Patriot games: Made in Creative UK campaign celebrates the best in British video gaming
But are titles any better because they are developed here, asks David Crookes?
Check your underpants. Where were they made? Mine, as it happens, say Sri Lanka. Who would have thought boxer shorts would be made there? It is, as always, one of those little things you notice and learn from each day.
Now think of "Made in Britain". It used to be a very well-used label, a marker of quality, indicating a purchase wouldn't fall apart or suddenly burst into flames. It is less common today, thanks to three decades of de-industrialisation, which have seen manufacturing decline by two-thirds. Indeed, an internet search using those three words is more likely to throw up details of a television play directed by Alan Clarke "about a 16-year-old racist skinhead named Trevor".
But the Queen's Jubilee and London Olympics of 2012 have helped to turn things around the world has been fawning over anything "Made in Britain".
Now a new initiative called "Made in Creative UK" is hoping to capitalise on this. At its heart is a logo which, so the idea goes, will be placed on creative products that were produced within the UK.
Video-game company boss Philip Oliver, who came up with the idea, believes it will highlight Britain's fertile imagination across the world. "When I was younger, I remember seeing labels identifying stuff as 'Made in China' on them and I always associated the country with manufacturing," says Oliver. "That's the underlying premise of Made in Creative UK. It's about building up a recognition of the UK's creative talent and reinforcing it so that consumers all over the world know that the product they have is British and, more to the point, that the UK are experts at that kind of thing."
It was a survey contained within a report by Games Workshop founder Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope, the co-founder of the UK's largest film-only visual effects company Double Negative, which spurred Oliver into action. The survey asked where the blockbuster video games Grand Theft Auto, SingStar and LEGO Star Wars were made and found 41 per cent believed they were made in the US, 21 per cent in Japan and 13 per cent in China. Each, in fact, was made in the UK.
Similar presumptions were made about the British companies behind the visual effects for films such as Prince of Persia and Harry Potter.
"It was an even lower percentage for teachers and parents," says Oliver. "When these people are playing the games, they have no concept they are made in the UK. We want parents and teachers to think, 'Hang on, if this is made in the UK, then it is made by real people. I wonder where?'"
Oliver is a product of creative Britain. Like so many programmers in the 1980s, he was still at school when he and twin brother Andrew produced the classic game Dizzy for the British-made Sinclair Spectrum.
Lots of teenage coders went on to form their own studios. The Olivers created Blitz Games Studios; Richard and David Darling formed Codemasters.
British coders brought the world Tomb Raider and the government recently granted the gaming sector tax relief, which the European Commission is assessing. It seems it is worth investing in the creative sector, which according to the CBI is one of the fastest-growing business types in the UK, contributing 6 per cent of GDP and employing more than two million people.
But does it really matter if something is designed in Dundee or Dallas? Steve Wilcox, MD of games company Elite Systems, whose Nintendo games sported a combined Union/Euro flag with the words "Designed and developed in Great Britain", is still not entirely convinced. "Consumers are interested in the title of the game, the name of the developer and the name of the publisher in that order," he says. "Brand UK is not a factor, neither now nor two decades ago."
But Oliver says there is a wider remit which is about producing a buoyant creative sector with thousands of jobs. "If people are inquisitive about where games are made, it will lead to parents and teachers being even more open to the idea of their children working in creative industries in the UK," he says. Oliver has signed up 75 gaming studios to the plan. "We also want companies abroad to think, 'Where can we find a good animator?', and then remember that the animation they saw or the game they played and remember was made in the UK."
Although the scheme has its origins in gaming, the intention is for the logo to be plastered on film, animation, television and special effects too. But the concentration will likely be on the "newer" sectors. "My sense is that people already know that Britain makes good films and music," says Hasan Bakhshi, director of creative industries in the policy and research unit at the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta).
Made in Creative UK is supported by trade organisations Creative Skillset, Creative England, the Digital Skills Academy and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The latter's Minister, Ed Vaizey, said: "The UK has a proud history of video-game production and it is wonderful to see the industry exploring ways in which Britain's contributions to the worldwide market can be both acknowledged and celebrated."
There are challenges, though. "We're obviously talking about intellectual property here," says Kate Hills, founder of the Make It British website, which promotes British-made brands and UK manufacturing. "You may well have a game or a film with a Made in Creative UK badge on it but what if the CD itself is manufactured in China or the box it comes in was made abroad? There would need to be clearly defined rules that state what makes that product British and you wouldn't want to confuse the consumer."
And yet the creative industries are following what other industries have been successfully marketing for decades. Microsoft may have only just launched its Windows 8 Store initiative Made in the UK, but we've already seen, among so much more, McDonald's making a fuss over its 100 per cent British and Irish beef burger patties, Tesco's 100 per cent British chicken and a Union Flag on the Mini website to sell cars that, while made in Cowley, have German ownership.
And that is because, brand expert Robert Bean says, British labelling sells. "Here, we are not that bothered about items coming from Britain but foreign purchasers attach something positive to it," he explains.
But while he feels Made In Creative UK is a sound concept, he says more work is needed. "The name is clumsy – it sounds like a first thought. Simple concepts such as 'I love New York' work better. But it's true that Britain is creatively under-exploited. We need to stress the UK's overall ingenuity because we have a great impact in science, technology and biotechnology. That, to me, is a bigger point. As it is with just gaming, for instance, I think people care only for the product not the provenance."
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