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Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 14:25 GMT
Games 'more popular than films'
Sales of video and computer games in Britain reached an all-time high last year, according to the latest figures released. A survey by the European Leisure Software Publishers Association has found that consumers now spend more on games software than on renting videos or going to the cinema.
And, as the BBC's Rebecca Pike has been finding out, British software designers are fast becoming the most popular in the world.
The launch last year of Sony's Playstation 2 sent the games software industry into overdrive.
In just over a month British consumers bought nearly 500,000 pieces of software for the new console.
Britain is now the third largest market for games in the world - behind the United States and Japan. Last year it was worth £1bn - more than visits to the cinema and video rentals.
The value of British exports too has surpassed British film and television. As a result there is a new name for the industry doing the rounds - Britsoft.
Britsoft designers were responsible for some of last year's most popular games - including Tomb Raider. Next month sees the launch of one of the most eagerly awaited British games of the year - Black and White.
At the Lionhead studios in Guildford they are putting the finishing touches to the game, which has been three years in the making. Around 750,000 advance orders have already been made.
Lionhead's managing director, Peter Molyneux, known as the godfather of Britsoft, has compared what is going on in Britain now with the industrial revolution.
"This is just the new industrial revolution, it's the virtual industrial revolution, which Britain is particularly good at - we've got the skills and we've got the creativity," says Peter Molyneux.
"A lot of the games concepts that the world is now playing were rooted in Britain and even more of those games have British influences and we should be really proud of that," he adds.
The engine of Britain's success in the games industry is its creativity.
The last few years have seen the launch of a handful of degree courses in computer games design - which aim to harness that creativity and make students employable as soon as they leave university.
With the price of games software falling all the time, more and more people are going to start choosing games over other forms of entertainment.
And that trend will be given a massive boost with the European launch of Microsoft's X-box early next year.