As one of the World’s largest independent developers, Blitz Games Studios forms an integral part of the UK development landscape, with their CEO and Co-Founder Philip Oliver being renowned for his ardent support of the Games Industry, having helped push several key political reforms. To provide an in-depth insight into the struggles of an independent developer in a faltering economy, as well as the state of the industry as a whole, PlayStation LifeStyle talked with Philip Oliver, one of the top ten game changing Brits according to the Times Online, about these issues, and many more.
PlayStation LifeStyle: Hi Philip! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and Blitz Games Studios?
PO: I’m Philip Oliver, CEO and co-founder of Blitz Games Studios, a leading independent game developer. We’re based in Leamington Spa, UK, and employ 220 talented developers. Established in 1990 we’re now in our 20th year, making us one of the longest established game developers in the world!
PSLS: Despite gaming trade organizations, such as TIGA, repeatedly attempting to convince the Government to provide tax breaks for the Games Industry, the Government has consistently failed to meet these requests; why do you believe that they fail to provide the same support as many other nations?
PO: Until three years ago the government simply didn’t have enough knowledge about or respect for the industry. It’s largely due to the great work of TIGA that a lot of ministers now understand and want to support the games industry. As a result of TIGA’s work, proposals were produced and were proceeding through the slow process that is government, but were rejected when presented to the Treasury last autumn. This was largely due to the country’s huge debt as a result of the bank bail-outs during the credit crunch.
Many ministers are annoyed by this, still support the principle and continue to push, so the fight isn’t over yet! A change of government may actually help, especially if supporting the games industry is perceived as a vote winner.
PSLS: In recent years, the UK Games Industry’s position as a world leading industry has fallen from third to fifth place; do you believe there will be a time when this process becomes irreversible?
PO: Due to a somewhat uneven global playing field, we have suffered here in the UK; however, the British are incredibly skilled developers and will always create great games. The dollar/pound exchange rate is actually making the UK more attractive again for international buyers and the situation is stabilising. With support from the government we could indeed bounce back and aim to reclaim the third place, which would be a great achievement for such a small country.
PSLS: How has Blitz Games Studios managed to stay financially healthy despite the woes the country has faced?
PO: The last few years have been tough for most the games industry, but Blitz has managed to navigate safely through due to its efficient development techniques. We’re very diversified in the games we make, which helps greatly and of course we’ve had to be careful with spending. We have a very loyal and talented group of people working here though and a lot of our success is down to their ‘Blitz spirit’.
PSLS: Were you ever tempted to relocate the company in a more tax friendly country?
PO: We have been approached many times to relocate to Canada, but have too many people with families and connections to Leamington and the UK. We can’t ignore the differences across the global economies though, so we do our best to adapt. For example, we outsource of a large volume of art production to places like Malaysia and China.
PSLS: At DICE 2010, developers such as Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games, reiterated the difficulty of independent developers in the modern gaming landscape, how has Blitz Games managed to keep its independence?
PO: The survival of companies is very Darwinian; it’s case of evolve or die. In such a fast moving industry we have to be quick to adapt to the changing environment. Encouraging and investing in new ideas and technologies is key to our work at Blitz. Recent examples include our investment in 3D technology, the external licensing of our game engine BlitzTech, and the Blitz 1UP indie developer support initiative.
PSLS: As a fervent supporter of tax breaks, you have attended various panels such as Tom Watson’s “Taking Video Games Seriously”, how influential do you believe these panels to be?
PO: It’s difficult to say, but one thing I know for sure is if we as an industry do nothing, then we can’t expect the government to help us. We must take the initiative and keep knocking on all available doors. I do feel we are making headway and if it hadn’t have been for the credit crunch and the country’s massive debt, I think we would have achieved the tax breaks we were looking for in 2009.
PSLS: Do you believe that overly violent or sexual games hamper the ability of the medium being accepted by the media and Parliament?
PO: I think several years ago violent video game stories did hurt the industry badly, with Daily Mail headlines like ‘Murder by PlayStation’. However, since the very successful Games Up? campaign in 2008 I think most people realise now that the sensational headlines are just rubbish. Games are a mainstream entertainment medium for all ages and as such there have to be genres suitable for mature audiences. The Byron report commissioned by Prime Minister Gordon Brown also concluded that the industry is very responsible in its appropriate labelling of games.
PSLS: The Blitz Academy Online service helps would be developers learn the skills they need to progress and mature into the industry, why have you made this process your responsibility, and not left it to someone else?
PO: As a leading developer I feel it is our corporate and social responsibility to support the next generation of game developers. We are in a good position to know what help and advice to offer. I have been pressing politicians for the last few years to support all industries to work with students through an education tax credit scheme, which would incentivise them financially and make it more likely to happen.
PSLS: And finally, on a lighter note, as a veteran developer and gamer, what has been your single greatest gaming experience?
PO: I remember seeing the launch of Super Mario 64 at E3 1996 the ultimate 3D character game. Up until then, controlling any 3D games had only been for the very hard core gamers. Mario 64 changed all that and brought a fantastic 3D game experience to millions and revolutionised computer games. People just immensely enjoyed running Mario around the castle gardens, the experience was magic!
PlayStation LifeStyle would like to thank Philip Oliver and Blitz Games Studios for taking the time to hold the interview. Stay tuned to PSLS for more coverage on the UK Games Industry and all round PlayStation news, reviews and interviews.