For the first time since January 2020, the Barclays Games Team welcomed the industry to its headquarters at One Churchill Place in London for its latest Games Frenzy event.
As Hannah Bernard, head of business banking at Barclays, said in her introduction for the day, the event was a frenzy, with an eager buzz across the show, not only on its conference stage with the variety of topics being discussed, but also in its networking exhibition and demo areas that were filled with the industry’s best and brightest.
Here we’ve rounded up the top points from each of the five sessions held on stage during Games Frenzy.
1. There are lots of job openings in the UK games industry right now
The afternoon's first session focused on the state of the UK games industry. It's no secret that the sector saw a tremendous amount of growth during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, with UK companies operating at 90% productivity, according to the CEO of video games trade body UKIE Dr Jo Twist OBE. But we are seeing now that the shift to digital for industries across the board has led to a brain drain from the video games industry.
"It's been a tremendous couple of years for the industry," she said. "We were seeing this growth anyways. We were always on this upwards trajectory. The industry is worth over £5bn in terms of GVA, which is the economic contribution to the economy. We have over 2,500 businesses across the UK. It's a real success story. But we also have 2,800 job openings across the UK."
"We were seeing this growth anyways. We were always on this upwards trajectory. The industry is worth over £5bn in terms of GVA, which is the economic contribution to the economy. We have over 2,500 businesses across the UK. It's a real success story. But we also have 2,800 job openings across the UK."
James Dodd, vice-chair and partner at OMG and Martin Trip Associates, added:
"There is a massive shortfall [in jobs]. Because everyone is working from home and so on, industries needed to accelerate to digital. Those that were planning maybe five years down the line to fully get digital, in whatever area it may be, suddenly needed developers. They needed project leaders. They needed everything.
"A lot of people that might have found a role in the games industry were suddenly being stolen by other industries. That's not really changing. There is a cost of living crisis, so some studios are certainly pulling back; some investors are saying maybe they should just wait a minute, so that might help. I don't foresee a huge amount of change in the short-term future."
While there are plenty of job openings right now, one area where the games industry needs to do more is diversity and inclusion. Cinzia Musio, a DEI consultant at Code Coven, says that the industry needs to hire a wider range of people, particularly at a higher level.
"Hiring is really key now. There is a shortage. The talent that is out there, especially the senior talent, is going to be people that everyone wants to hire," she said.
"It's something that we are seeing as more and more important; everyone wants to see the work being done by studios in terms of diversity and inclusion. People are catching on that if you care about diversity and inclusion, you care about your employees. That's something worth investing in as a studio. The thing we need to see more of is people investing in growth and more senior talent. That's really a way to get the industry moving forward."
2. The industry needs to invest in a wider variety of games
During the second panel of the afternoon – Unlocking Growth in the UK Games Industry – National Business Development Lead, Games and Esports, Barclays, Gavin Smith, asked the panellists what the biggest challenge was right now in terms of investment. Jennifer Schneidereit, the co-founder of indie studio Nyamyam, said that companies need to have more imagination when funding new games.
"The industry can be a little bit lazy. Sorry to be so critical of the games industry, but I feel we are always investing in the same types of games," she said.
"There's a reason why we have these games. Someone mentioned ‘straight white guys’ earlier – the taste of games was driven by these people. Now we're trying to make the industry move diverse and one thing you need is to make space for the creativity of other people. It's not enough to put the other into the industry because you just rehash the same games. We need to make space for that creativity, and we need to provide money for that. But if people are very conservative in what they are investing in, if they are only looking at what the market is buying right now, then they are going to have a problem because often you cannot make a market case for something innovative. I think we need more money, and we need to increase our risk comfort zone."
Julia Kenny, head of scouting at publisher Thunderful Group, added:
"There are a few clusters of people who reach out to me and are looking for investment opportunities. Where there has been a lot of activity in the last few years, it has been from people who have this creativity working in a larger organisation and want to move closer to what they feel is more innovative and meaningful work.
"You do have the studios of tomorrow that have a very strong shadow of what yesterday entailed.
"The other thing is it's easy to get complacent in thinking of the games of tomorrow. If you are fishing in the same pond all the time, there is a slight danger of creating bias in that direction. Those people always deserve the time and space to create great experiences. When you are trying to be strategic in how you are placing investment bets, it makes sense to go for one that might be safe, but maybe not across the board. You have some diversity in your investment, maybe some are still a bit mainstream, but otherwise, one of the things there's a lack of is investment in true potential rather than a proven track record.”
