Hull's gaming industry 'could be bigger than renewables'
His passion for pushing Hull's digital gaming industry knows no bounds. Business editor Catherine Lea speaks to Lindsay West ...
AS AN industry it is worth £130 billion globally, while in the UK it represents 10 per cent of Gross Value Added.
But ask the average business person how much they know about the digital sector and chances are they will point you in the direction of the nearest teenager.
Digital gaming is often attached to images of youngsters blowing up virtual trolls until their fingers turn blue.
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However, recent figures show the industry, along with those who tap into it, is changing at a rapid pace.
A study by PopCap, creator of popular "social games" on Facebook such as Bejeweled and Insaniquarium, found the average player of such games is a 43-year-old woman.
More people are now accessing games on their phones, from wherever they are, at home or during their lunch breaks.
As the economy continues to struggle, the digital sector is doing more than trundling along nicely, experiencing ten-fold growth over the past three years and now employing 1.7 million people.
But what does this mean for East Yorkshire?
According to Lindsay West, managing director of Garthwest and a director of the World Trade Centre Hull and Humber, Hull is perfectly positioned to reap big rewards from the industry, with jobs and investment all within grasp.
He said: "The digital sector is massive, vibrant and growing.
"At a time when the economy is shrinking, it is showing no signs of slowing down, and if we could capture just a slice of it, it would bring high-quality jobs and investment to the area.
"If we could create a hub for digital content creation, It's impact could be as great if not greater than the renewables industry. There is so much talent in this area, as well as an appetite and enthusiasm for making this work.
"But there are a lot of other UK cities vying to do something similar, so we need to focus and demonstrate to investors how much we want this as a city."
Those new to concepts such as digital content creation and gaming may think the creation of a sector hub is a bit ambitious, if not impossible.
This was the reaction Mr West got when he first mooted plans for an international digital gaming and entertainment conference in the city.
Told he would "never run an event like that in Hull", he launched Platform Expo at Hull Truck Theatre in 2010 and the event attracted 350 delegates.
The following year at the KC Stadium, Platform 2011 had grown to 1,500 delegates, while this year, interest had mushroomed further still.
So it should come as no surprise that Mr West's drive to raise the profile of the digital agenda resulted in a meeting on Friday to thrash out a way of creating a hub for "independent gaming and content creation".
Attended by business leaders, technology buffs and council representatives, the meeting was chaired by Alan Johnson MP, and also welcomed Lord Haskins, chair of the Humber LEP.
Mr West said: "There is so much talent in this area and so much potential but we have to have a clear direction and a vision, which is why we are focusing on content creation.
"If a hub is established, it will then naturally attract other digital industries but we need a focus so we can join together and give this a push.
"The University of Hull runs renowned gaming degree courses, while Hull College does fantastic work.
"We also have a unique position with KC and its fibre-optic network, so we have a lot of pieces of the puzzle. We just need to work together to ensure the opportunity does not go elsewhere."
With Hull having one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the country, an industry that could provide high-quality jobs and an appetite for learning has to be welcomed.
And as Mr West points out, the industry will require more than just computer science graduates.
"Digital gaming brings together a variety of academic subjects – art, history, graphic design, maths, science and English," he said.
"As well as programming, there's scriptwriting, character development, illustration, music and sound, and app development, among others.
"But the digital sector encompasses so much more than just gaming, from the way we transfer money into bank accounts to mobile phone technology.
"We can have a thriving industry here – if we all get behind it.
"Ultimately, a stronger economy will bring benefits to every business in the city."