This week’s blog entry finds me back on a train to Warrington to visit Evolution, a newly married man. My honeymoon, last week, was spent pleasantly disconnected from the wired world, in a forest cabin in Argyll. Not totally electronics free, of course, the laptop went with me and I had a chance to play through some Sam & Max, Spore, and replaying Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in advance of picking up the sequel which should be out around now. Other than that though, I left things in Tim’s capable hands. My boss at Microsoft, in addition to the shiny new laptop and office provision in Edinburgh, kindly consented to giving me a couple of weeks off around the wedding. I’m not really accustomed to taking time off any more though, so the weeks leading up to the big day I was still remotely monitoring the build systems down in Reading and keeping things ticking over. Happily the systems I’ve set up in the previous few months don’t require much maintenance, so this time away has been good in that it’s proved the reliability of the build setup.
Near the end of October, I also attended a panel discussion at the Scottish Parliament that TIGA was pushing. This was partly for them to push their tax-breaks agenda in amongst Scottish politicians, but also a good opportunity for the Scottish games industry to show their faces to the wider world. We do tend to suffer from our normally clandestine dealings; if you’re in the industry everyone knows each other, but it was usually hidden away from the media or non-industry observers, except in small, tightly controlled PR moves. I’m glad to see that the industry has reached a level of maturity where discussing our needs with politicians and other interested parties is feasible and useful.
I’ve been down-beat about the merits of TIGA’s tax-break lobbying, both from a personal political viewpoint (I don’t like subsidies) and from a small business perspective. The tax breaks proposed seem to be of most benefit to larger companies, to encourage them to set up large studios in the UK. While I like that idea from the point of view of improving the general health of the development community here, it’s unlikely that we as a small outsourcing studio would see any direct benefit from these policies. I was uncomfortable to think that I would be the only nay-sayer in the room, but I was glad to find that the other smaller studios are similarly cynical about the policy.
More interesting to me was the other topic dwelt on by the panel – the push towards better education and training for new developers, and better opportunities for students to secure a role in the games industry. I’ve been worried for a long while about talent draining from the industry, for various reasons, and recent business conditions are making developers less and less likely to take risks on graduate developers. Anything we, the government, or the educational institutions can do to make it easier for developers to take on graduates is a win in my book, both in the short and long terms. I was very interested to hear some of the programmes that Abertay has been developing along these lines; reaching out to industry with prototyping teams (I’d imagine making use of the White Space facility), helping students get placements inside studios, etc. While I’m not in favour of any one institution being the only place to go to get into the industry, it’s good to see them leading the way. I made a point of saying to the politicians in the room that if they wanted to really support the long term development and stability of our industry, they’d do well to support and extend these programmes. Especially if those programmes were also made available to students/graduates across the higher education field. I’d love to see an avenue for straight Computer Science students to get into the industry, without them having to take the risk of doing such a specialised degree as a games industry course.
Anyway, it was a good panel, with interesting points all round, and while I don’t think that anything new or earth-shaking was said, I think I’m more positive about the long term prospects of the industry as a result of attending.
This week is back to work properly though; this day down with Evolution to demo the stuff that Tim’s developed the last few weeks, and the rest of the week settling into my new routine with MGS. That will be splitting my time between Edinburgh (I’ll try to get a few pictures from Microsoft Edinburgh’s lovely roof terrace with its wonderful views over the Waverley valley) and Dundee. As is usual with any time off, especially when I’m disconnected from the Internet for any length of time, I’m itching to get stuck back into things and start delivering useful stuff again. There were quite a few things on my list leading up to leaving Reading, but none that could be started in earnest until I was back. Hopefully now that I’m not exiled in Reading, I can settle into some sort of sensible routine, and still leave time for more regular blog posts here than I’ve managed recently.