The United Kingdom is a difficult place do do business, said Codemasters managing director Rod Cousens, facing expensive labor, a talent scarcity and competitive subsidies from overseas. But during his talk at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival, Cousens defended the UK development community.
"High labor rates are nullified by creativity and quality," Cousens said. "It's all relative, but there is a real aspect of this that you can't put a price on, and that is creativity."
According to Cousens, the UK games industry became important on a global scale when Gridrunner
on the Commodore 64 made it to number one on the U.S. video game charts back in 1983.
Cousens said that, when he once asked an American about the strengths of UK game design, the American placed it on the fact the market was once dominated by old home computers like the BBC Micro, and that UK design benefited from the challenge of working with those limitations.
"It heralded a rich creativity from the UK that resonated across the world, continued through Elite, Tomb Raider, Singstar, GTA
... even Apple have been strongly influenced by UK design," said Cousens.
The current industry climate sees nations like Canada and Australia offering tax subsidies to companies that choose to develop there; even in the U.S., states like Texas are offering incentives to studios who invest a certain percentage of their development dollars there.
However, said Cousens, "It's pretty much unproven elsewhere -- Australia has similar incentives, and has nothing on the scale of Canada's operations."
A primary consideration of choosing where to develop, he said, is if the developers are going to understand the game's target culture. "I remember at Acclaim one of the things we had to do was write a baseball game in Teeside. I don't know why we'd think we'd get it right, but we didn't."
He also said that, by now, Asian outsourcing companies can see the West coming, and respond with rising prices, high staff rotation and, as a result, "quality suffers."
Plus, said Cousens, the cycle of outsourcing somewhere cheaper and cheaper continues forever - "In China even now they're talking about the threat of Vietnam when it comes to development."
But UK development offers the gain of native English language and a tech-savvy culture, Cousins asserted. As an example, he replayed a bit of Microsoft's 2008 E3 presentation, demonstrating You're in the Movies
, being developed by Zoe Mode and published by Codemasters, both of whom are UK-based.
It's "important and telling," that Microsoft is "Using a UK developed game to open up markets in France, Spain, and other regions... [where they're] obviously having problems."
"As far as I'm concerned," he concluded, "rule Britannia."