Public Service Publishing seminar

Just back from Glasgow, after attending a seminar from OfCom about their Public Service Publishing work. Yes, I know, PSP. Confusing, and unwieldy to say the full version. Here’s hoping they change it before long. I’d suggest British Media Office, but that probably wouldn’t get past committee.

Anyway, the goal of the PSP is, as far as I can tell, to provide a vehicle for financing public service content, in the same manner that content like the BBC, ITV and C4 currently provide. I believe the remit goes something like “content that informs and entertains, and enriches our cultural heritage”.  The consensus is that the traditional TV broadcasters and producers are unsuited to finance new types of content, such as websites (interactive and regular) and games.

Of course, it is the games part that interests me. There is, I believe, huge scope for producing games which both inform and entertain. Specifically I object to the fact that we have to Americanise our games in order to target the largest possible audience. Even when set in fantastical or science fiction environments, we still get American voice actors to play our roles. Our children can readily identify many American cultural references, at the expense of our own. We don’t have fire-hydrants, our taxis are black, and our postal carriers drive red vans.

I think there are many games to be made that use British culture, settings and characters. Be that an adventure game based on Inspector Rebus, or a modification to a real-time strategy game to put it in a British historical setting. We invest much in British programming, for the education of our children or the entertainment of us all. For E.R. we have Casualty, for the Bold and the Beautiful we have Eastenders. But where is GTA: Liverchester? Okay, bad example.

Anyway, the seminar itself was informative, but not entirely heartening. The games industry moves very quickly. Project life-spans are measured in the order of months, not years – and I’m not convinced that the PSP would be able to move quickly enough to operate successfully in games. It was clear from the turn-out (a couple of dozen TV industry types, and only myself and someone from Realtime Worlds representing the games sector). Apparently in the London version of this seminar, games weren’t represented at all. And yet the shift in people’s habits, especially in the young, is clearly moving away from TV and towards games and the internet. While the PSP is a good step towards allowing new content creators access to public money to make worthwhile public content, it still feels like the traditional TV producers, who have little to no games experience (and I’d venture ability) are lining themselves up to be the ones to continue to recieve that public funding.

OfCom are still in the process of a ‘review’ stage that is feeling out the remit of the PSP, and from talk at the seminar, is more than a year away from even really getting going. With the rate at which technology is developing and public attitudes towards how they use media are changing, I can’t help but think that this is moving too slowly.

So in summary, I think the PSP is a laudable idea, but it needs to stop worrying about the bickering about what exactly the PSP should do (primarily by TV producers and broadcasters who feel their financing is being threatened), and get down and dirty and actually get to encouraging more public ‘new media’ content. Whether that be by financing, or simply by facilitating existing projects, whatever – as long as what they do results in publicly valuable content being produced that otherwise would not have been. Getting mired in an extended ‘consultation period’ where people argue back and forth is not only inefficient, it may mean that any action they take is just too late, and the free market will have replaced valuable public service content with commercialised pap (Beauty and the Geek anyone?), and may never get the public’s attention back.

Speaking strictly from a games industry point of view – unless the PSP is a responsive and fast moving entity, it will never be able to engage the help of the dedicated games sector, and may find itself quickly outpaced. That would relegate public service games to being second rate, pale imitations of their commercial counterparts, and so never gain the attention of the public they are supposed to serve.

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Last modified: April 12 2020.