Good Friday

I thought it would be handy to try and record, briefly, some of the work I do, given all of the events of the last few months.Well what a day. Again. A rare ‘working from home day’ kicked off with an early morning visit to the doctors. That was to have a blood test. In 10 days time I will know what is right or wrong with me. Meantime I have a ‘to do ‘ list as long as my arm and an inbox which runs to about 1500m long. As always, you prioritise in your head. Then the world comes online and all hell breaks loose.

First up, I had to confirm what we are going to do at EGX in London in September, given the turbulence of recent months, all plans had been on hold. We decided to show Dream from Hypersloth and Tango Fiesta from Spilt Milk, both games which will have a full release this year and ensure we got the PC gamers attending the show to know we were there. The dev teams are awesome and up for working the four grueling days which is a tribute to their commitment and passion.

We had more deals and promotions to consider for Train Fever, which launched on Steam yesterday and now is wanted by other digital platforms. That game has done well for Gambitious (the rev share games specialist crowdfunding platform) and Urban Games (the developer) and is the culmination of 18 months of hard work and effort. Alongside all of this, over at AppyNation we are getting closer to the launch of our free to play game, Dr Quizington which will launch in a couple of weeks and there were assets to sign off and launch plans to make.

I also spent some of the day on Skype with Anthony and Nicola Caulfield, from Gracious Films, the makers of the hotly anticipated, ‘From Bedrooms to Billions’. There’s some exciting stuff coming down the line, and everyone is pleased that both screenings at EGX are sold out, within 48 hours of going on sale.

Finally, I spent a fair bit of the day helping out with the GamesAid voting campaign, and planning the cheque presentation ceremony on the 25th of September. There is loads more to do, which is always out of hours so to speak, so the weekend will be needed to get myself up to speed.

I even had time for a cup of tea and a read of this week’s MCV. It was nice to see Martyn Gibbs CEO of GAME Digital referencing the trial that Just Flight ran for their GAME Wallet recently. Our tech team worked hard to make that happen, another project which is breaking new ground. Tomorrow is Saturday and I am hoping to get a bit of the to do list knocked off. And confirm flights to the Middle East.

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Open Letter to West Ham United

Mr D Gold & Mr D Sullivan
West Ham United Football Club
The Boleyn Ground
Green Street
Upton Park
London E13 9AZ

9th January 2014

Dear Sirs,

West Ham United Football Club
I am a proud West Ham supporter and have been for 47 years. Over the past three seasons I have become increasingly disillusioned with the direction in which you are taking our club. Along with many thousands of West Ham fans I am now dismayed, yet unsurprised, at the plight we find ourselves in.
We need a change and we need it fast. I think we can all agree on that. Yet having witnessed the hapless reigns, under your aegis, of Avram Grant – a proven football failure who led us to relegation – and Sam Allardyce – who looks determined to do the same – I have no confidence in your collective abilities to affect this.
Avram Grant’s management of the club was a farce. That alone was enough to make us a laughing stock, but your gauche attempt to appoint Martin O’Neill in December 2010 and the manner of Grant’s eventual departure, doubly compounded the situation.
O’Neill withdrew from discussions when he read about his impending appointment in the press before he had agreed a deal. Grant survived, but was summarily dismissed following the game at Wigan that confirmed our relegation. It was a match where defeat was plucked from the jaws of victory. Having been two up and cruising we capitulated and ended up losing 3-2. Yet that does not excuse what followed. That Grant was not even allowed to travel home on the team coach and was forced to make his own way back to London felt rather tawdry – certainly not the West Ham way. Indeed no less than Scott Parker, then club captain and a real credit to the shirt, expressed his disappointment at the shabby treatment of his former manager. He was sold shortly afterwards.
Two years on and things are, if anything, even worse. The ridicule that our beloved club was subjected to by the media following the 5-0 loss at the weekend to a decent Championship team (‘team’ being the key word) was dispiriting. Yes, we all heard the usual excuses and we all read your ‘open letter of support’ for the manager, but if the defeat in Nottingham was wounding, then last night in Manchester, gangrene set in.
Of course, losing a semi-final is not unprecedented for West Ham. But the manner of the defeat certainly was: an incompetent performance that reeked of indifference. So much so in fact that the 6-0 score line is not the worst part of the story. West Ham is a proud club, famous for its playing style and footballing philosophy, but it is becoming a travesty.
I feel that things simply have to change. There are tens of thousands of West Ham United fans who share this view. I understand that you are the legal owners of the football club and to that end, I would like to know how much you want from a fan consortium to purchase your shares for cash?
Our plan is simple: we will crowdfund the purchase of West Ham United and place in into the hands of thousands of genuine supporters for the good of both the club and the modern game.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Yours sincerely,

