This is why groups and communities in London are growing in size and importance, as they represent that starting or jumping-off point for many smaller studios."
When it comes to funding, London game studios can sometimes be seen as being at a slight disadvantage. Thanks to the UK historically being very London-centric, a lot of funding is now being directed at companies outside of the M25. But that doesn't mean that indie developers in the city are entirely cut off from finance – being in the capital opens studios up to more networking opportunities, including with private funding.
"There are always funds and finance opportunities available; from national groups like Creative UK and UK Games Fund, to more local or regional funding such as StoryFutures," Clewes-Boyne explains.
"However, as previously mentioned, many funds limit their access to London-based companies. This can make it complicated for new studios, those most in need of funding, to access pots of funding."
As is often the case with well-intentioned initiatives, trying to spread funding outside of London to make the games industry less centred around the capital does make life more complicated. This is especially true when it comes to studio financing in the new world of remote working. A studio can – in theory – be based in the capital but employ staff across the country. Being based in London can reduce the funding that a company might be eligible to receive despite creating jobs elsewhere.
London, being a hub for the games industry, attracts a great deal of talent. Usually, this is pretty even across the spectrum of experience, but in recent years it has started to skew towards newer workers due to country-wide pressures.
"London is facing a shortage of mid-tier games developers," Clewes-Boyne says. "In London, this is more due to aggressive competition between the numerous studios to bring talent into their studios. However, due to the large number of educational institutions, there is a massive of young or earlier talent available.
"Equally, as London is a focal point for the UK game industry, a lot of talent moves – or is open to moving – to London to work. Finally, the high wages of London studios make them very attractive to remote workers, who would be paid considerably less for the same job in their local area. Whilst this is good for London games studios in terms of attracting talent, it isn't great for the London economy as this is then money leaving the city instead of being driven back into the economy."
Bennett adds: "I'd say that London is a hotbed for developers. We partnered very closely with Goldsmith University for a lot of their talent straight out of university. There are quite a few video game studios here. As a remote studio hiring UK and Europe-wide, we tend not to see any of the upside or downside of local talent in London anymore. That was one of the reasons that we originally went remote. We did struggle back in the 2010s in London due to no one being willing to travel just to Deptford."
Though it is far less relevant by and large after the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, developers can still consider office space. In London, not surprisingly, this is pretty expensive, with a lot of indies deciding to go remote instead of spending large sums of money.
"London is mostly not affordable for indie devs," Clewes-Boyne explains. "When people struggle to find an affordable one-bedroom studio, owning or renting office space is not really feasible, let alone a garage or spare room. New studios use hotdesks and public buildings to find ways to collaborate without needing a physical office, and with remote work there isn't really a drive for this to change."
Li adds: "I only know a few indie devs that actually have an office. But regarding affordability, we must also count the cost of working from home. There is no doubt that living in London is expensive. And having a dedicated workspace, even at home, is a luxury. The rising cost of electricity doesn't help either. This may have explained why many new studios are set up outside London.
"And the cost of living in the capital has an even bigger impact when it comes to hiring, for people understandably have higher salary expectations if they are based in London."
As a result of this, the key bit of advice those people we have spoken to have for indie studios looking to start out is to ask yourself whether the cost of being here outshines the benefits.
Clewes-Boyne advises that it is important to weigh up the cost of London compared to the value being in the city brings to you and your studio. He adds: "Access to resources, other studios, networking, and business opportunities are extremely valuable, and in London, these things are both concentrated and abundant. However, the cost of living in London is extremely high and can present an obstacle to the growth and subsequent success of a studio, thus it's important to weigh these two aspects against each other to decide if it is worthwhile."
Li agrees, adding: "Location is no longer a determining factor in the success of a studio, in my opinion. It's perfectly viable to be based outside London too. I think it's more of a lifestyle choice."
The core bit of advice from Roll7's Bennett is to find someone who can provide advice and perspective, as well as make the most of being in such a vibrant and busy part of the industry.
"In general, I would say find yourself a mentor," he says. "Get to whatever local events there are around you. Don't think that you know it all and question everything. I would absolutely try and find a mentor, someone who's done it before. There's Anisa Sanusi's mentoring program, Limit Break. Find yourself someone who can actually help guide you because the cold hard reality of making video games – wherever you make them and whoever you make and with – it's a very, very tough creative and business and commercial process.
"The more support you have the better. Get people on your side Get out there and meet as many people as you can. The more you network, the better you will be. I've never regretted spending money on a train, bus or plane journey to a games conference.
"The more people you can speak to who are in the same position as you, or the more funders who are looking for things – maybe looking for something like what you're making – the better. It's absolutely valuable. Don't hide away in a room and hope that suddenly everyone's going to play your game because you put it on Steam. It really doesn't work like that anymore."
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