First call for projects tackling critical challenges for UK screen sector

BFI National Lottery Innovation Challenge Fund to provide £350,000 of funding across two separate areas that address related issues for the UK video games industry.

27 March 2024

The BFI National Lottery Innovation Challenge Fund has opened its first call for projects. Set up to provide solutions which tackle the UK screen sector’s most critical challenges, the area of focus for the fund’s first call is the UK video games industry which is facing a range of challenges alongside a rapid pace of change. 

The BFI National Lottery Innovation Challenge Fund, as part of the BFI’s National Lottery Funding Plan, 2023 to 2026, seeks to support new solutions to the UK screen sector’s most critical challenges. Between 2024 and 2026, up to £1.8 million will be distributed across up to six challenges, to help not-for-profit organisations to innovate, developing new approaches to persistent problems, while also gaining insights that benefit the whole screen sector.  

“The UK has a creatively and commercially successful video games industry,” says Rishi Coupland, BFI Director of Research and Industry Innovation, “however, through consultation with industry we have heard how specific barriers around a lack of access to data and tools is restricting smaller-scale and emerging under-represented developers in bringing their products to market. The aim of this fund is to tackle those barriers and directly benefit UK video games, particularly independent developers, talent and studios.” 

The fund’s first call will provide £350,000 across two separate challenges where innovative proposals will support the video games industry. The challenges are: 

Challenge A: Transformative open data for the UK video games industry  

The first challenge seeks proposals to collect and publish useful open data for the UK video games industry including a delivery plan to develop and test a viable data collection process and launch a public-facing platform.      

Currently, data on and for the UK video games sector is fragmented, incomplete or inaccessible, making it particularly challenging for smaller-scale developers and producers who cannot access useful information to support the development of their projects. It also means that the independent UK video games sector cannot accurately evidence the current UK video games landscape, its value or where issues exist and how they could be addressed, therefore limiting its ability to instigate policy change. Long-term, this reduces the diversity of the range of developers and organisations whose projects can thrive in the industry.   

This challenge will support innovation in this area by inviting organisations to collect and publish useful open data for the UK video games sector. Specifically, it will challenge the successful applicant to provide ongoing access to never-before compiled information and insights, and potentially new data, that will directly benefit the video games sector, particularly independent developers and studios. 

The amount of funding available for this challenge is up to £250,000. 

Challenge B: Support for under-represented emerging developers  

This challenge seeks to fund innovative ways – eg the development of a new tool, application of technology or approach – to address the barriers facing emerging under-represented developers, supporting them to bring their products to market.    

The video games industry can be difficult to navigate for emerging developers; a lack of transparency around how the sector operates effectively restricts new, emerging and smaller-scale games developers with creative talent and high-potential ideas from being able to develop their work effectively and reach their customer base.  In addition, the workforce, which is 67% male and 89% white according to the latest Ukie Census, severely lacks diversity.   

This means established developers can more easily secure financial support and exposure, limiting opportunities for emerging and under-represented developers. Ultimately, the industry loses out on including a broader range of voices who create more diverse and innovative new games.    

The amount of funding available for this challenge is up to £100,000. 

The deadline for applications for both strands of this first call for projects is Monday 20 May 2024, with funding awards expected to be made in August 2024.   

The BFI will be hosting a webinar where applicants can find out more about both challenges on Tuesday 23 April (12:00 to 13:00). Applicants can register their interest to attend including requesting access support or email innovationchallengefund@bfi.org.uk. 

As part of the BFI’s strategy and work to help provide policymakers and the screen industry with research, data and insights on a range of key issues across the screen sector, the BFI’s Research and Statistics Unit commissions and publishes commissioned research. Last November it published a new scoping study, How to measure the impact of overseas mergers and acquisitions on the UK video games industry, with partners the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (Creative PEC) led by Newcastle University with the Royal Society of Arts and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  The research was conducted by specialist video games industry consultancy Games Investor Consulting working with economics specialists, Oxford Economics. 

During the stakeholder consultation for the BFI’s 10-year Screen Culture 2033 strategy and the BFI National Lottery Strategy, the BFI heard from UK video games developers about the challenges facing the industry and subsequently it has established an on-going video games working group.