Fri, Jun 27, 2014 - Page 9 News List

London game-making industry surging with government help

The tech economy is booming as apps and games made in London entertain the world, and experts predict the first trillion-dollar company will rise in the UK

By Juliette Garside  /  The Observer

Near the tree trunk-shaped reception desk and the tubular slide, youngsters in skinny jeans perch among beanbags scattered on the Astroturf floor. Beneath a ceiling sprouting jungle foliage, the talk is all of apps and coding.

We are in the offices of one of the most successful children’s games studios on the planet, but the location is not Silicon Valley; it is a back street in the east London district of Hoxton.

“Mind Candy could be the next billion-dollar company coming out of London,” Mark Woulfe says.

A 22-year-old studying for his masters in computer games at Goldsmiths College, south London, he is on secondment to the British developer whose Moshi Monsters online playground has just passed 90 million subscribers. Woulfe is helping Mind Candy make games for phones, where the most popular titles can attract more than a billion players and the financial rewards can be life-changing.

On June 19, as part of London Technology Week, he was talking to would-be developers about how to get into the trade. While many young Europeans are struggling to find work, those gathered in the Mind Candy offices that evening will be pushing at an open door.

The technology and information sector in London and the southeast is growing faster than in California, with 382,000 people working in computing, gaming, telecoms, film and media, according to a report by South Mountain Economics, published to mark London’s technology jamboree. Include Oxford and Cambridge and the numbers are bigger than California, with 744,000 workers.

In financial technology, economists say London employs as many people as New York. When it comes to games played on mobile devices and tablets, Europe is already a bigger force than Silicon Valley, with the creators of Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Clash of Clans and Minecraft all hailing from Britain and the Nordic countries.

John Earner is a US games veteran who chose London rather than Silicon Valley as the location for his mobile gaming startup, Space Ape. Two years ago he left his management job at the publishing giant Electronic Arts to set up in central London’s Soho, from where he makes the phone and tablet game Samurai Siege.

“I thought about it for many months. I’m originally from San Francisco, so going back there, given it is the vortex of tech, makes a lot of sense on paper. But I chose to make a gaming company in London because it is easier to do and because the company would be better,” Earner says.

The quality of local talent was a big factor. Earner’s cofounders are former Mind Candy chief technology officer Toby Moore and former Skype executive Simon Hade. London’s ability to attract international workers is also a plus. Space Ape employs 50 people with 18 nationalities between them.

“With the rise of the app store, you don’t get to choose your market anymore,” Earner says. “You make a product and the next thing you know there are people from 150 countries using it.”

Down the road from Space Ape is King Digital Entertainment. With a head office in London and its main development hub in Sweden, King is one of the most successful products of the Anglo-Norse gaming scene. The company was valued at US$7 billion when it floated on the New York Stock Exchange earlier this year, and thanks to its sweetie-swapping hit Candy Crush, more people play King games each month than live in the US.

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