In terms of investment, Steve Tinkler, the CEO and founder of Level Up Partners, says that the best way of securing finance while being creative is to have clear goals and distinct leaders on both the business and creative sides.
"When people invest, they're looking at you as founders,” he explained. “Can you run this business? There's the creative side – whether you can create a great game – but there's also whether you can actually run the business.
"It's important to demonstrate that you can grow, develop and inspire a team, and run a commercially viable business. It's that horrible combination of having to have finance and business working alongside creativity. They're so important.
“Every successful business I've been part of has had someone who completely owns creative and someone who owns the business side. They're invariably two different people, but how you handle that within the business is so important. It's not just to give confidence to investors, but it's generally about running a business. Every decision you are going to make is underpinned by commercial implications. Can we hire this person? Can we pay them this much? That's fundamental. A consultant isn't going to solve that; you need to own that as a business."
3. There is much that other industries can learn from video games
Next up was the Innovation in Games panel, hosted by Sheetal Shinh, relationship director at Barclays, which examined why the games industry is so groundbreaking. One of the topics that came up was the impact of video games on other sectors.
“If I look at some of the things going on in the games industry – making 3D experiences, getting them closer to your eyeballs and so on – all of that will be intersecting many industries in due course,” Amazon Web Services gaming solutions architect Mark Easton said.
“I see that regularly. Although I speak to games companies predominantly, every other month there's someone from a different industry like travel, finance, or utilities, and they're starting to look at some of the same tooling or they're wanting to use game engines or wanting to look at VR. The innovation that players are experiencing is something that other industries are going to need because there's a whole generation that's grown up with games. All of that is going to touch many industries. That innovation is absolutely going to make it into many industries in due course.”
The panel also discussed how gamification – using gameplay mechanics, typically involving reward cycles – has infiltrated other markets. However, the panellists say that the biggest thing that people have taken from the video games space is removing friction from an experience.
“When you start a game, no one gives you a 30-page manual and expects you to learn everything,” Stuart Muckley, the CEO of Code Wizards, said. “It just helps you get somewhere. Each blockage eases you over and then off you go. We're seeing that start to emerge a lot more.
“Then there’s 3D tech that's really meant for games is appearing on a lot of websites. Apple has been using 3D models on their pages for years and years. Again, it's just a more enriching experience that you get from it.
“Lastly, the tooling on the back end that's there to support things like mobile games for acquisition and retention. These are things that this industry is excellent at and can do again and again and again. We've had lots of clients wanting to use exactly those techniques and tools that we'd use for a game within that corporate work.”
Easton added: “If you put the wrong sort of friction in your game, players will put it down again. Friction is simply not tolerated by the younger generation. If they want to play a game, it has to just work. You can't have friction in there. Every other industry could learn from that because there's a very hungry generation of gamers that are coming along will not tolerate it.”
4. How brands can talk to younger audiences who are becoming harder to reach
It’s no secret that younger audiences are becoming harder for advertisers to reach in many ways. Not only are they generally watching less traditional television, but they are also cynical of advertising.
As discussed on our fourth panel of the day – Traditional sports in esports – advertisers can learn a lot from esports and the platforms that people interested in this market use to communicate their messages.
“Brands want to reach an audience they're not otherwise talking to, and talk to them in a way, and via a platform that they're used to,” the MD of National Student Esports (NSE) Alex Coulson said
“Within our community, Discord is a major part of what we do and sometimes, in peak periods 90% of our users are sending a message every week. That's where they live. Through the years we've been through in lockdown, games and esports were a big part of social cohesion for them. They weren't getting that contact and those relationships. There are proven studies out there about how it's combating loneliness.
“One of the major drivers for why people take part in NSE is, yes, they want to represent the university and they want to play, but it's also for that network and that sociability. When you go to university, it can be quite daunting as there are all these new people, but with NSE there's an instant connection and brands who get behind that and talk the right language get a lot of love back. 88% of our students are way more favourable understandably who will get behind brands they really care for. It's natural for a traditional sports audience who is worried about the next generation of fans to want to talk to this group, too.”
Heather Dower, founder and CEO of creative agency Hotdrop, added:
“Younger audiences are very suspicious when something is clearly an ad. It's now looking at particularly distribution of games, launches and marketing strategies of games. We are far savvier. Sports don't have to launch new sports all the time. They're having to look at their strategy digital first and traditional second.
