Interview: John Whittingdale MP

Interview: John Whittingdale MP

Rt Hon John Whittingdale has had a professional interest in videogames for the best part of a decade, first as the shadow secretary of state and then, as of 2005, as chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. Now the Conservative MP has a new role, as a vice chairman of Parliament’s first All-Party Group concerned with issues facing UK developers and publishers. We spoke to him to discuss his hopes for the group, Parliament’s long overdue engagement with the industry and why the Digital Britain report pronounced that tax credits should be granted on the basis of British cultural relevance.

Why has it taken so long for an All-Party Parliamentary Group on videogames to be set up?

The significance of the games industry has been growing steadily greater for quite a while. To some extent that’s because bodies like TIGA and ELSPA have been active in creating awareness, but it’s also because economically it’s become more significant. The games industry merits a group dedicated to its own interests rather than just coming within other creative industries: that’s now widely recognised. There are issues relating to games that relate to all other creative industries – piracy online for example – but there are issues that are specific to the games industry as well. We’ve had announcements in Digital Britain relating to classification, and also the acknowledgement that there’s a case for some kind of tax incentive to ensure we retain a strong games industry within the UK. These are issues that Parliament has a direct say over, so it’s a good thing that the games industry has a voice in Parliament.

Do you wish you could have set this group up a few years ago? In the last few months, Eidos has been bought by Square-Enix, and Britain’s dropping through the global development rankings.
I don’t think it’s too late, but the case has certainly become stronger. There was a recent campaign run by TIGA, the Game’s Up campaign, focusing specifically on two issues: tax incentives and skill shortages. That ran over the course of the last year, and I think that’s helped. It’s perfectly possible for people to ensure that the interests of the games industry are kept in mind without a group. But having a group like this helps to ensure that that continues to be the case.

What can the industry expect from an All-Party Group? How do they operate?
It depends – some are much more active than others. But as long as you have a core membership of MPs who are willing to go to regular meetings to keep up-to-date with the concerns of the industry and developments, an All-Party Group will be helpful. We won’t just acknowledge the importance of the games industry and move on – we’ll keep it a major consideration for the debates we have about broadband, for example, and Digital Britain.

What are the main aims for the group in the first few months?
Obviously, the case for some kind of incentive to make sure that the UK remains one of the major locations for games development. That’s something that needs to be pressed quickly, because the longer we leave it, the greater risk there will be a steady loss of jobs to places like Canada. I also think that at the moment the challenges of online are there, but they’ll become much greater as we move towards a world in which more and more homes have broadband and are able to access faster speeds. If you look at Korea, you have 100MB lines. If we do move to a world where that kind of speed is available here, then whole new opportunities open up. If government helps to bring about a position where the majority of the population has access to faster broadband, then the applications will follow. It will create a market and then the market will do its work.