Miss Kearney goes to Holyrood

When I was invited to go to Parliament to discuss the proposed tax break for the games industry in the UK and investment in education to safeguard the industry, I immediately thought of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I could see myself, just like Jimmy Stewart, one man against all the corruption of the government, out alone to bring about good, to change things for the better against all the odds… not that I have a romanticised fantasy world that I inhabit in my head or anything. Like Mr. Smith said, “I wouldn’t give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn’t have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little looking out for the other fella, too.”

Mr Smith

Oct 28-09s
Heading off to Holyrood with purpose!

I believe wholeheartedly that the sort of tax relief enjoyed by the Canadian industry would have seismic effect in the UK and especially Scotland. Here is a country that has had, next to Japan, probably the biggest effect on the industry in its history. With games like Lemmings, Crackdown and of course the GTA series under our belts you cannot fault Scotland on its incredibly influential creativity. The money just isn’t here though. We have the developers but no publishers. In a country with a great education system, a thriving industry but a falling population, this tax break would help not just Scotland but the whole industry. Nurturing Scotland’s talent for making games would benefit everyone. With this thought firmly in my head I set out for Scotland’s Parliament at Holyrood on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, suited and booted!

After going through security, the large group that had amassed for TIGA’s Scotland in Focus conference were taken through the huge building to a reception area where we picked up name tags, picked at the buffet and mingled, handing out business cards to each other. I have a beautiful tower of very snazzy perspex business cards… in the house. I never remember to take them anywhere. I was too nervous to eat and my suit trousers didn’t have buffet allowance anyway. The lovely Dave Thomson from Denki sidled up to me and we discussed ‘the plan’ to remain quiet, conformist and under no circumstances be revolutionary in any way. Nodding conspiratorially we went about our business. I hooked up with GMA award winning, Ink Media Managing Director and ex-Ready Up writer, Dave Cook. We headed into the spectacular conference room, stumbled into two seats and got out notepaper and pens.

Parliament 2

The speakers from TIGA, NESTA, Denki, Real Time Worlds and French Duncan covered all the topics with great aplomb. They discussed the problem of not receiving distribution revenue from games as overseas publishers siphon away the money from the country. The future of digital distribution was discussed with a focus on how to get the initial investment before this avenue can pay off. Farmville’s success was discussed as a great example of digital distribution with Zynga having posted figures just the day before of 60 million players.

During the talks we were joined by the Minister for Culture, Mike Russell, who listened attentively to everything said. I watched him and just as I was thinking about how much our industry had matured in recent years one of the speakers pointed out that “Let’s face it, two years ago they wouldn’t have let us through the door.” Here we all were, in our suits, amidst the finance guys and CEOs; developers and journalists, gamers basically, telling the government what’s what. The floor was opened up to questions and I heard someone say “I’d like to ask the Culture Minister, what exactly is the hold up with Tax Relief for this industry? It’s a win/win situation for the government and I don’t understand what the resistance to it is?” It was exactly the question I wanted answered which was no coincidence as it was me asking it. I had got to my feet and pointedly stared the guy in the face and asked him in a clear, steady voice for an answer. Despite appearances though I was incredibly nervous. I felt as though my retinas were detaching and after I sat down to write out the Minister’s answer I found I couldn’t as my pen danced across the page not making any proper markings. He reminded me that Scotland doesn’t have the fiscal powers to make such a decision and that if we did he’d support the tax break absolutely. We’d have to vote the right way next time if we wanted… I then interrupted the Minister for Culture to ask why indeed then was Westminster dragging its heels on this issue? He refused to speak on behalf of Westminster but pointed out sensibly that in the end it’s just not on their agenda yet, it’s not a big enough issue and is essentially “a matter of scale”. What is important to Scotland is further down the list in a UK-wide list of priorities.

The issue is getting more attention though. In fact the whole industry is receiving more serious interest from the powers that be. As long as we keep making games, talking about games and playing games our home grown industry will continue to develop and thrive and eventually get the full support of those who have the power to nurture and help us to compete in a global marketplace. I filed out of the conference with everyone else and drank a luke warm coffee, trying not to spill it down my white shirt. Denki’s Managing Director, Colin Anderson sidled up grinning and said “So what happened to ‘the plan’ then?” Hmm, it seems I’m not cut out to be a quiet conformist. Who’d a thunk it, eh? I sat in a taxi to the station staring out the window thinking of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. “Will the Senator yield?” No, sir, I will not.







11 responses to “Miss Kearney goes to Holyrood”

  1. Ramsden avatar

    I see what you meant about your being as outspoken once as I am… I think you probably still are, you just have a better handle on it these days. Usually. Very impressive, staring down a minister like that, even if it was a minor one like the minister for culture. That, I would have liked to see.


