Creative Industries: Seven of the best for Britain

Psygnosis plays the game all over the computerised world
Click to follow
IT IS a measure of how far computer games have come in a short time that in 1984 Jonathan Ellis teamed up with Ian Hetherington to set up a software publisher called Psygnosis, which they hoped would tap into an emerging industry.

The first game they wrote, Brataccus, was the first to be published for the Commodore Amiga console, and they were later to achieve renown for Lemmings - a "platform game" in which characters run and jump on a moving screen.

So impressed was Sony that it bought the company in 1993. Now Psygnosis is a big player on the world stage itself. Its three main products - the racing games Destruction Derby - have sold more than a million units each. Nick Garnell, managing director of the publishing side at Psygnosis, underlines the company's international audience by reporting that exports account for 80 per cent of its turnover. This ratio has gone up sharply in recent years as Psygnosis has opened offices in all countries where it has a lot of customers.

"The number of people who play games at home is greater than ever," says Mr Garnell, and this has encouraged a number of other British software writers to make their mark. While Psygnosis is the biggest UK player, he adds, an up-to-date top 10 of computer games would feature a number of British names.

This, though, is a story of British ingenuity and foreign technology, and this has sometimes been a dangerous game because technology changes quickly. The British software industry went through a rocky patch a few years ago as the machines their programs were written for became obsolete.

However, Mr Garnell says there is now more stability, partly because of a new generation of machines whose memory capacity and specifications make them ideal for games.

Mr Garnell says that over the past year junior ministers have made a number of visits to the industry's trade association. If anything comes of the contact, however, he does not expect it to be in the form of money but education. Build up the skills base in computer games, he says, and you have a powerful magnet for inward investment.