Using big data to map the UK video games industry
In 'A Map of the UK Games Industry', we have worked in partnership with Ukie to develop a new approach to measure and map the video games sector. Instead of relying on official industry (SIC) codes, or surveying 'known' games companies, we have tried to leverage 'found', online data about the sector.
Look, don't ask
Gaming websites like MobyGames and review sites such as GameSpot contain a wealth of information about games products that we have scraped to build a list of games companies. We have then established which of these companies are UK based, and extracted information about them (including their postcode and, where available, financial data) from Companies House.
This allows us to identify games companies through their creative outputs (revealed by the consumers and journalists maintaining the websites we use as data sources) rather than the box they tick in the business register when they get started.
It also results in a high-resolution, timely dataset with interesting information that is not available from official sources. For example, we have been able to look at the platforms that different companies target.
What do we find?
A UK games industry in expansion and flux
Our analysis reveals 1,902 active games companies in the UK today. More than half started operating in the 2010s, and most of them specialise in mobile platforms: 64 per cent of the companies for which we have platform information target Apple devices, including iPhones and iPads.
It is often said that smartphones and App stores have increased the diversity of game-playing audiences. Our research suggests that they have also democratised games making; the map below shows the explosion in games activity across the UK in recent years.
Game-making hubs are found across the UK
Although the majority (55 per cent) of companies in our dataset are based in London and the South of England, the North of England and the Midlands have a stronger gaming presence than they have in the creative industries overall. This is reflected in what we find when we combine our dataset with official government data to identify ‘games hubs’ in the sector (see map below).[i]
These hubs include well-known hotspots of games production like Dundee, Guildford, Warwick (Leamington Spa), Brighton and of course London, and new up-and-coming hubs such as Manchester, Liverpool and Cardiff. Almost all parts of the UK – including the South of England, the Midlands, the North of England, Scotland and Wales – are represented.
No common model for games clustering
The hubs are varied in their platform specialisation and industrial structure. Some areas, like Brighton and London, major in iOS, and are full of micro-businesses, while others such as Warwick, Cambridge and Guildford have a stronger presence of larger companies targeting consoles; others still have a diversified platform portfolio.
Although this suggests there is no ‘one size fit all’ recipe for growing games clusters, it is also true that new entrants to the UK games economy like Manchester, Liverpool and Cardiff are more focused on platforms like mobile and PC/Mac, where there are lower barriers to entry.
The challenge these places will face is scaling-up games companies when they are operating in intensely competitive app markets.
Creative connectivity and local infrastructures matter
We have linked our data with other openly available datasets from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Ofcom (the Telecoms regulator) and The University Council of Admissions (UCAS) to explore the possible drivers of games clustering.
Emerging patterns include video games clustering in the UK’s wider creative economy - our analysis reveals strong co-location between games companies and other creative sectors like Design, Software, Advertising, Music and Film, Video and TV, consistent with games companies being embedded within wider networks of commerce, talent and ideas in the creative economy.
A correlation is evident between measures of (residential) broadband availability and games (specially iOS) clustering, lending support to the idea that those places with stronger digital infrastructures also tend to have stronger games clustering.
There is also a relationship between games clustering and the presence of universities offering specialist games courses (we identify 115 institutions offering 315 courses via the UCAS web portal), underscoring the importance of creative talent for the success of games hubs.
The size of the UK games industry
Our analysis confirms widely shared concerns about the poor coverage of the games industry by official SIC codes 6201/1 and 58.2: these only capture around a third of our dataset (the figure below shows the proportion of our dataset they cover compared with other SIC codes, as well as companies that are too young to have selected a SIC code, nonetheless are picked up by our data collection method).
An implication is that the sector is larger than previously thought. Though combining our data with GVA data from the DCMS Creative Industries Economic Estimates, ou back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the games industry might have a value added of as much as £1.7 billion, double previous estimates.
‘A Map of the UK Games Industry’ is in many ways the beginning, rather than the conclusion, of our project. This is data which we want companies, investors and educators to use to understand the geography of the sector and track its performance in real time, not just for lobbying purposes. Our plan going forward is therefore to work with Ukie to evolve our data collection methodology into an interactive platform for the games industry and its stakeholders.
That way, analysis of the sector can move away from static snapshots to a ‘live’ picture that users can customise to their needs – a defining feature of the ‘Big Data’ era that we will harness in the next stage of this project.
The image above (Southampton) as well as others included in the report have been taken from Ordnance Survey’s map of Britain in Minecraft. GB Minecraft was developed using a range of free OS mapping products creating a true 3D representation of Britain’s rural and urban landscape. For more information please visit this page.
[i] The process that we followed to identify these hubs is to first find areas with a critical mass of games activity (higher than average levels of concentration in the games industry based on our company counts, and an absolute number of games companies above 20, the mean for areas with at least some game production activity). We identify 18 areas, for which we also estimate levels of concentration in games employment using official (BRES) government data. We then compare these 18 places with each other in terms of their levels of games company and employment concentration. Those places that have superior levels (higher than the median for the group) of games employment, of games companies, or both, are described as ‘games hubs’. We call the remaining 6 (Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle, Nottingham, Wycombe and Slough and Luton and Watford) ‘potential hubs’, whose evolution should be watched with attention going forward.