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
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 apprenticeshipsof
course, we do need more apprenticeships in particular sectors
of the economybut 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
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
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
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
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 under18sthere
is only a tiny number of 18-rated gamesthat 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
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.