Mindy Grewar from the University of St Andrews describes “Upping Your Game“, the third in a series of IP workshops with creative industries practitioners organised by ICC and Creative Scotland, with additional financial support from CREATe.
“Make your assets sweaty”. This wasn’t the typical language we’ve been hearing during our researching of strategies for managing and exploiting IP in Scotland’s creative industries. Our work with Creative Scotland has revealed a common set of challenges—such as the need to recognise one’s IP, to know when to share it or to protect it, and how.
But from a recent workshop on IP in the Scottish games industry, the call to sweatiness –to make intellectual properties ooze with revenue potential—has, er, stuck with us.
The phrase belongs to David Wightman, whose experience with guiding Another Visitor and other media companies in the UK, US and Asia enabled him to advise games companies to operate in “stealth mode”, to be ambitious about their goals and aggressive about their management. Sweaty assets fit this strategy efficiently, because they deliver a greater return on one’s developed IP.
“Make one product and get three out of it, with different skins, for different markets”, David counselled, or consider “reverse engineering—how to get more money from your existing products.”
David spoke during Upping Your Game, the third in a series of IP workshops with creative industries practitioners organised by ICC and Creative Scotland, with additional financial support from CREATe. The event was hosted in Dundee by Abertay University Business Development Team on September 25, and attracted 48 games designers, company managers and other sector representatives. In addition, the event was live-streamed to the National Virtual Incubator node at Strathclyde University.
As with Wightman’s appeal, a dominant theme of the afternoon’s discussions was the need for Scotland’s games companies to beef up their business strategies, particularly in relation to exploiting IP. The idea echoes those of our previous IP workshops held for Designers and Theatre.
“In Scotland, we are great at creating IP but weak at leveraging IP”, said Colin Anderson, Managing Director at Denki. He joined Marc Williamson, Director of Development at Tag Games, in discussing exploitation models that have worked for their companies, for example, partnering other brands to feature their products as toys or player assets within games.
However Colin emphasised “there’s no single answer” to how to best exploit IP—the solutions depend on market conditions and potential partners’ positions. “You need to be flexible to the conditions and to aggressively pursue opportunities”, he said, and “be aware that so much of how you go on to use IP is beyond your control.”
Effectively managing IP requires a different way of thinking to games development, according to Paul Durrant, Director of Business Development at Abertay University. “There is a different mind-set to financial thinking—you must consider business modelling, investment, capital, and so on. But nobody gets into the games industry to run a business—they get in to make games”, Paul said. “So the need to be a business is a rude awakening.”
He further suggested it may be time to adjust the “agile working” strategy that pervades the industry, in which content comes first; now the focus needs to include business and IP.
In common with other creative sectors, Scottish games companies are typically micro-sized, said Brian Baglow, Director of Scottish Games Network, and employing specialist IP managers often is a luxury. Colin reported mixed results at Denki with bringing in commercial managers from outside the industry. So existing company leaders need to develop better IP skills and priorities, to lead the high-level commercial strategies that the industry requires.
Currently, Marc observed, “business is too often an afterthought, and we end up giving away too much”. Colin agreed: “The industry is at a great stage, where bedroom games programming is becoming very easy, like forming a band, but our knowledge of IP is lacking”.
Another theme of the workshop focussed on financing for games projects, with suggestions offered by Morgan Petrie, Portfolio Manager for Technology, Digital Media and Market Development at Creative Scotland; Joyce Matthew, Account Manager for Scottish Enterprise; and Paul Durrant.
Paul urged that games companies need to be smarter about accessing funding, especially public money such as that available from Scottish Enterprise and Creative Scotland, which expects projects to be of public benefit. “You need to consider what you’re giving in return for the investment or grant. Is it a society benefit? Jobs growth?”
David Gourlay, partner with MacRoberts LLP, described the basic types of IP protection –including copyrights, trademarks, designs patents of know-how/intellectual assets, confidential information, and moral rights–as essential building blocks for businesses’ financial strategies. “To be investor-ready, you need to be able to answer questions about having contracts and so on that clarify ownership of your IP. Investors love to see registered IP—they get a warm glow when they see that.”
Inevitably as companies strengthen their business strategies they will find that the resources required to manage IP can detract from those that could be ploughed into building the products –the “trade-off of time and money—IP housekeeping vs asset development” as Paul called it. He warned: “Be prepared for tough choices.”
In the final section of the workshop, contributors considered how the games industry can engage with other sectors and the global industry to help secure a healthy future for their businesses.
One development area is in interdisciplinary working, collaborating with other industries such as theatre, design, health, and education. Malath Abbas’s company, Quartic Llama, recently collected a Digital Innovation award from Arts & Business Scotland for its collaboration with National Theatre of Scotland. He admitted that stepping outside one’s comfort zone can be difficult: “There is a lack of trust in others. How do you start talking with people you don’t know?” he said. “But you have to establish communications early. Talk a lot, and honestly. Educate partners about what you can do.”
Other contributors to the workshop panels were Alan Dobson, Business Development Officer for Dundee City Council; Prof Gregor White of the School of Arts, Media & Computer Games at Abertay University; and Simon Meek, Founder and Director of The Secret Experiment .