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Cabinet Forum showed that the UK games industry is leading the way in creativity and in business innovation

By on October 28, 2009

C&binet was a gathering of the great and good of the British creative industries at the swanky Grove Hotel. But did it achieve its aim of becoming a British Davos for our industry?

The Cabinet Forum event has been overshadowed by Lord Mandelson’s announcement of a “three strikes and you’re out” policy against “persistent, illegal filesharers”.

But its purpose was to bring people together at all levels of the creative industries to mingle, debate and spark new ideas and partnerships.

So did it work?

There were some pretty big failures. The games industry was represented by, I think, only six people out of 300 (Jim McNiven, Kerb; Kristian Segerstrale, Playfish <- probably the most sensible speaker; Michael Rawlinson, ELSPA; Geoff Heath, formerly of NcSoft; Ian Hetherington, Real Time Worlds; me). Given that we are one of the most successful creative industries and are the only one to have worked out three new business models that solve piracy (more about that in another post), that’s a staggering omission.

Of course, hosting this event during London Games Week, but out of London, may have been partly to blame.

There was also a lot of what one twitterer termed “passive-aggressive complaints” about predominantly white, male panels. I would certainly like to see more women and ethnic minorities in the games industry, and maybe more role models being invited onto panels would help, although I think the issues may be more deep-seated than that.

And the debate was framed far too much by the music (and to a lesser extent book and film) industry’s endless focus on the enforcement of copyright, which polarised the room and limited the room for debate.


But I made a lot of contacts across all areas of the industry. TV production companies, book publishers, advertising agencies, technology companies and even literary agents are trying to work out to work across multiple media.

And every single one of them is interested in games. Our industry is about to grow, develop and expand in ways that will bring many new sources of revenue and distribution over and above the traditional publishers. It’s a fabulous time to find new sources of funding for games.

Come on guys, let’s look forward

The biggest disappointment was the backwards-looking focus. One American observed a “recession of optimism” in the room, as if the Internet was a source of threat more than opportunity.

And of course for many of the people who can afford the £375-a-night Grove Hotel, it is. The Internet is reducing (although not eliminating) the role of the distributor who extracted high economic rents from controlling the route to market. Those are the people who spend on swanky hotels, not the creatives, and the Internet is eating into their profit margins, which is why they are so focused on copyright.

Advertising as a new source of commissioning budgets

Laurence Green, chairman of advertising agency Fallon, commented that the creative industry seems to believe that advertising budgets will grow and grow as an inexhaustible supply of money and this just isn’t true.

I don’t agree, Laurence. Or at least, not directly. The advertising pie doesn’t need to get bigger; it just needs to shift from big distribution players (like ITV or the Wall Street Journal) to content players. Two of my clients make substantial revenues from making content aimed at consumers and paid for entirely by advertisers, with no broadcaster, publisher or retailer taking a cut.

That is the biggest threat, and the biggest opportunity, for the creative industries. To harness the incredibly cheap distribution of the Internet to reach new and bigger audiences, to allow them to share our content and then to find effective, innovative ways to profit from that audience.

ITV doesn’t get it. Playfish does.

And for me, the biggest shame of the conference is that we didn’t spend more time talking about all the new and exciting business models that are growing (without subsidies, I note) and becoming truly global companies.

But c&binet was a fabulous start at getting the creative industries, one of Britain’s most successful sectors, to talk to each other about new ways of collaborating.

And if they want more games people involved next year, I’d be happy to advise.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: