Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 452-459)


29 APRIL 2008

  Q452  Mr Sanders: The outlook for the video games industry worldwide looks good. What is the outlook like in the UK?

  Mr Jackson: We are in a very positive position at the moment. The new hardware platforms that have been moving into the market are performing very well and seem to be extending the interest in our products to constantly wider groups of people. I believe that we are in very strong economic shape at the moment.

  Mr Ramsdale: If you look at analysts' expectations, depending on which ones you listen to at the moment it is about a $30 billion worldwide industry that could grow. There seems to be a consensus around $45 billion in the next three years or something like that, so there is about a 50% growth largely from internet gaming. A lot of that growth will be internet-based gaming and the UK numbers probably echo a similar proportion of growth.

  Dr Wilson: The UK games industry is strong but it faces intense competition from countries such as Canada particularly Quebec which subsidises its games developers considerably. Certainly, UK business people and games developers I have met over the past couple of months have reported to me some poaching of staff from Quebec-based companies because they are attracted by the considerable tax breaks in that country. The games development sector in the UK is strong but faces considerable competition from subsidised competitors.

  Q453  Mr Sanders: Were any of you encouraged by the recent Creative Britain strategy document?

  Mr Jackson: We were very encouraged by it. We particularly welcomed the commissioning of research better to learn how the economic benefits of creative industries are understood across the UK. We are also very pleased by the calls for R&D tax credits to be simplified and for them to be more applicable to our industry. I think we are keen to see how much is being spent on that going forward.

  Dr Wilson: There were some good points in the Creative Britain strategy document and I echo the points made by Mr Jackson. I was also pleased to learn that the government said it would consider working with European partners to see whether Canada is violating World Trade Organization rules with regard to unfair competition. There is however room for improvement in that particular paper. The government very sensibly is keen to drive up the quality of the workforce, but in the games development sector I did not get the feeling that the necessary skills that we need for our sector were recognised. For example, there is a focus on developing more apprenticeships—of course, we do need more apprenticeships in particular sectors of the economy—but the games developers to whom I have spoken over the past couple of months have emphasised the fact that above all they need people at graduate level. This may be one of the challenges that government departments face when they create a strategy document that covers a number of different sectors of the economy. That Creative Britain strategy paper did not look simply at games but also at music and fashion. I think that creates difficulties for government departments.

  Mr Ramsdale: EA is an American company that has studios around the world, including Canada. In Canada we benefit from some of those tax breaks and credits that we talked about. We also look at where the talent pool is. There is a good pool in the UK and it is in our interest to have studios here. We have a big studio in Guildford. We particularly welcome the fact that the government seems to be widening the existing R&D tax credits and it appears there is some flexibility in our ability to apply for those. From an EA perspective we would encourage that.

  Q454  Mr Sanders: How important to the industry is location? A relocation to Canada is a big move. Is location an important factor in being together with other creators?

  Mr Ramsdale: Again, from our perspective we find talent pools that work particularly well in a type of genre. We are an international company with 8,000 to 9,000 employees, so it is quite common for us to move developers from one studio to another on particular projects. From a commercial aspect it is in our interests to make games where it is most economically viable to do it, but that is balanced by the location of the main talent pools.

  Q455  Mr Hall: I turn to the perceptions of the effects of video games. In its submission Tiga said that, "Games...are a much misunderstood concept by politicians and policy-makers and regrettably are also much maligned. They provide a convenient `whipping boy' for the ills of society." That is pretty stern stuff, is it not?

  Dr Wilson: My predecessor was a man of considerable character, which is why he put it in that way, but the essence of his argument is correct. When we see violent behaviour reported in newspapers or on television because we are rational human beings sometimes we wonder how on earth people can behave in this way and we look for reasons for it. What Tiga has tried to do in the submission is to emphasise that there is a very positive thing to report about games. We should not forget that games are entertaining; they can be used in education and training. A number of members of Tiga provide education and training products for both business and schools. Referring to the specific point about violence, Dr Byron's report was extremely balanced; it looked at all the literature but, above all, it seemed to me she was saying we must err on the side of caution. As far as I can interpret her remarks, she did not say that there was a direct relationship between playing violent video games and people wanting to go out and act in a violent manner. She seemed to come down quite firmly on the fact that the context of the individual child was above all important. I think it is very important that we put it in perspective. When we look at violent behaviour in society I am sure the evidence will show there is a much stronger link, for example, between alcohol abuse and violent behaviour. Above all, video games are good for society.

