Something a Bit Different: BBC Academy Fusion Summit

A few days ago I was lucky enough to go to part of the Fusion Games Summit at MediaCityUK, Salford, and watch some of the panels, including one entitled, ‘Where is the Money?’ On funding opportunities for games in the BBC and elsewhere in broadcast media.

I came into the discussion part of the way through, but I decided to made some notes of the discussion at the time, and it occurred to me that they would potentially make a good, if slightly unusual, blog post.

Chair: Jo Twist (UKIE)
Tom Reding (BBC Worldwide)
Patrick Healey (BBC Children’s)
Chris Sizemore (BBC Knowledge and Learning)
Colin McDonald (Games Commissioning, C4)

At the point where I started watching, the panel were discussing how most games produced by broadcast media were, naturally, linked to an intellectual property (e.g. The Snowman and the Snow Dog, a game for Channel 4’s new Christmas film) and whether that was likely to change. Chris Sizemore made the point that it is much harder to market games without IP. For every six to eight games they produce, one is a new IP, but it’s more difficult to advertise (presumably while staying without the BBC guidelines), and so a bigger advertising budget is needed.

Regarding how the Games are pitched and how Developers and chosen

(Mostly answered by Tom Reding from BBC Worldwide)

The BBC has an Open platform for pitching games, as well as Connected Studio, a workshop/platform where they work up from 3 minute pitches to half hour builds. Both the BBC and Channel 4 are interested in speculative pitches: if someone has a good enough idea they can take it to them.

When a show is produced by a TV company independent of the channel, their digital arm (should they have one) usually has first refusal on making a tie-in game. Both Chris Sizemore and Colin McDonald agreed that this is not always best practice, and it is their job to ensure that the best developers are chosen for the job since often companies will pitch ideas without an idea of the set skills needed, especially now games need to be released across mobile platforms as well.

Often partnerships are developing between developers and TV companies, which is a good thing, although it may lead to newer and smaller developers being unable to get in on the act, as it were, which leads back to the problems of trying to find the best dev for a specific job.

All of the panel believed that it was important to start trying to get the developers and companies working together at the inception of the idea. The companies can then go to the BBC and say, “Here is the show, here is the game that will sit alongside it.”

Colin McDonald explained that they had a policy of occasionally opening up to pitches from new companies by letting them know what shows would be coming up and allowing the to put together a pitch for them. The problem with this is that they often have up to forty companies vying for one pitch, and a lot of them put a lot of money into the work that they show, the implication, I think, being that they see new and start-up companies staking too much money on pitches they probably will not get.

The discussion then turned towards budgeting. It was suggesting by Jo Swift that many TV companies don’t have a good enough idea of the budget involved in making games, especially games made by larger companies, and suggested that this might be an opening for smaller ‘more agile’ indie companies.

Patrick Healey claimed that budgets were not the first thing he usually focused on, compared to a good pitch, although he agreed with the comment that smaller companies may be better, especially now they are focusing on the mobile domain. A smaller game can be made for less than £100,000 and may start at £30k, although nowadays the cost doesn’t stop after the game is released.

Jo Swift commented that there had been some previous criticism of the BBC for going abroad to find game companies to work with rather than trying to use British talent. responded by listing some of the UK companies that they had worked with such as SuperSonic, but explained that the end product was the most important thing to them, and they were more concerned with finding the right people, wherever they were based.

(Please note: these notes were made as part of a practice attempt at live blogging. Unfortunately I made the novice error of not carefully noting down the names of the panelists at the beginning, so I apologise for any quotes or comments attributed to the wrong person.)


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