How the UK gaming industry became a multi-billion-pound sector

According to the BBC, the British gaming industry is now forecast to be worth £3.86 billion. The gaming sector employs more than 20,000 creative professionals, ranging from gaming designers and illustrators to developers and coders alike. The gaming industry is hugely diverse, covering all kinds of console-based video games, through to mobile-based casual games and even those designed for the iGaming sector. The latter subsector of the gaming scene is thriving in its own right, and also employs tens of thousands of people. It’s also a very crowded marketplace, with many licensed operators competing against one another to be seen and heard. That’s why most turn to promotions to drive customer acquisition, just like video game publishers may offer pre-orders on new console games at a bargain price.

Although the UK’s gaming scene pales into insignificance commercially compared with the respective American and Japanese markets, let’s take a look at how it all began for the video gaming sector in Britain

Tabletop board games fed the creativity and imagination of game designers

It all started in the mid-1970s when the era of tabletop board games came to light. The Games Workshop company was the mastermind behind the hugely popular Dungeons & Dragons fantasy game, a role-play game that’s still enjoyed by many worldwide today. This dynamic helped to spawn the fantasy genre, demonstrating the possibilities for open-world style, problem-solving video games for decades to come.

By 1978, computer developers and engineers had achieved just that by conceiving the first role-playing video game played exclusively on a computer screen. Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) was the brainchild of University of Essex students Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle. The game proved so popular that it soon outgrew the campus network and far beyond.

Space themes and 3D elements soon became the norm

A decade on from the success of Games Workshop, space-age gaming and 3D elements were rapidly weaving their way into our computer gaming. Sales of home computers were higher in the UK than anywhere else on the planet, which explained why space-trading title Elite proved such a widespread success – even in the fledgling US gaming market.

Hands-on, problem-solving concepts soon reared their head

One of the pioneers of the UK’s gaming industry, Peter Molyneux, was to thank for handing gamers the ability to play ‘God’ and create their own in-game environments. Populous was a massive hit, shifting over four million units and opening a new simulated gaming genre that would usher in hits like Theme Park, The Sims and Sim City. Puzzle-based, problem-solving titles continued to enjoy success as computer processing power increased. Lemmings became a global sensation, having been the concept of an amateur video game society in Dundee, which helped put this Scottish city on the map as a gaming hub for the future.

Powerful consoles led to cinematic gameplay

As 64-bit consoles helped to provide greater depth to 3D gameplay, it was no surprise to see video game franchises with a cinematic element. GoldenEye 007 was one of the biggest successes, devised in modest surroundings in a converted Leicestershire barn by developers Rare. Inspired by the GoldenEye movie, the game accurately depicted the storyline, as well as the characters, with an engrossing multiplayer mode that had a generation hooked.

How the UK gaming industry became a multi-billion-pound sector

Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto would also change the game for open-world video gaming, ushering in an action-adventure element that made the GTA franchise arguably the most immersive of all time.

Connectivity heralds massively multiplayer gaming action

The rapid proliferation of broadband connectivity also brought an extra dimension to PC-based and console-based gaming, with the ability to compete against friends and strangers online in real-time. Massively multiplayer games have been some of the most popular releases of the last decade and have also made their way into the eSports industry, with gamers dedicating their professional lives to mastering them.

The impact of smartphone and tablet penetration, as well as augmented and virtual reality, looks set to take gaming to a whole never levels in the years ahead.