THE video games industry is set to grow this year, but needs access to highly-skilled employees from the EU, the European Economic Area (EEA) and beyond, according to a leading industry figure.

Dr Richard Wilson, CEO of TIGA, the network for games developers and digital publishers, was speaking has he revealed that two-thirds of respondents (68 per cent) to its business opinion survey said they planned to increase their workforce.

However, more than a fifth (22 per cent) identified skills shortages and skills gaps as obstacles to future success. “The Government’s emphasis on boosting STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] skills is welcome. However, our industry needs to have access to highly-skilled employees from the EU, EEA and beyond,” Wilson said.

“Currently, EU workers make up 15 per cent of employees in the UK games industry, while five per cent come from countries outside the EU. In order to grow and thrive, the industry will need to continue to recruit talent on a global level.”

The survey found that 70 per cent of respondents believed the economic and business environment in the UK was favourable to the industry – a six per cent rise on the year before.

However, a smaller proportion of games businesses planned to increase employment and investment this year compared to last.The games industry generates more than £5 billion a year across the UK, and Dundee and Edinburgh are global major players.

Grand Theft Auto V, for instance – the original of which was born in Dundee – returned to the top of the UK gaming charts last January, almost four years after it was launched.

TIGA spoke to a sample of more than 60 games businesses including small, medium and large firms, dev-eloping games across mobile/tablet, VR, PC and console. Thirty per cent expected to keep their workforce at current levels and two per cent thought there would be a small reduction.

Around half (48 per cent) said the outlook for investment in R&D, training and developing new games was more optimistic that a year ago, 30 per cent said it was unchanged and 22 per cent thought it was worse.

Almost two thirds (62 per cent) said their company was performing either “very well” or “well” (compared to 72 per cent last year); 32 per cent responded “neither well nor badly”; and just six per cent reported that their company was performing “badly” or “very badly”.

Wilson added that uncertainty over Brexit and the economy were “beginning to cast shadows” on the industry.

“Significantly, 70 per cent of games businesses in our survey believe that the economic and business environment in the UK is favourable to the video games industry (up from 64 per cent a year ago),” he said.

“Video games tax relief, which TIGA was instrumental in achieving, is fuelling growth in the sector. Games tax relief effectively reduces the cost and risk of games development and incentivises investment and job creation.

“However, the clouds of Brexit and the UK’s relative economic slowdown are beginning to cast shadows. A smaller proportion of games businesses plan to increase employment and investment in 2018 in comparison to last year’s survey. And while 62 per cent of businesses believe they are performing well, this is down from 72 per cent in 2017.

Jason Kingsley, TIGA chairman and CEO at Rebellion, said: “The Government can help to drive our industry forward by improving our access to finance and to highly skilled people.”

He added that prospects for 2018 looked good: “We will see more start-ups, growth and innovation in the sector. The opportunity exists to strengthen our industry still further by improving access to finance and skills and ensuring the UK has a migration policy post-Brexit that is favourable to growth.”