How video games are aiming to put the pride back in Britain
David Crookes looks at whether this lucrative industry can help rescue the UK's brand on a global stage
Check your underpants. Where were they made?
Mine say Sri Lanka. Who would have thought boxer shorts would be made there? It is, as always, one of those little things you notice and learn from each day.
Now think of 'Made in Britain'. It used to be a very well-used label, a marker of quality, indicating a purchase wouldn't fall apart or suddenly burst into flames. It is less common today, thanks to three decades of de-industrialisation, which have seen manufacturing decline by two-thirds. Indeed, an internet search is more likely to throw up details of a television play directed by Alan Clarke "about a 16-year-old racist skinhead named Trevor".
But the Queen's Jubilee and London Olympics have turned things around, so the world has been fawning over anything 'Made in Britain'.
Now an initiative called 'Made in Creative UK' is hoping to capitalise on this. At its heart is a logo which, so the idea goes, will be placed on creative products produced within the UK. Video game company boss Philip Oliver, who came up with the idea, believes it will highlight Britain's fertile imagination across the world. "When I was younger, I remember seeing labels identifying stuff as 'Made in China' on them and I always associated the country with manufacturing," says Oliver. "That's the underlying premise of Made in Creative UK. It's about building up a recognition of the UK's creative talent and reinforcing it so that consumers all over the world know the product they have is British and, more to the point, that the UK are experts at that kind of thing."
It was a survey which spurred Oliver into action. The survey asked where the blockbuster video games Grand Theft Auto, SingStar and LEGO Star Wars were made and found 41% believed they were made in the US, 21% in Japan and 13% in China. Each, in fact, was made in the UK.
Oliver is a product of creative Britain. Like so many programmers in the Eighties, he was still at school when he and twin brother Andrew produced the classic game Dizzy for the British-made Sinclair Spectrum. Lots of teenage coders went on to form their own studios.
British coders brought the world Tomb Raider and the Government recently granted the gaming sector tax relief, which the European Commission is assessing. It seems it is worth investing in the creative sector, which according to the CBI is one of the fastest-growing business types in the UK, contributing 6% of GDP and employing two million people. But does it matter if something is designed in Dundee or Dallas? Steve Wilcox, MD of games firm Elite Systems, whose Nintendo games sported a combined Union/Euro flag with the words "Designed and developed in Great Britain", is unconvinced. "Consumers are interested in the title of the game, the name of the developer and the name of the publisher in that order," he says. "Brand UK is not a factor, neither now nor two decades ago."
But Oliver says there is a wider remit which is about producing a buoyant creative sector with thousands of jobs. "If people are inquisitive about where games are made, it will lead to parents and teachers being even more open to the idea of their children working in creative industries in the UK," he says. Oliver has signed up 75 gaming studios to the plan.
Although the scheme has its origins in gaming, the intention is for the logo to be plastered on film, animation, television and special effects too. But the concentration will likely be on the "newer" sectors.
Made in Creative UK is supported by Creative Skillset, Creative England, the Digital Skills Academy and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
There are challenges, though. "We're obviously talking about intellectual property here," says Kate Hills, of the Make It British website, which promotes British-made brands and UK manufacturing. "You may well have a game or a film with a Made in Creative UK badge on it but what if the CD itself is manufactured in China or the box it comes in was made abroad? There need to be rules."