You may not have heard of Dr Jo Twist. You may not have even heard of Ukie. However, as a gamer, you will certainly have started to see the work that they have been doing together. From tax breaks to the age rating system PEGI, they have had a hand in or been responsible for some massive changes in the industry. It would seem there is much more to come. Jo was kind enough to take some time out of her insane schedule to answer a few questions for us here at YARS.

Let’s start by finding out a little more about you.

YARS)  Could you tell us a little bit about what you did before becoming CEO of UKIE.

Jo) I was Commissioning Editor for C4 Education for 18 months before I got this job. There I commissioned The Thrill Electric, a manga style enhanced online comic about the Victorian Internet written by John Reppion and Leah Moore (first use of Unity for such a thing!) (Hattrick and Littleloud), Emmy winning Battlefront (Raw), The SuperSims (SomethinElse), Sweatshop the game (Littleloud), International Racing Squirrels the game (Playniac), Nomnation the game (Player Three), Footfall  (yet to be released by Preloaded), and more. We always commissioned from small indies when it came to games, and gave them a foot up.

Before that, I was commissioning multiplatform entertainment at BBC and argued very vociferously for us commissioning games as public service content – not just for kids. And, I still firmly believe that.

Other things in between including 3 years as a technology reporter for BBC News online, where I wrote about games and did the weekly Elspa charts! That’s where I met women in games pals like Alice Taylor and Aleks Krotoski who I interviewed for a feature. I also wrote about identity and online environments, and games in the classroom. I was interested in identity because I did a PhD on young people and online community in the late 90s.

Y)  What attracted you to UKIE

I was headhunted for the role, which was flattering and scary at the same time. Initially, a friend approached me about it and asked if I knew anyone who would be good for it. I said I would have a think, and then thought to myself that it was a perfect fit for me. I am very passionate about the power of games and play, and people in this industry are the most creative and interesting people out of any creative industry, I have been a part of. That is a fact. Everything I had done from my research on had always been about interaction, play, and fun and I have always been very public service at heart. So this role blended all of these and really was the right fit for me. I couldn’t have been happier when I got the job.

Y) I have been chatting to you on twitter for a while, is engaging directly with the gaming public something that is important to you?

Absolutely: twitter is just one form of communication channel but it is one of the most effective and direct ones. I have met so many new and interesting people through my communities online from 1995 until now. Twitter has been the most valuable to me and it is the best way to let people know what’s happening, what we are doing, where we are going, what is interesting, connecting people – the power of Twitter is huge. And of course I get to broadcast my obsession for cats (Ed. She isn’t joking either!).

Y) What is your dream for the Games industry?

I want the small indies, the micro studios, the emerging talent, the disruptive businesses to all get a fair stab at making the ideas in their heads, the games they have always wanted to make, a reality. I want to see the press full of great stories about the culture of games. I am personally incredibly passionate about the UK games industry and think that it has the potential to lead the way producing innovative interactive content. What I want Ukie to do is to help the UK to become a global games industry leader – we have an unbelievable heritage in video games plus some of the best creative minds out there so I think that we can achieve this.

So a huge passion for games there! 

Y)  In a sentence, how would you describe what UKIE does.

Ukie is here to support, grow and promote UK games and interactive entertainment businesses – from micro-studios, to major international developers and publishers as well as the disruptive new entrants to the interactive entertainment industry.

Y)  I know that you guys have got a huge amount on, tell us a bit about the “big ones”.

You’re right we do have a lot on but highlights are some of the campaigns that we’re running that really benefit games businesses – from getting more children coding, and getting tax production credits implemented, to promoting PEGI and looking at how crowd funding can best work for games businesses.

We’re also particularly focusing on helping developers and indies to grow their businesses –  for example, we already run our [email protected] briefing sessions on topics such as access to finance and getting your products discovered and will be rolling-out further Business Model master classes and generating more key digital market data in the near future. However, in everything we do, we also try to raise the profile of some of our smaller members. We do that through our everyday work like talking about them as case studies in the media, putting them in touch with other companies that might help them grow their markets, and talking about them as great shining examples of what the UK has to offer to policy people.

Y) I have spoken to you about this before, but for clarity. Do you feel that there should be just one trade body for the games industry or, should we be looking at more collaboration between the existing ones?

We want to work with anyone who can help support the UK’s games and interactive entertainment industry. This includes TIGA and hope that we can work closely on things such as making sure that the best possible tax breaks system introduced in the UK.

Y) Where do you see UKIEs Role in the next couple of years?

Ukie will evolve with the industry. Providing support, helping businesses to grow and promoting the amazing games businesses that operate in the UK. We also want to make sure that we are really focussing on the future of our industry – helping companies to find talent and talent to find companies and opportunities for themselves perhaps to start up and thrive.

Let’s talk a little about women in games, A topic that does seem to come up a lot at the moment.

Y) Is there a genuine lack of women in the games industry in your eyes?

There is a lack of diversity in general in the dev side of the industry, I would say (7% of devs are women despite almost demographics of games players being way more equal male/female split), but this is not a games industry specific challenge of course. Many industries face this issues and it is important that we have a diversity of perspectives – people from different backgrounds, with different stories to tell, creating the games and other products that we want a diverse communities of people (ie the WORLD!) to enjoy and relate to. Diversity in all its senses opens up new marketplaces and creative opportunities for products, and that’s important.

Women are often still the primary care givers so that is often difficult in any workplace but, look at people like Fiona Sperry, Paulina Bozek, Alice Taylor, Jade Raymond, and Marissa Mayer! We have to make sure culture change happens across our industries to make sure women have as equal an opportunity to thrive as men. The other side of this is the fundamental economic issue that we as a society face if we don’t encourage half the workforce (ie girls) to be taking up coding and other STEA(art)M subjects the games industry needs. That’s why we need role models, of all sorts, from the industry to be showing kids that they can do it too. If you are interested in doing that, sign up for our Video Games Ambassadors scheme and get in there. Kids need Pied Pipers and people they can relate to in order to realise there is a path there for them.

Y) What do you think the reason is for it? (Lack of interest, lack of opportunity?)

A lot of it is about how much girls can be put off coding at school. We need to rebrand coding, many people like Rewired State and Apps for Good are doing that, and we need to make sure we have the role models and Pied Pipers going into schools to inspire them. We need to find clever ways to hook them into coding and our industry – because there is no doubt they are playing games, we know they are. Cracking open the industry to show them what’s inside for them then make sure they have the opportunity to have a taste of it is key. That’s what we will aim to do through our Talent Development Programme as part of the strategy.

Y)  How do you think we can encourage more women into the industry.

Role models, culture change, attitude change.

And finally…

Y) What is your favourite game ever (and why if you can quantify that)

Toss-up between Indiana Jones Lego because you don’t really die and I love the combo of Lego and Indie and SSX Tricky.  I also really like Assassin’s Creed.

Y) What are you hooked on at the moment.

SOULCALIBUR V! Sorry. But I can’t wait to play Last of Us.

I would again like to thank Jo for taking the time to answer my questions, I hope that it provides an insight into not just Jo, but also all of the great stuff that Ukie are doing at the moment for our industry.  If you would like to find out more, head to their website