As you probably already know, UK and Commonwealth citizens voted in a referendum on 23rd June to leave the European Union. This is predicted to have widespread effects on various economic and political issues, though as for what the precise effects will be, nobody knows just yet. The new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will have anywhere between a couple of days to approximately 6 months to trigger Art. 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which is a fancy way of saying the UK will hand in its resignation letter to the European Union; after that, the terms of Britain’s “Brexit” will be negotiated for a maximum of 2 years. The reason why nobody can say for sure what the precise effects of Brexit will be is because it all depends on this negotiation period; it could be that very little changes, or it could be that Britain retains its “European-ism” purely by way of its geographical location.
Brexit could potentially impact a variety of serious issues, such as migration, trade deals and laws on farming/environmental protection, so it might seem a bit unusual to ask what the effects may be on the video game industry. However, this could potentially affect people’s livelihood and major hobbies, so it is worth pausing for thought on how the industry could change – or indeed how it may escape unscathed.
POSITIVE: distribution of employment/studios may be on a more equal footing
For gaming production companies based in the United Kingdom, such as Rockstar North, membership of the EU made it much easier to communicate with its subsidiaries/sister companies also based in EU Member States. In addition, hiring EU citizens above, say, US citizens was a little bit easier, due to the freedom of movement rules in the EU which remove the need for work visas to employ such members of staff. You could argue that this skews such studios towards being more Eurocentric; there is now no incentive to bias operations and employment towards fellow Europeans, and we will see a wider mix of influences on the work produced by these companies, as they begin to employ more US, Australian etc nationals.
NEGATIVE: not as easy to employ EU citizens at UK companies, and vice versa
Imagine you’re a Brit and you aspire to work at Ubisoft Montpelier on the next Rayman game, or you’re intent on moving to Finland to work for Rovio on the next Angry Birds expansion. Before Brexit, you could be rest assured that there’d be no need for visas or any sort of residence permits to stay in the country you’d have to move to. While for those with language skills, a high level of formal education or perhaps a partner in their country of destination, a visa may have been easy to get, this still cuts through a layer of red tape that would otherwise be there. However, in a post-Brexit world where freedom of movement has been restricted, this extra level of bureaucracy would suddenly become necessary. While if a company really wants to employ you, this may not be such a big deal, a lot of companies may be bothered by the extra paperwork and simply favour an employee from France, Spain or another Member State, where this alternative candidate is of comparable talent to you or even slightly less competent for the job. This could make British production companies and British game production staff quite isolationist, and at its worst could lower the quality of output that affected companies can maintain.
POSITIVE: UK’s less Eurocentric focus may forge better links with US/Japanese studios, breaking down market barriers
Those eagerly waiting on Persona 5 will already know the story: both Japan and the US have a fixed release date, while Europe does not. In fact, it was only last week that the game definitely coming to Europe, through Atlus (which doesn’t have a basis in Europe) partnering with Deep Silver once again after its partnership with NIS broke down. It could be argued that these difficulties arise because markets are quite insular; the business benefits from trading within Europe and finding your employment basis therein don’t create the ideal arena within which to break down Transatlantic or East/West boundaries. It could be that the loss of these benefits would create the impetus to shift focus elsewhere. If the UK forges some generous agreements with the US or other countries in the aftermath, they could see the UK as the perfect hub for opening more international offices, resulting in quicker European release dates for some games; it’s also possible that such agreements could make importing games from the US/Japan cheaper.
NEGATIVE: importing within Europe could become more expensive and game versions could change
My fellow eBay bidders will appreciate that buying from the UK or neighbouring countries whilst in continental Europe can be a cost-effective way of getting hold of rare gems. The UK is a surprisingly cheap-ish place to find older PAL games thanks to CeX and its ilk, and while postage fees can run a tad higher than when I buy games off German sellers, it tends to be competitive compared to buying from Austria, for example (you’d think it’d be cheaper as Germany’s neighbour). The fraying of the common market with the UK could put an end to this, as import fees are slapped on and shipping instead becomes comparable – from the UK to Germany and vice versa – with importing from the US.
Furthermore, Europe has traditionally had 1 version of a game, with different censorship labels slapped on depending on the country. Older games had a language select screen; newer games detect which language the system is set to and adjusts accordingly. Some games are admittedly English language with subtitles regardless of location thanks to budgetary constraints. A notable exception to this is NES carts, which are split into PAL-A and PAL-B (UK and Italy being A, alongside Australia, with the rest of continental Europe being B). What we could see more of, if a closer US-UK trade tie develops, is the UK instead getting the US version of some games. It might also get its own separate version of games. With the latter option, this could either be a positive or a negative, as there would be more versions for budding collectors to buy, if their collection is international. As a clear negative, it could mean that those living in mainland Europe who can only speak English, and are not fluent in the language of the country they are living in, may find themselves unable to play the local versions of certain games if the English language component is removed, instead having to import a UK, US or Australian version. A lot of this is very speculative or even unlikely, but the possibility of the UK uniting with the US on gaming matters, to the extent that we become an NTSC country, is impossible because of what NTSC/PAL variation actually means: see here for an explanation. This inability to make a clean swap may complicate game production matters and slow production down.
NEUTRAL: censorship changes
It’s worth mentioning that censorship is unlikely to be affected very much by Brexit. The reason for this is that the European standard, PEGI, has not been especially restrictive as its own measure. It has instead been national certification standards that tend to border on the draconian in their stringency, and there’s no reason to believe these will soften post-Brexit. Taking Germany as an example, it is the FSK that mandates that selling 18+ games requires ID even through online sales, and that PS Plus membership requires entering your ID details into the PS Store system. Furthermore, it is the FSK and, in the UK, the BBFC which have had serious gripes (understandably so) with games such as Manhunt 2. Since PEGI tends to act as a bare minimum standard, even leaving PEGI completely is unlikely to create much of an impact in the UK, unless the UK suddenly becomes extremely liberal in its assessment of games. If we cast the net wider and consider the whole “video nasties” era of film censorship in the UK, it is highly unlikely this will happen, to the extent it is not worth considering too heavily.
In conclusion, there are a large amount of potential knock-on effects on the gaming communities in UK and mainland Europe, assuming that Brexit is going full steam ahead. This remains a speculative list though, as a picture is emerging of a bunch of politicians finger-pointing, with no clear policies on the horizon. Once Art. 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has been triggered by the next Prime Minister, either Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom, we’ll start to get a better idea of how all industries, never mind the games industry, will be affected. Until then, we can enjoy the gaming benefits (or downsides) that are part and parcel of the UK being a Member of the EU.