US gaming firms 'courting' UK programmers

British computer games programmers are increasingly being head-hunted by US and Canadian companies whose pockets may be deeper, risking a “brain drain” of UK IT talent.

Issuing this warning, Procorre said that more than half of the online gaming job adverts aimed at UK programmers were for jobs in North America, where the consultancy firm says pay might be higher.

Only a fifth of the adverts are for gaming posts in the UK, slightly behind the chunk that is aimed at UK programmers but relates to openings in mainland Europe, the firm said.

Its geographic analysis of demand for such gaming consultants adds that Australasia is the only key economy that the UK outflanks, although Canada (without the US) is also behind.

But it is the appeal of Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec that London is trying to emulate, as the UK has recently adopted a tax relief initiative similar to but less generous than Canada’s.

In particular, UK video games developers can claim a 25% tax break if they make use of British characters, language, dialogue or locations, assuming the game has “cultural value.”

Despite being appreciative of the measure, which was promised to the UK in 2012 but only approved last month, gaming studios now want to extend the relief to all games developed in the UK.

Procorre added: “The computer games industry makes a significant contribution to the UK economy and the government is right to do everything it can to encourage these and other specialist IT consultants to remain in the UK.

“[But] the danger for the UK games industry and for the wider UK economy is that many of the best and brightest will be recruited by overseas firms who may have deeper pockets and be prepared to pay more.”

In line with the firm’s concerns, an estimated 41% of the jobs lost in the UK gaming sector between 2009 and 2011 went to overseas locations, according to games industry body TIGA.

The body has also said that employment in the UK games sector shrunk by 7% between 2008 and 2012, and annual investment fell by £30m in 2012 when compared to 2008.

TIGA therefore welcomes the tax relief initiative, saying it gives the UK a “level playing field,” but Procorre’s Lisa Mangan says UK games consultants are still being “courted” by some of the very best international employers.

“As well as British video games developers, US companies are also actively recruiting UK online gambling programmers,” the consultancy said.

“In the US, this sector has remained relatively underdeveloped because the country has had strict laws against online gambling. However, these rules are gradually being relaxed, prompting a rush by US companies to recruit top UK gaming talent in a bid for rapid expansion.”

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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