Technology

Post-Brexit immigration policy could hit video games industry, MPs told

Westminster's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee visited Dundee to evaluate the strengths of the sector and how it can be supported.

The video games industry in the UK could be negatively impacted by post-Brexit immigration policy, it has been suggested.

On Tuesday, Westminster’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee travelled to Dundee, a world-leading city for games development, to evaluate what more the UK Government can do to support the industry.

Concerns were raised that a proposal to introduce a £30,000 salary threshold for workers from outside of the UK could make it more difficult to recruit and retain staff.

Colin Anderson, Earthbound Games commercial director, told MPs while the video games industry in the UK has been incredibly successful it is not something it “inherently deserves” and is coveted by many other countries around the world.

Mr Anderson added that having access to the widest talent pool available would be the preferred option for video game companies.

He said: “I’ve certainly had problems in the past with staff who were on lower salaries but performing what are integral parts of the operation.

“Generally, it’s the people who are in the operational parts – so it’s the people who are running the office, it’s people who are running the infrastructure around game development.

“Those salaries can be below those thresholds that have been set and that can certainly cause issues.”

He added: “It’s a political decision that has to be taken and we have to run with whatever is decided.

“But given the choice, we would like to be able to choose from the widest talent pool, with the least friction possible, which is what we believe we have now.”

Keeley Bunting, senior designer at Outplay, said the threshold could have a differing impact depending on the location of studios throughout the country.

She said: “Within a games studio, you have a variety of different departments and a variety of people of different seniorities, so there’s going to be a wide range of salaries.

“There’s also the fact that people who live in a city with a high cost of living are going to be paid more than people who are in a smaller city with a lower cost of living.

“So that could have a potential to be more hurtful for studios that are in smaller cities with lower costs of living.”

Timea Tabori, of Women in Games in Scotland and engine programmer at Rockstar North, said the requirement could put stress on newer companies.

She said: “The games industry is very dynamic and there’s lots of new companies, student upstarts, all that sort of thing, and to have that sort of requirement universally applied would I think very much put a stress on any of these new upstarts and prevent innovation and I think have a negative impact across the board.

“Because of the uncertainty that we’ve been talking about, companies might decide that they’re just going to hire from talent pools that they know they can rely on, even though they might realise that it’s going to hurt their creativity in the the long term.”

Tony Gowland, Ant Workshop founder, said the changes could make it more challenging to attract students to Scottish universities, from where they are often recruited from by the video games industry.

He said: “Graduate jobs are some of the lowest paying so you would find potentially that it would make somewhere like Abertay less attractive to foreign students because if you leave the university and you can’t get a job in a Dundee company because you’re not allowed to stay because you’re not earning enough, I think that would really impact the attractiveness of a lot of the educational establishments in the country.”

Mr Gowland added: “There’s a lot of native talent but there’s plenty of people who would come to the UK because people want to work in the UK games industry.

“So obviously things which affect that freedom of movement are potentially throwing a spanner in the works in terms of recruitment.”

A UK Government spokesman said: “The video games sector plays an important part in driving the success of the UK’s creative industries and our new skills based immigration system will ensure that the sector is able to attract talented workers from around the world so that it can continue to grow and prosper.

“Our plans will support business by stripping out bureaucracy and digitising the system, committing to process the vast majority of work visas within three weeks and removing the cap on the number of skilled professionals.

“We remain invested in fully engaging with stakeholders in every part of the UK and we have launched a 12-month period of extensive engagement on the details of the White Paper.”

A spokesman for Abertay University said: “Abertay University has been ranked number one in Europe for videogames education for the last five consecutive years and we are confident that our degree programmes will remain attractive to overseas students regardless of the outcome of Brexit.”

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