Videogame Makers Weigh in on EU Question

European Union

Dominic Wheatley, CEO of Kuju, Jason Kingsley, owner of Rebellion, Dr Richard Wilson, Tiga's CEO and Darren Jobling co-owner and COO of Eutechnyx, discuss the EU referendum.

Love it or loath it, the European Union plays a key role in all our lives and with Prime Minister David Cameron's comments setting the cat amongst the pigeons in Brussels, Here Is The City decided to invite top UK games industry executives and developers to comment on the potentially paradigm shifting stance taken by the British government.

Here Is The City spoke with Dominic Wheatley, CEO of Kuju and the Catalis Group, Jason Kingsley, owner of 2000AD and Rebellion, Dr Richard Wilson, Tiga's CEO and Darren Jobling co-owner and COO of UK developer Eutechnyx.

Most of the nation is seemingly scratching its head over the result of any potential referendum and arguing that Europe is either vital for our success or a hindrance we need to shrug off.

Much of this division could be due to the fact that the current generation of young professionals and politicians were either toddlers or primary school pupils when the EU's forming Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1993, meaning they have no direct experience of the before and after effects of membership.

This isn't the case for the CEO of the UK's largest independent developer, Dominic Wheatley, who says he directly experienced the benefits of membership while he was establishing his first company, Domark, later renamed Eidos. He explained that shipments of games often encountered trade barriers and bureaucratic roadblocks.

"Customs would stop them [games] at the borders and they often sat there for three or four weeks being checked by customs," Mr Wheatley reminisced.

"The importers had to pay an import duty, which meant the games were more expensive on the shelves for consumers in France and Spain and so on, which meant less sales."

Describing the pre-EU system as a "nightmare", he celebrated that since the UK embraced EU membership he could ship titles as easily to Madrid as he could Birmingham, adding that it was "a blessed day" for the games industry, one that should not be reversed.

"It absolutely important to be able to trade freely with Europe because there's such a big market for us and of course for setting up studios," he continued, pointing to his own company's studios in Poland and Belgium.

Far from being the only games industry executive to trumpet the EU, Eutechnyx co-owner and COO Darren Jobling chimed in.

"I basically think that extricating ourselves from Europe would be a bad thing for the games industry," he told us.

"In the UK, Europe is basically our biggest local market, and unrestricted trade access is essential to products of ours, such as Auto Club Revolution. Europe generally gets a bad rap in the UK popular press and Cameron is just jumping on the band wagon of jingoism."

However, not everyone in the industry was convinced that the EU is a vital part of the UK's success in the games-making business.

Dr Richard Wilson, CEO of UK developers' trade body Tiga, believed that the country's strong links with European partners and the joint competition against North America will keep the continent collaborating across the channel.

"The games industry is highly globalised so we have strong links with our counter parts in Europe… and that wouldn't change whether we had the referendum or not," he said.

"To a large extent European companies are competing against North American companies… so that would happen whether we stayed in the European Union or not - those strong links in Europe won't go away."

His position was supported by Jason Kingsley, owner and CEO of game developer Rebellion and comic publisher 2000AD, who argued that digital distribution makes regional trade barriers and internal markets moot.

"I haven’t seen any barriers to distribution of our digital titles like Judge Dredd vs Zombies, or Zombie HQ or Guns 4 Hire anywhere yet," he told us, referring to their widespread global release.

"Whether we are in or out of the European project, I can’t imagine this changing," Mr Kingsley continued.

"In effect our trading partners are the customer, so as long as we make games in languages they can understand, and they have access to download our stuff, nothing else matters."

It was on the issue of tax breaks that Mr Kingsley and Dr Wilson converged, saying that the UK government might have been able to offer more effective incentives for development had it not been hampered by EU legislation.

Tiga's CEO explained: "The games tax relief that Tiga campaigned for and won in the April budget that comes into effect this year, for companies to benefit from that tax relief they have to pass a cultural test and that's a requirement of the European Union.

"If we had a looser arrangement with Europe then it's possible the government might have more leeway and might be able to support specific industries with tax credits, with tax breaks, which might not necessarily have to be run by Europe at all."

As happy as he was about getting the tax relief passed, Dr Wilson said that more could be done if the government had more flexibility around state-aid.

While he agreed that the cultural requirements for the tax breaks were creatively stifling, Mr Wheatley said the benefits of such constrictions far outweighed the hypothetical cost.

"I really think that big policy like this, you know, in or out of Europe, is much more important to get right than worrying about tax credits, which could be removed from us on a whim," he commented.

Pointing to the British government's regular tweaking of tax rules and regulations, the industry veteran said the "tremendous fluctuations" in tax policy meant any breaks couldn't be relied on.

"I would not be driven by the tax benefits, as welcome as they are, because they may disappear with the next government, but dealing with Europe or being able to deal with Europe is a far bigger, more important element in the industry," he concluded.

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