Monumental Get Another Grant

6 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/warrenh/2319200193/

Monumental Games recently moved offices in Nottingham, acquired half of Swordfish Manchester as it got into trouble, and now have another £140,000 grant. This time it’s from Northwest Vision and Media, and they were eligible for it thanks to taking on the extra office in a different region. That’s probably a happy but unintended outcome rather than a plan, as there are plenty of other reasons for Monumental to have acquired Swordfish Manchester and it’s not very long since they did.

It’s comparatively rare for games companies to take advantage of this kind of thing though, whereas it’s fairly common for film production all over the world. Good to see developers acting smartly even in the downturn, as we’ve previously heard a lot of cynicism from studios about readily available government support.

(CC image of coins by Warren H)





Emote Get £600K

2 10 2008

Midlands games developers seem to be well ahead of the rest of the country in utilising funding offered by the Technology Strategy Board. As well as Monumental being funded recently, Emote just announced £600K from them as part of a £1.3M project to improve AI in networked environments.

They are also apparently partnering with Imperial College London for the project. Not only is this a more intelligent approach than most studios take, Imperial are a heavyweight university for CS, with well respected courses that make students work hard. Kudos to Emote, who are only about 25 people strong.

(via Develop)

(CC image for this post by Nadya Peek, of a rather interesting AI project involving networked Darth Vader helmets apparently composing music. Youtube links in the Flickr comments).





Monumental Games Funded with £300K

24 09 2008

East Midlnads based Monumental Games have won £300,000 of funding from the Technology Strategy Board, they announced yesterday.

It makes a lot of sense, as networked technology is looking like one of the safest bets in games at the moment.

I do wonder if Rocco wrote this or it was written for him, as press release quotes often are:

Project Chairman Rocco Loscalzo (CTO of Monumental) praised the approach of the Technology Strategy Board. “This is the first year that the Technology Strategy Board has invited applications from the Creative Industries, and it is encouraging to see recognition for the contribution made by such industries to the UK economy. This award for Collaborative Research and Development has enabled us to kick-start a commercially viable but inherently high-risk project, and we can’t wait to get going with our partners.”

Either way, it’s fairly progressive for a games company to class themselves under “creative industries”; most stay pretty aloof from the label because they see it as only applying to small, local artisanal businesses.

(CC image of monumental forehead by Salemek)





NESTA, Innovation In the Games Industry

8 07 2008

Yesterday I went to the NESTA Innovation and Growth in the Games Sector report launch. It was a good event in a well run venue.

The big news was that NESTA are launching a £450,000 fund to address the games industry skill shortage, and TIGA are using some of it to develop a social networking site specifically aimed at job sharing and job swapping, i.e. encouraging professionals from industries such as VFX and animation to join the games industry.

This would be a massive and significant boost to games industry skills, since the overlapping skillsets of such people have been pushed to an extremely high degree of technical competency by the film and television industries.

Rory Cellan-Jones from the BBC gave a good outsider view of the industry, saying that we need to exploit “star power”, we need games industry Alan Sugars and Richard Bransons to emerge. He also talked about the development of videogames news stories, which started out as panic-mongering social issues, but have recently become business stories. In particular, he cited the launch of GTA IV being treated as a cultural and economic event.

Obtaining figures on the industry is very difficult, he said (it’s true), going on to urge us to work towards a single trade body that would present a united front. Quote: “There are two at the moment, and most journalists haven’t heard of either”. Richard Wilson of TIGA later countered this to a certain extent by pointing out that, for instance, the UK chemical industry has over 20 trade bodies, so in comparison the games industry is not doing too badly.

Adam Gee also spoke about Channel 4’s approach to games and interactive, summing things up for traditional media quite pithily I thought: “We’re making a transition to public service broadcaster to public service network”. He also revealed that they’ve been working with Introversion.

I know quite a few people, in various industries, who are quite traditionally trained. They see the internet, user-generated content, crowdsourcing, etc. as a cataclysm, something that will sweep by them leaving only unemployment behind. There are plenty who see this kind of change as an opportunity though, and on that count the games industry seems quite split.

