Using Scottish gaming industry data in a new way could boost its value

Published: 20 December 2019

The economic significance of Scotland’s Games Industry is under-estimated by a lack of the right type of data.

Calls for improvement to Scotland's video game industry data

The economic significance of Scotland’s Games Industry is under-estimated by a lack of the right type of data.

Scotland’s games industry is widely recognised by industry practitioners, support agencies, public bodies and academic institutions as one of the country’s most successful economic sectors. However, there is a concern that official statistics give an inaccurate profile of the industry which under-records its significance and underestimates its size, resulting in negative effects on how its economic, cultural and social value is perceived. This has implications for:

  • Monitoring, evaluation and benchmarking of the industry
  • Business decision-making, for example about their business case, internal ideas, and awareness of competition and comparators
  • Promotion and visibility of the industry
  •  The design of appropriate support interventions
  • Advocacy for the industry and its needs.

This concern has been validated in a study by Dr Helen Mullen and Professor Colin Mason from the University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School, and Dr Matthew Barr from the School of Computing Science with funding from the ESRC’s IAA fund and Creative Scotland.

Based on discussions with more than 30 organisations from across the industry and involved in data provision or use, they identify several issues with existing data:

  • Small companies and freelancers are often under-represented in non-government data sources, and company activities are allocated to inappropriate industry sectors.
  • Limited coverage of information, notably economic information.
  • Lack of timeliness of data.
  • The breadth of activities in the industry is often overlooked and under-represented particularly in relation to cultural activities; the variety of freelancers, game makers and creative practice-focused practitioners; and games-related data such as types, platforms and releases.
  • Data inaccuracies often attributable to survey fatigue.
  • Problems in accessing data because of confidentiality restrictions (in the case of official data), cost (in the case of some private sources), lack of visibility, and format constraints
  • Under-reporting with the Inter-Departmental Business Register – the Government’s key database of companies. More than 40% of games companies were not included when the last review was undertaken in 2012. This has since been improved although coverage remains particularly poor for new companies.
  • Many of the companies, and their associated employment, in Government statistics are misclassified as they are not included in the computer games industry sector but instead are allocated to computer consultancy activities, other information technology and computer services activities, or other activities.

The authors suggest that these weaknesses in data provision need to be addressed through a combination of short and long-term strategies. In the short-term there is a need to address specific limitations in existing data. However, this has to be complemented by a longer-term strategy that takes an ecosystem perspective, incorporating more extensive data that describes the industry in a more economically, culturally and socially meaningful way.

Dr Helen Mullen said: “Scotland's games sector is rightly regarded as an important part of our economy but our research shows that the breadth of its social, cultural and economic importance may not be fully recognised. This is due to a range of circumstances, including the creative nature of the industry and the fluidity of the business models within it.

When providing support for the industry, information for potential investors, or analysis to compare it with other sectors it is important that the whole picture is understood, so Scotland can get the maximum advantage from a growing sector.

Now we have identified the limitations we can start to improve things. Our next step will bring together various organisations involved in games or data to generate a solution for the games industry that will also be relevant for other industries facing the same problem.”

Morgan Petrie, Creative Industries Manager at Creative Scotland said: “We welcome the publication of this report and its ambition for coordinated support for the games industry in Scotland. In particular, we recognise that accurate data about the industry is a crucial factor in the development of effective strategies, and we’re looking forward to continuing our work with industry, government, public sector partners and projects like InGame, to align future activity that will help the on-going creative and economic growth of the sector.”

Sean Taylor, Director at InGAME said: “The games industry in Scotland continues to grow and innovate, and if it is to realise its full potential, it must further develop its data provision capabilities. As the research and innovation centre for the UK games industry, InGAME is looking forward to collaborating with the University of Glasgow and Creative Scotland in 2020 to address the limitations identified within the report and pilot new approaches to data provision.”

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First published: 20 December 2019