  2. The "Lovely" Dave Thomson @ Denki avatar
    The “Lovely” Dave Thomson @ Denki

    Great write up Kirsten, and thanks for the Denki cameos – but I can’t believe you didn’t mention the shortbread?

  3. Rhyle avatar

    It amazes me that despite being the LARGEST ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY IN THE WORLD, government worldwide still considers gaming an emerging market.

    In business, entrepreneurship is encouraged through tax breaks – an investment vehicle for small and new businesses called a Venture Capital Trust has a 30% tax break up front, regardless of whether or not you pay higher rate tax.

    This level of respect and encouragement to growth needs to be applied to our games industry – as you mentioned the UK has some of the best developers in the world – from Rare to Rockstar via Lionhead and Criterion Games – and it would be a shame if you didn’t leverage that talent to build our corner of the industry into everything it could be.

  4. John avatar

    I feel like a proud dad! In a not related, very supportive and not at all creepy way you understand!
    The games industry is seen as being close to par with the movie industry by any reasonable commentator and it genuinely chafes my grapes that our side is getting the same treatment as the British movie industry has got over the years. It’s widely acknowledged that some of the best technical folks are British and (bar Mr Lucas’ ILM) we remain Holywood’s favourite place to come for high quality output.
    The Government seems to simply -not see- the value that this brings to our economy and how much more there could be for the sake of a little extra support. Gaming is the same and is potentially much more.
    Well done K. I’m right with you!

  5. John.B avatar

    It’s Catch 22 really. Rightly so people in the industry like yourself attend an event like this and ask the question of tax breaks. They will have known such a question would emerge as it’s really the primary question within the Scottish games industry. The minister backs the general feeling but passes off responsibility to westminster, who don’t have the capacity to host things like this and as such the call never reaches them. Therefore the minister can back the industry but really do nothing which is what ministers like to do anyway. He wins, everybody loses but having done all they can do.

    We don’t have the right to give tax breaks like that, however the mechanisms are in place to lobby westminster and push for the like should it be deemed necessary. The fact isn’t westminster is dragging it’s heels, it’s the Scottish Government aren’t actively pursuing the matter. Whilst it’d have a massive effect it’s not the biggest issue and you have to let London know about it rather than wait for them to notice it.

    Great article 🙂

  6. The "Lovely" Dave Thomson @ Denki avatar
    The “Lovely” Dave Thomson @ Denki

    I feel I should point out that TIGA, who organised this event in conjunction with Joe FitzPatrick MSP, have now established a cross-party working group at Westminster. There were hints that we should pay attention to the forthcoming pre-budget report. We shall see.

    Rhyle: it pains me to say it, but the four developers you namechecked are all owned by US corporations now. Sad, but true.

  7. Rhyle avatar

    The ‘Lovely’ Dave Thomson – aware of that but they are UK devs aren’t they! It’s actually a great example of everything that’s been wrong with the UK games market – talent has not been encouraged to take the next step up or given the backing to grow meaning they reach a point and are then snapped up by US corps.

    John B – look at how the government encourages other creative industries – there are music VCTs and tax breaks available to those making their movies in the UK – check out http://www.ukfilmcouncil.org.uk/taxrelief

    The problem seems to be the Treasury understands that people buy and play games but there is no respect for the artistic and creative input in making a game.

    Maybe UK devs should move to Ireland – they know how to treat their artists! http://bit.ly/1HJrGx

  8. Ramsden avatar

    I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but with the way things are economically for the UK as a whole, still in recession after the rest of the world has pulled its collective finger out of its arse, I’m not convinced that something that will likely be considered marginal is going to be a priority in the next pre-budget report. Let’s not forget, only last week an MP stood up in Westminster and attacked gamers and the games industry over the controversial terrorist mission in Modern Warfare 2. And a lot of MPs still look at us that way, as dangerous wasters, if they bother to look at all. The MPs who support the gaming industry are very much in the minority.

  9. The "Lovely" Dave Thomson @ Denki avatar
    The “Lovely” Dave Thomson @ Denki

    @Ramsden: Only reporting what was passed on to me. Either way, Denki’s not going to stop working on Quarrel or our other game simply because we don’t get tax breaks. Whether the fact we continue to work on the games matters to anyone else remains to be seen, of course… roll on 2010. 🙂

  10. Ramsden avatar

    I wasn’t suggesting you should stop, and I wasn’t trying to make you look full of it. I’m sure whoever told you that had the best of intentions. I just follow politics generally, and I have a fairly shrewd idea of how things are going to go. The governments’ top two priorities right now are the wider economy on a grand scale, and trying to suck up to the wider electorate in a bid not to lose so badly in the next general election that the Lib Dems become Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Things that only appeal to what is seen as a marginal minority aren’t going to factor very highly in their considerations unless the marginal minority in question is one of the trade unions. I’m a realist, or a cynic if you prefer.

  11. Dan avatar

    You better not stop making Quarrel Dave! Looked excellent at EIF!

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