“What's interesting about that is they are giving more power to the creators and the people not leading any of that marketing narratives themselves. Perhaps that's something to look into on these platforms. You've gotta be on TikTok and you have to be engaging these audiences, but does it have to have to come from you and your brand and your account? Is that the most engaging content possible? Or is it hiring the community to talk more and encourage that discourse around your game and community and the environments you are building? That's really appealing to sport. We can easily see the tangible results from that; how we merge two brands together to make this work.”
Guillaume Vergnas, senior business development manager at F1 team Alpine, says that it has been using esports as a method of growing its brand. It has been doing this by leveraging its presence in Formula One via esports.
“The esports audience is really engaged,” he explained. “They want to be part of what you are proposing as a sports property as well. Brands speaking the same language is essential. When we started the team, it was super important to hire people engaged with esports.
"That's really key when it comes to sharing your message and bringing what you bring to the community. We use the Formula One experience of how we train our drivers and then apply it to our esports drivers. We share something that we know to help the community grow. That's important as a brand. If you go to esports and want to be there and make a difference, you have to propose products and services that will help the community.”
5. Games can make the world a better place
The final talk of the day came from Jude Ower MBE, the founder and CEO of market insights platform Playmob.
Initially founded to raise money for charity via video games, Playmob pivoted to trying to find out more of what gamers thought about different topics. This was the result of a 2015 partnership with an organisation called Project Everyone, which wanted to make The Global Goals famous. These were 17 areas that needed to be addressed before 2030 to make the world a fairer place.
Playmob’s games partners switched on information about The Global Goals in their advertising space. In just one week, these reached 110 million people, with 12.5% of those clicking through to find out more. It also prompted Playmob to switch to trying to have more of a dialogue with players rather than trying to raise money from them.
“The way that we view how the games industry can make a big impact now is talking to players,” Ower said.
“Through talking to players about what they care about and then being able to provide that information to decision makers – we call it sentiment data – to make decisions around people and the planet but with the voices of 3.5 billion people who play games, which is really powerful stuff.”
Playmob does this via quizzes distributed through mobile games. These take between 30 seconds and a minute, during which players are asked seven questions to test their knowledge, sentiment, and behaviour on various topics.
“It's a really fun experience for them and they can learn something from it as well, but we want to understand what they know about the topic, how much they care about it and what they would do about it. We are seeing record high engagement rates, beyond 30%, even up to 67% in some cases, because we're finding players are really engaging with the topic and want to have their voice heard. We'll say to them that they can have their voice heard on climate change, world leaders or your local council are listening, so speak up and people engage with that.”
As a result of this, the United Nations approached Playmob in 2019 with the goal of trying to raise awareness of the Nationally Determined Contributions. These are commitments that nations made under the Paris Climate Agreements to try to keep the global temperature from rising beyond 1.5oC. To date, these contributions have not been large enough, so the UN was looking for a way to get countries to change policy.
“The way they get politicians to change policy is by getting people to speak up,” Ower said. “The quickest way to get people to speak up is through gaming.
“It's not just the quickest way, but also the volume and the speed at which you can get this data is unlike any other way you can get this information. The UN has its links with all the world leaders so it could give them this data in a report to say what areas you need to change – this is what people want in your country, so you need to change these policies.
“This ended up being the world's biggest study on climate attitudes ever done. We had 1.2 million validated votes – many more people who had played but a validated vote had to be all the questions completed and demographic information. It ended up being representative of 56% of the global population. We covered over 50 markets. The first version ended up being the People's Climate Vote which was a general report and then a report per market.
“Just recently the data was used in the IPCC report, which is a big climate change publication. This was a Holy Grail moment for us because for the first time, games data was being used to affect policy within climate change. The fact that the UN and world leaders were starting to see that this is a great way to get data and information from people about what they care about was really a game changing moment for us.
“This is the power of what we can do with games.”
Barclays (including its employees, Directors and agents) accepts no responsibility and shall have no liability in contract, tort or otherwise to any person in connection with this content or the use of or reliance on any information or data set out in this content unless it expressly agrees otherwise in writing. It does not constitute an offer to sell or buy any security, investment, financial product or service and does not constitute investment, professional, legal or tax advice, or a recommendation with respect to any securities or financial instruments.
The information, statements and opinions contained in this content are of a general nature only and do not take into account your individual circumstances including any laws, policies, procedures or practices you, or your employer or businesses may have or be subject to. Although the statements of fact on this page have been obtained from and are based upon sources that Barclays believes to be reliable, Barclays does not guarantee their accuracy or completeness.