AG Payne

You can sign the petition here http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/david-gold-david-sullivan-name-your-price-to-sell-to-west-ham-fans

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The high street, where next?

This was the follow up blog I wrote almost a year ago…

February 4, 2012

I have been thinking about where next for our beleagured High Streets, you know the town centres that are no longer the centre of much for many people nowadays. There is no pushing back the tide of the supermarkets, the internet and the fact that people are spread out more geographically, there are more of them and everyone seemingly needs to use cars. But I reckon there are some things that could be done at the policy level of local and national Government.

I am yet to read Mary Portas’s report commissioned by BIS, but I intend to do so. Meantime here is my ten point plan for a revival:-

  1. Increase business rates on all out of town shopping centres. Levy charges on cube footage including car parks.
  2. Reduce all business rates on inner city/town commercial buildings. For all start ups give a rate free period measured in years. .
  3. Increase public transport into town and city centres – start with buses, minbuses and then trams when budgets allow. Make them all free to use.
  4. Deregulate parking, make it all free. Build more car parks.
  5.  Repair all broken windows on empty properties and municipal buildings. This should be the local council’s job and it will create jobs. Spend money on the fabric of existing buildings rather than creating new ones whilst money is tight.
  6.  Cut red tape and allow unused shops to be turned back into housing.
  7. Encourage all social enterprise and services to locate in the centre by waiving all rates. Definitions are needed, but work something out that says if you are putting back, giving or supplying services for old or young, you don’t pay extra tax.
  8. Make all businesses responsible for their own waste collection. Let them self manage and change car parking wardens for recycling officers.
  9. Aquire land/buildings from the private sector and re-let at aggressive rates to social enterprise businesses.

10.Levy council funds as a direct proportion of profits. If a store cannoty prove its turnover and is therefore part of a chain, it should pay rates at standard tariff if it is a single site business then it only pays rates if it makes a profit. The more successful the business, the more that business pays. Allow businesses to take risk and take time to build.

Above all, encourage enterprise and the public to understand what is best served on the High Street. Anything that is sold easily via the internet is not going to work. Equally commodoties that are sold by supermarkets don’t work either. Keep it social and keep it niche. Ensure that older people and young people have a reason to travel and make it free to travel to and from the city/town centre. Strike proper partnerships between small to medium size enterprises and local authorities, geared around mutual success and long term shared goals. Encourage small traders, young and old. Create a feeling of civic pride and renewal.

I am sure it could happen, if everyone did their bit. But we need leadership from the national Government and councils and we need that to be decisive and to happen now. We don’t want wishy woshy ideas, we need firm policies that encourage small organisations to grow. Get younger people, with fresh ideas and energy into elected councils and let’s make the centres exciting morning, noon and night.

Napoleon called the English ‘ a nation of shopkeepers’, we should remember that and celebrate our heritage through innovative and creative use of our High Streets.

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High noon for the high street

This is a blog post I wrote last February originally on fivehombres.com

Posted on February 3, 2012 by Andy

I have been worried about the state of the UK High Streets for some time. I reckon it was about 15 years ago, maybe 20 at a push that things noticeably changed and they all started to become the same everywhere you went.

I thought it would be helpful to do some quick research into the origins of the phrase ‘High Street’. Apparently ‘high’ has evolved to mean something excellent or of superior rank,  and is at least a thousand years old in terms of its use. “High Street” began to be used to describe the thoroughfares containing the main retail areas in villages and towns. Trading points evolved along these routes and gradually the concept of the modern shop and High Street came to pass.

