United We Stand?

Calls to merge UKIE and TIGA ignore the fact that the industry is becoming more diverse.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz's widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial, is a weekly dissection of an issue weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

The frustration felt by some people within the industry - and, I suspect, some of those tasked with dealing with the industry in Whitehall - at the continuing separation between the UK's publisher and developer trade bodies is entirely understandable. We all know that the games business in Britain is a large and vigorous one, albeit one which faces serious challenges at present - but is it really so huge and sprawling that it needs two major trade bodies to represent its interests?

Once upon a time, the reasons for separation were extremely clear. The industry had three tiers - the companies which made games, the companies which published games and the companies which sold games. There was overlap, of course, but the value chain was for the most part neatly divided into three distinct sectors, each with its own - often conflicting - aims and interests.

As the market has diversified, with everything from the audience itself through to distribution systems and even game budgets now spanning vastly more ground than before, those clear divisions have come tumbling down, to some extent. Developers publish. Publishers develop. Both of them retail - and everyone is touched, to a lesser or greater degree, by key issues such as the UK's unfavourable tax regime, which gives industries such as TV and film advantages the games business does not enjoy, or the looming skills shortage resulting from problems within the education system.

As such, it's easy to see the motivation for suggestions from industry luminaries such as Ian Livingstone that the two bodies should put their differences aside and merge, allowing them to better represent the industry as a whole. Livingstone's call has been echoed by a number of other industry figures, leading to a sense that the two bodies now face some pressure to follow this path of action.

Is this really the right course, though? It makes sense on the surface, but looking at the broader picture makes it hard to agree with the idea of a single, unified games industry body for the UK. It may make life easier in the industry's dealings with government - but even in the brave new world of the modern games business, it's a vast oversimplification to pretend that publisher and developer distinctions are no longer important, or that these distinctions do not create significant areas in which the interests of the various parties are in outright conflict.

In fact, the argument that the functions of publishers and developers have been growing closer to one another in recent years is only one way of looking at a much more complex situation. Certainly, many developers now sell games directly to their audiences, and as such have been forced to learn more about financing, marketing, PR, distribution and other such "publishing" skillsets than ever before. This aspect of convergence is undeniable.

Rotate the viewpoint a little, however, and the picture changes radically. The diversification of the industry has not actually pushed all of its constituent businesses towards the centre ground, even if the overlap in skillsets is now more notable than previously. In fact, the industry now encompasses businesses both much smaller and much larger than previously, and rather than a single monolithic value chain culminating in the sale of a product to a consumer, we now see many different value chains, revenue models and business plans - all running at a tangent to one another and resulting in an industry that's actually more fragmented than ever before in its interests and objectives.

Consider, for example, the question of piracy - one issue which has always been seen as something affecting the entire industry, a blight on the entire value chain and a campaign that everyone from the smallest developer to the largest publisher can unite to stamp out.

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