Why now is the time to be investing in the UK’s games sector, according to Tonic Games CFO Steve Tinkler

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The UK gaming sector is unparalleled in its size, scope and potential. In 2019 alone, game development and publishing was directly responsible for pumping a record-breaking £2.19bn into the UK economy – and with the pandemic leading many to reassess their relationship with the genre, that figure’s only going to increase. To showcase the versatility and resilience of this rapidly expanding world, we’ll be co-hosting a digital roundtable event with the BFI and UKIE on Tuesday 16 February that aims to shed some light on its current trends and opportunities for investors – and according to panelist Steve Tinkler of Tonic Games, it couldn’t be a better time to get involved.

“It’s fascinating where the sector is at now and also its potential,” says Tinkler, CFO of the company behind lockdown hit Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. “It’s widely quoted that the gaming space globally is larger than film and music combined, and as recently as a couple of years ago around thirty thousand jobs in the UK were directly attached to the sector. It’s absolutely huge.” Founded in 2005 by Dave Bailey and Paul Croft, Tonic is now a 350-strong team. Last summer, they found viral success with their free-for-all party multiplayer Fall Guys and as lockdown became the new norm, its popularity hit the stratosphere. “What’s really exciting is how the pandemic has impacted the industry and what that means going forward,” adds Tinkler. “It’s going to play an increasingly larger role.”

Unlike other sectors, the gaming industry has managed to weather the ongoing pandemic storm and come out stronger on the other side. It’s also seen first hand how users of all ages have started using the sector for a range of new and therapeutic purposes to help them through difficult times. “At the start of lockdown, we saw record numbers of players across most platforms, a trend which has continued throughout the past ten months. The sector is doing very well but there’s also been an undercurrent of more positivity around games,” suggests Tinkler. “What I found really interesting when the first lockdown hit, was the change in narrative within the media about the games sector. Things swung quite quickly towards wellbeing, mental health and ways for people to interact. It was really nice to see.”

This new narrative shift brought with it a swathe of new players from a wide range of demographics, further boosting the scope and scale of an already booming sector. “You saw it open up to people who wouldn’t have associated themselves as gamers beforehand,” continues Tinkler, detailing this ongoing trend. “The success of Fall Guys was probably linked to the global success of people of all ages and demographics playing it. It’s a very accessible take on the battle royale genre, non-violent and super colourful. It’s been fascinating to see the different reasons people come to play the game,” he says. “It could be that people just want thirty minutes at the end of the day just to unwind. It’s not necessarily about competing or winning, it’s a form of distraction or a way to catch up with friends,” admits Tinkler. “You’re getting a much broader audience but also much broader reasons why people want to come and play.”

For any skeptical investors wondering whether this trend is just another flash-in-the-pan fad, Tinkler is confident that the opposite is true: it’s a new change that’s here to stay: “It’s definitely been a lifeline and it’ll be interesting to see what happens from here on out. I think what we’ve done as an industry is capture a lot more people that will stick around because they’ve realised this is not just something to do because you can’t leave the house – it’s a really enjoyable pastime,” he tells us. Together with his co-panelists John Clarke of Curve Digital, UKIE CEO Dr Jo Twist, Hiro Capital co-founder Ian Livingstone and Creative England CFO/COO Mehjabeen Patrick, it’s this topic that Tinkler hopes to discuss during next week’s virtual discussion. “It’s not a short-term thing that’s happened due to lockdown but actually it’s something that’s here to stay and there’s an awful lot of opportunities for investors to capitalise on that.”

What’s more, through Tonic’s work supporting new games companies through The Irregular Corporation, Tinkler has seen first hand just how smart and resilient emerging developers have become. It’s yet another reason for investors to feel more confident about backing new talent: “Businesses are becoming much more sophisticated in how they’re run within the games industry, full of sustainable businesses that are actually really sensible investment opportunities,” reveals Tinkler. “They’re businesses that are being built to last and I hope viewers come away from our panel discussion confident that this is a space they can invest in,” he smiles. “There are so many interesting companies that could really benefit – and you could get substantial returns.”

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