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Blog posted by Ste Pickford on Thu, 03 May 2012

Ste Pickford

Earlier this week my brother wrote a blog post about fairness in the video game business. One part of his post talked about how supportive and helpful indie developers are to each other, freely swapping information, tips, even code itself.

It's always been this way in gamedev.

I remember when I first started working at Binary Design in the mid 1980s, making ZX Spectrum games. One of the bosses there, Mike Webb (who was an ex Ocean programmer), had a bit of code to input user-defined keys for up / down / left / right and fire. He gave that neat little routine to anyone writing a game on the Spectrum, saving them a day or so's work. They passed that bit of code on to anyone else they knew writing Spectrum games, to the point where even years later, virtually every Spectrum game from Ocean, Elite, Mastertronic, Quicksilva, and dozens of other developers, were all using that same redefine keys routine. God knows how many games that bit of code appeared in. (You might even remember it - any game where you selected 'redefine keys' from the main menu, then were taken to a new screen where you were asked to press a key for up, down, left, right and fire, in that order, was probably using Mike's routine.)

These days swapping code is rarer as there are legal problems involved, but most devs would still give each other code if they knew they wouldn't get anyone into trouble, and if not code itself then they'll usually be more than happy to talk another dev at a rival studio through a problem they've already solved.

But more than swapping code, gamedevs are always ready to swap tips and advice with each other. Many of the smartest devs out there write in depth about their most recent projects, analysing what works and what went wrong, and share that infomation with the rest of the gamedev community on places like Gamasutra, #AltDevBlogADay, or their own websites and podcasts.

Get any bunch of gamedev studio heads in a room together and they'll start telling each other about their successes and failures, which clients are paying or not paying, who's going bust and should be avoided, or who's flush with cash and worth pitching to. There's never any sense of competition between gamedevs, and they all want to help each other be more successful.

In fact, this is exactly how TIGA, the UK body claiming to represent the gamedev industry, started out. A few devs were over on a government sponsored trade mission in Japan, including myself (when I ran a little studio called Zed Two) and guys from Blitz, Kuju, Climax, and a couple of others. We spent half a day together in the hotel bar, getting drunk and swapping gossip and business advice with each other. It was so useful we all decided that we needed to do this more often, and that when we got back home we should form some kind of organised group for UK devs to come together and swap info like this on a regular basis.

My brother went to the proper UK kick-off meeting of what became TIGA a few months later, but by then the idea for the organisation had morphed into something more suited to the needs of the bigger UK studios (with membership fees designed to keep out bedroom coders, and 'founder member' benefits), and less about everyone swapping stories and gossip, so our then studio Zed Two declined to become a founder member.

We've been invited to join a few times since then, but after that kick off meeting I've never been sure that the organisation actually represents us as developers. TIGA has always lobbied the government for tax breaks for the UK games industry, which I'm somewhat ambivalent about (not just tax breaks themselves, but I'm uncomfortable about with the very concept of government lobbying), and their close connection to, and therefore legitimisation of, the controversial Train2Game organisation makes me slightly uncomfortable too.

The reason for this blog post is that TIGA have just announced the release of a Guide to Self Publishing, a subject close to my heart as one of the many small UK self-publishing indies. It's available free to members, but they're selling it to non-members for £120.

This struck me as really odd. Not only does everyone in the games industry share help and information freely already (and thanks to the internet that information is easily and instantly available), but the current trend in video game self publishing is for making our actual games themselves free to play!

Everything is free now, and we're all working out how to live with that.

It struck me as doubly odd as on the same day I got an email from gamesindustry.biz annouceing their "Podcast #5: How to be successful indie developer", where genuinely successful UK developers Peter Molyneux, Sean Murray, Henrique Olifiers and Tom Page offer their insights. For free of course.

So the organisation supposedly representing game developers, the very group that ideally would be at the centre of this free flow of information between the people who make free to play games and offer free help to each other, are charging £120 for a book of tips and advice.

Does TIGA exist to support the UK game development industry, or does it exist to support itself?

 

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Comments

Just thought I would chip in with my two-pennies worth.

TIGA is funded by membership revenue and these reports take time and money to pull together. If it's free for TIGA members and paid for non-TIGA members, it is a good reason for indies to join TIGA as one of the many benefits.

Neon Play joined TIGA last year (I think it was £750 to join) and initially I was not sure if it was worth the dosh. But we have saved that 4-5 times over with benefits, introductions, cost-savings, etc, plus what TIGA has spent much of its time doing is getting these tax breaks, which whether you like them or not, will save game studios a lot of money and keep us all going.

So yes, I can see why you think it should be given away for free (this report), but it's a good reason for small indies to think about joining TIGA, as it's a genuinely strong, well-run organisation trying to help the UK games industry.

Maybe a freemium version is needed with the first few pages free...!

 

Ste Pickford

Cheers Oli, it's interesting to hear a positive perspective from a developer.

 

I'd also second Oli's comments - since we joined TIGA a few months ago we've had a lot of networking opportunities that ordinarily we wouldn't have had, and met a lot of different people in the industry - from studios large and small.

This has also translated to business opportunities and introductions with companies looking for content, which is incredibly useful for us and we would never have heard about some of them without the TIGA introductions.

Regarding the £120 fee - I can see where you're coming from, but I've seen TIGA do a lot of positive stuff for the industry, and also speak up when negative press hits - which is essential for UK games as a whole to be taken more seriously.

This all helps to open up more sources of finance which benefits the whole of the UK industry. Right now the UK games industry looks to have a far more exciting and positive future than at any time since the earliest days of home computing - and this simply wouldn't have happened without organisations like TIGA.

 

JPickford

I can understand the value for money view but for me the whole 'perks for members' thing was the very thing that put me off joining in the first place. There were some sentiments expressed (this is before Tiga even had a name) I found distasteful. Things like "The best thing would be if the majority of devs went out of business". This didn't seem to fit well with an organization set up to help developers. It just came across as a club with special perks for the big boys.

I realise that the Tiga of today may be very different but special perks for members still has that feel for me. I'd be more inclined to join an organisation that focused on helping all developers even the small fry who can't afford membership fees.

 

Maybe if TIGA offered free to enter places for up and coming promising developers who couldnt afford the fee that might alleviation the way they come across.

 

I have to admit that we paid a few thousand (if memory serves) for our single years membership of TIGA and got very little for it. Nearly all events were in London which was pointless for a Scottish developer, and we also didn't benefit from any of the grants for trade shows as apparently heading to E3 isn't classed as marketing, but doing Game Connection was.

When I looked into joining as a freelancer/consultant, the cost was much reduced but I was basically told that I wouldn't receive any of the benefits for this sum - seemed pointless to give them hard earned revenue with the only benefit being that I could call myself a TIGA member.

Maybe if they had concentrated on other aspects of the UK development community rather than on tax breaks which are great for short term employment but could be disastrous for long term stability of the industry, they would be in a better position to cover the whole industry including the 1-2 person teams producing great product who see no benefit to their membership fees.

 

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