AAA studios look set to keep pumping out big-budget first person shooters, while many smaller companies are rushing in to exploit the opportunities presented by everything from MMOs to mobile and casual. It’s becoming a stereotype that big, traditional studios are lumbering dinosaurs baying under a descending meteor, but that’s not entirely true. Nonetheless, Rory Cellan-Jones’ presentation, along with the people I met there, hit home to me that in some respects right now there is more insight on games coming from people outside the industry than in, and even the latter tend to be from smaller companies you haven’t necessarily heard of. While that may seem gloomy, these people are extremely ahead of the curve compared to most from more established industries.

Plenty more quotes about the NESTA fund over at Develop.

(Image: Jetpack Brontosaurus, now in Alpha).





Realtime Worlds Secure Funding, Govt. Challenges Tax Breaks

31 03 2008

Crackdown

Dundee based Realtime Worlds have secured a third round of venture finance, totaling around £25M. There’s not much to say beyond “congratulations”, however…

Realtime were founded by David Jones, designer of both Lemmings and the Grand Theft Auto series. We have some absolutely stunning talent over here in the UK, but it won’t matter so much if the business climate keeps on becoming more severe.

With the Byron review coming down so much in favor of games and common sense, one big uncertainty facing the games industry is largely settling. It seems like a good time for developers here to campaign for a better deal, especially as the DCMS have given a first twitch on challenging Canadian tax breaks. However, with the EU approving tax breaks for French developers, and the following quote, the DCMS current line of UK tax breaks potentially being illegal and the Canadian ones likewise, is not looking promising:

Guillaume de Fondaumière head of trade association APOM which serves developers in France, says the move is a mistake.

He recently posted here on the Develop site that France’s own investigations already found that “Canada’s tax breaks are more or less aligned with WTO policies”.

He said: “APOM and French government services had looked a few years ago at the opportunity to challenge Canada’s incentives with WTO. Our conclusion was such a challenge would lead nowhere.”

Instead, he recommended: “The UK should rather join forces with the France (which made the first move in the ‘tax break direction’ a few weeks ago) as well as other Euro countries understanding the imperial need to save a key industry and convince the European Commission to widen its horizon on the subject and allow all games to benefit from tax credits and other incentive.”

TIGA, under new CEO Richard Wilson, are talking about improving their game too:

“My vision statement for Tiga is two-fold. Firstly, to lobby UK, European Union and regional governments to create an environment in which developers in this country can prosper. And secondly to establish best practices so developers can rely on themselves to enhance their competitiveness. There are a lot of trade associations in the UK and they very in quality – I want Tiga to be one that adds real practical value for its membership.”

It’s an issue the UK has faced before: The need to turn world class game development studios into world class businesses.





Analysis: French Tax Breaks

27 03 2008

Money

A Develop feature from Tuesday 25th examines French Games Industry tax breaks in some detail. It makes a lot of very good points, taking examples from France’s past of where they’ve gone wrong before:

France’s games industry was in trouble before Montreal started calling. Its independent sector was shrinking rapidly just like every other major development territory. Beyond a few major hits, France had real problems creating global blockbusters.

Many of its games studios had become dependent on grants and hand outs, mostly from local government but also from national funds. Grants totalling hundreds of millions of Euros were being poured into games companies, some without commercially viable products.

Essentially classic French protectionism, some of their studios were being propped up artificially while the global market ignored their products. Eventually, subsidies always run out, and this led some unviable studios, like Cryo and Kalisto, to crash spectacularly. Many of their staff will have ended up in Montreal.

News broke late yesterday that Ontario is raising corporate tax breaks for the games industry to 25% from 20%. Looking at longer term strategies, whether or not anyone wants to start a arms race with Canada over games industry tax breaks is a question worthy of very serious consideration.

While it’s unpleasant and often unspoken, public funding procedures tend to be static enough that they lead to periods of people learning to exploit systems for cash. That can be stemmed by changes to policy and organisations, but this in turn is very bad news for any industry that comes to depend on subsidies, because obsolescence of government help can be easily and catastrophically missing from many business plans.

(CC image by kappuru)





Channel 4: £40M Digital Content Fund

18 03 2008

Channel 4

Channel 4 has stumped up £20M for a new digital content fund, the 4IP fund, totaling £40M with match funding and planned to grow to £50M. Based in Birmingham with Advantage West Midlands, the fund is highly experimental, aimed at new platforms on a trial basis for the next two years. More cities will be added as commissioning centres after the scheme launches in July. More details are at the Guardian.