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Lost Humanity 12: Zero Contribution

It would be too easy to believe incorrect reports that the Scottish games industry has no value, argues Rab Florence.

Last week a report released by Scottish Enterprise and Creative Scotland claimed that the Scottish games industry had a value of zero. This zero is apparently a result of the sector having a monetary value of less than £10m, which the report rounded down to f*** all. The report also claimed that less than 200 people are actually employed within the sector, which is less than the amount employed by Greggs, and less than you'll find queuing outside any Greggs in Dundee. It's one pretty crazy report.

The Scottish Government later weighed in with this - "Official Scottish Government statistics (SABS) value the Computer Games, Software and Electronic Publishing sectors in 2010 at just over £1bn GVA - representing about a third of the Creative Industries sector in Scotland." Which, to be fair, sounds more likely.

All the moaning about this happened last week, so I'm not going to continue it here. What I do want to talk about is an element of the story that I haven't seen anyone really discuss. And here it is:

People who don't know anything about the Scottish games industry would find the report very easy to believe.

I tested this theory in the most scientific way possible. I spoke to my ma about it. Here's the conversation in full.

Quarrel. One of the best games to come out of Scotland in recent years.

ME: "Ma, see this hing aboot the Scottish games industry? This report hing?"

MA: "Naw, what is it?"

ME: "It's just this report hing, and it says that the games industry in Scotland contributes nothing to the economy."

MA: "Does it? That's terrible. We don't really make much games here anyway, dae we?"

ME: "Naw. Apparently no'."

We then went on to have an Empire Biscuit and a cup of tea, but that's not entirely relevant right now, because this isn't a biscuit website. Our brief conversation was unimpeachable proof that reports like these are often taken at face value, and if there is no information in the reader's head to make the conclusion reached in the report seem "off", then the reader will happily believe it. My ma thinks that the Scottish games industry contributes nothing. This is frightening, because the people who will make policy and funding decisions on the future of the games industry are people like my ma, not game-savvy weirdo shut-ins like me and you.

But here's the thing - why should she think otherwise? What exactly are the leaders in the games industry doing to make their contribution clear?

This, in truth, has annoyed me for years.

I did a talk at a school a few years back, where I had to explain to the kids what I did for a living. At the time I was doing the games stuff on TV, and the kids seemed more keen to talk about games than about the process of rewriting a project to suit an idiot's idiotic notes. I was asking about their favourite games, and Grand Theft Auto kept coming up. I asked them to tell me where they thought Grand Theft Auto was made, and every one of them answered "America". Every single Scottish teenager in a Scottish classroom told me that they thought GTA was an American game made in America. When I told them it was made in Scotland they didn't believe me. A few kids said they wanted to make games when they got older, but they all said that they wanted to move to America to do it. Here was the demographic that plays games telling me that they didn't think Scotland really made any games, and that if games were made here, none of them were as cool as American games like Grand Theft Auto.

And you know what? Rockstar North is to blame for this.

The American game Grand Theft Auto V, made in America, by Americans.

We all know that Rockstar North is a secretive company. And that's fine. It's good to be secretive about your projects. But I think that this influential giant, slumbering in its Edinburgh hideaway, is shirking its responsibilities to its home nation. I don't think it's acceptable for an industry leader to play no part in the grassroots development of an industry. If I were at Rockstar North, I would be embarrassed by stories of Scottish kids thinking our games were made in America. I would be ashamed.

When we made Consolevania, Scottish Enterprise asked us to make a documentary film about the Scottish games industry. The idea was for us to highlight how healthy our games industry was, so that people from abroad could be very impressed by us at industry parties. In actual fact, the companies we spoke to were struggling and desperate for help. It became a documentary about struggle, and the need for some government assistance. And everybody spoke to us apart from Rockstar North. Everybody told us the same thing - "Ooh, no. Rockstar won't talk to you." This was a piece about the games industry in Scotland, and Rockstar North wouldn't take part.

That sums them up. They just don't take part.

Just as Rockstar North is the giant within the games sector in Scotland, Pixar is the giant within the animation sector in the States. And Pixar plays a blinder with its community outreach programs. Animators from Pixar have been known to go out and teach animation to local fifth grade kids. Those kids will make a movie that will be screened for their parents at Pixar itself. There is an acceptance at Pixar of the burden of the responsibility that comes with being a leader in your field. Rockstar North could learn a few lessons from them.

We have talented games people in Scotland. We have great developers. We have some great educational projects like Abertay University's Dare to be Digital. But what we don't have is a voice. I think the industry needs to communicate with the Scottish people better, and has to engage more effectively with children and students. It's horrible to be told that your industry contributes nothing to your country's economy. And we all know that the report was wrong. But there is far more to an industry's value to its home nation than money in and money out. There has to be a broader contribution than that.

And right now, it feels like Rockstar North's contribution is startlingly close to zero.

The Weekly Mini-Review

Guild Wars 2. So beautiful. My /age is 75 hours and climbing.

Someone in the comments last week reminded me I was going to do mini-reviews of games. This has been difficult to achieve, because no one is sending me any games because of my fearsome reputation. However, I can tell you that Guild Wars 2 remains wonderful and beautiful, and that Sound Shapes must be bought by anyone with any joy in their heart. I'll try to get hold of a game for next week and do this properly. Stay safe until then.

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