By Alfred Hermida
Technology editor, BBC News website
People looking to make video games are not tapping into government funds, a conference on games has been told.
GTA San Andreas: Developed by Edinburgh-based Rockstar games
Cash was available from regional bodies and in the form of tax breaks, but few took advantage of these, said Toby Barnes of the Pixel-Lab think tank.
At the Games Developers Conference Europe in London, he said these funds could help get new ideas going.
The UK has a reputation as a games powerhouse but rising costs have meant many studios have closed.
Funding for films
The games industry has repeatedly called for more government support, along the lines of the support provided to British art house films.
Many in the business are particularly worried about escalating costs of making games for the next generation of console games because of the number of people and level of skills needed.
But Mr Barnes said that these calls were likely to fall on deaf ears.
"Just because films got money in the past, it is no use arguing that games should get the money now," he said.
Instead he blamed game developers for not doing enough to take advantage of the support already available.
Mr Barnes argued that not enough game makers were drawing on tax credits for research and development.
Under a scheme introduced in 2000, companies can get £1.50 back for every £1 spent on research.
Mr Barnes cited an example where a company had claimed back 80% of the costs of developing a blockbuster title.
The problem for smaller game makers was that they were too focused on getting a title finished and lack the knowledge to work the system.
"You need an accountant that understands these tax breaks," he said. "The reason people don't take them up is because they don't have the right advice."
The other resource that was often ignored were regional development associations.
Mr Barnes said many regions were specifically looking to attract creative industries such as games to make up for the void left by the decline of manufacturing.
UK GAMES INDUSTRY
UK leisure software market worth £1,22m in 2004, a 6% rise from 2003
Console hardware market dropped from £486m in 2003 to £339m in 2004, a 30% fall
£320m invested in the UK game development industry in 2004
22,190 people employed in the UK video games industry
Just over 6,000 of these worked for games development companies
Source: Screen Digest, National Statistics
These regional bodies have received funding from the EU to help them rebuild the local economy.
Mr Barnes cited the example of a project he had worked on to attract video game makers to work with the East Midlands regional screen agency called EM Media.
"The East Midlands has a large pot for digital media production," he said adding that millions over the next few years could be spent on creative businesses in the region.
"The investment funds are aimed at taking an idea that would not normally happen, that publishers would not fund," he said.
"It is a way of funding the early stages of development and it takes risk away from publisher."
With video games costing upwards of £10m to create, publishers are often reluctant to take a gamble on new projects from untried developers.
The cost to the budding developer? Moving to the region, said Mr Barnes.
"The important thing is to work with your regional development agency. You'll be surprised at what people can do for you."