  Mr Kingsley: But it is important to remember that there are also video games that are suitable for different age groups. It is a bit like the book publishing world: there are books that are suitable for kids and books that are not. I get slightly annoyed when people bundle them all together and say that because they are computer games therefore we should be careful about kids playing them because, quite frankly, some of them should not be played by children.

  Mr Jackson: We were very pleased when Dr Byron was asked to complete this report. We have always been keen to protect children in our environment. We set up our age-rating system 15 years ago. It was clear to us that she would look at these issues and try as far as she could to deal with them. I think her report was very instructive, in that she said there were some possible negative effects of violent video games but these were harmful only when children presented other risk factors. She then talked about that. What is absolutely key is that we use this opportunity to make sure we get our classification system correct going forward because we have one chance to get that right.

  Q456  Mr Hall: There is absolutely no doubt that public perception of the negativity of extremely violent games is the one that informs people's views about them, especially people who do not become involved at all.

  Mr Ramsdale: I think that is a defining point. There is a divide based on whether you do or do not play games. The numbers are quite compelling. We believe that there are 21 to 22 million people who play games in the UK. Of those, 16 million would call themselves regular players. There is a bigger number who currently do not play. At the moment I think that what the industry is about is that, looking backwards, it has been a kind of "hobbyist" industry, if that is the right term; it is something that people do and enjoy. I think that we are on the cusp of becoming a very mainstream industry with casual games aimed at a much older demographic. We have a game that has been influenced by Steven Spielberg who has worked on it with us; it is about knocking down blocks on the Wii which is a puzzle game but it could be played by granddad with grand-daughter. That is a target market. Today the perceptions could be better. I think that tomorrow or in a very short space of time those perceptions will have changed.

  Q457  Mr Hall: Both answers have commented on the ambivalent findings of the Byron report about the connection between violent video games and violent behaviour. Does more work need to be done on this particular aspect, or is that the defining word?

  Dr Wilson: I am sure that this will be an ongoing area of research. Dr Byron made the point that in some ways it is difficult to do longitudinal studies on the effect on children of playing violent video games. She made the very valid point that obviously if there were anecdotes one would not necessarily want to carry out experiments on children, as it were. Clearly, this will continue to be an area of research. Unfortunately, I do not think the issue will ever be settled because there is an ongoing debate about whether or not violent films are suitable for people. I do not think that will ever go away.

  Q458  Mr Hall: This is where freedom of expression comes up against the need for censorship and there will always be tension there. There are games like Manhunt 2 which have had an appalling press and there have been High Court decisions about whether it should be certified for 18 and over. Do you think that if the industry did something about the hard end of the violent video games it might get a better press?

  Mr Ramsdale: In many respects it is perhaps the reverse. As an industry we have not been as good at portraying the positives of which there are so many. ELSPA has a PR resource now that is focused on putting out good messages about what we do. I think that once more people play and understand that 98% of titles that are launched are for the under18s—there is only a tiny number of 18-rated games—that will shift. Currently, you only ever read negative stories and we have a job to do. I believe that the Byron report has been very good for us.

  Mr Jackson: I think so too. We have to be really clear that it is our responsibility to work within the law and we will consistently do that. It is also our responsibility to make sure that adult-rated content is properly classified. If products are to be banned that is censorship which is quite rightly in the hands of Parliament. At the end of the day, we vote for all of you and you are the people who should be setting those moral boundaries and we look to you to give us laws within which to work.

  Q459  Chairman: Eliot Spitzer said that Grand Theft Auto simply encouraged people to sleep with prostitutes which was somewhat ironic given what then happened to him. Equally, the trailers for Grand Theft Auto 4 suggest that it shows the main character drinking and getting into a car and therefore may encourage drink driving. As Mr Hall said, Manhunt 2 was banned by the BBFC though subsequently that decision was overturned. We have talked about freedom of expression. Are you uncomfortable about any of those games?

  Mr Kingsley: From a personal creative standpoint I think the games I would want to do would not push at those kinds of boundaries. I would prefer to push the more creative side of computer gaming, but in any growing industry you will always have outliers and people who want to push those boundaries, in part to get the publicity that goes along with it but also because that is part of the creative freedom. I suppose that it is MPs who need to determine by legislation how far they can push it. It is our role as a creative industry as well as a very big business to work on creative expression. I do not necessarily defend the position of some of my colleagues on that, but I defend the principle of being allowed to be creative.

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