Whilst many High Streets from the 80′s had branded chain stores like WH Smith,Boots, Woolworths, supermarket stores (rather than the retail park sheds of today) many also had a good mix of independent stores, which sold goods such as electrical goods, food, shoes, music, films, clothes, toys, hardware, newsagents and more. Many other shops actually sold services, such as barbers/hairdressers, opticians, vets, doctors, shoe repairs, cinemas, pubs, restaurants, libraries, dry cleaners and so on. Today you are lucky to find anyone other than charity shops, coffee shops, nail bars, take away food, the odd women’s clothing store, hairdressers and a major ‘express’ version of a supermarket.

It feels like there are some key factors that have accelerated the descent of most of the UK’s High Streets into drab, weary and potentially dying places.

Retail rents and rates – it seems that rents levied by private landlords only ever go up and rates levied by the local councils do likewise. Small businesses have less chance of getting started. This means that major chain stores, well financed and staffed with specialist retail site experts at central office, with bulk purchasing power are able to take all the prime locations, hence everything looks like everything else. We get less real choice and also less variety. In short we have clone towns.

Out of town shopping centres – the more we have moved out of towns and cities onto housing estates, the more we have come to rely on our cars, the more the population has increased, then we have tended to build big and bold on the outskirts of towns and cities. There is no room or ability for smaller traders to take space in these enormo parks. Instead we have the same stores, which are normally just bigger versions of the clone town stores, and super sized fast food places. Throw in a multi plex cinemas which are really a series of mini cinemas with poor sound and vision and a supermarket and you have a typical souless trading place.

Supermarkets – the inexorable rise of the supermarkets, mainly Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, has seen a massive choice of wares, products, produce and services availble to all of us. Unlike every other instance of ‘parasitic socio economic georgraphic theory’ whereby you used to get true competition on a High Street through similar stores being able to locate next to each other, supermarkets don’t play that game. They never locate anywhere near each other, they just tell you they are more competitive than their rivals and once you are in, they have you.

The Internet – It is no surprise that e-commerce has revolutionised our shopping. This has virtually killed off the music retailers and is having a damaging effect on books, films, video games and consumer electronics.

Time – this is a factor that is effecting everyone. With all the choices we have nowadays, we simply don’t have the time to invest in trawling around a number of shops looking for our wares. Under one roof and the illusion of value is far more appealing, hence the empires of WalMart and Tesco have risen to a position of absolute power in retailing.

These factors and more are unlikely to reverse anytime soon, so maybe it is best if there are some policies which Governement, local and national, can put in place to revive these places before they are lost forever?

I want to think about some simple ideas which could revive these High Streets and make them socially more relevant. Back soon.

 

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Video Games and Art

Here’s a speech I gave at London’s City Hall on Thursday 25th October 2012, during the London Games  Festival http://www.londongamesart.com .  It was about why I thought games and interactive entertainment were a key part of the growth in tech based business, what part they could play in the UK’s economic growth and importantly what the Mayor and the Government could do to kick start the much needed economic and social growth we need right now.

That night the assembled guests marveled at the fantastic examples of video game art hanging on the walls of City Hall. Now, anyone can buy these wonderful pieces in an exclusive auction running right now. The great thing is that EVERY SINGLE PENNY raised will go to the wonderful video games charity, SpecialEffect. You can see what’s on sale here http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/specialeffect2012/m.html?_nkw=&_armrs=1&_from=&_ipg=&_trksid=p3686

I would like to thank the Mayor and deputy of Mayor London for allowing the video games industry such a prestigious space to show some of our most creative visual art to the public. I would also like to thank Kirsty Payne, Nadia Lawlor and Adam Cooper who have worked tirelessly to bring these wonderful creations to you.  This exhibition showcases games that are now part of our culture from Mario to Sackboy to Sonic and beyond. This is a first for London and a first for the video games industry and shows that London can and will continue set the pace within the digitally connected global economy.

London’s games sector is part of a national success story that contributes over £3bn to the UK economy a number which is set to rise and rise in the coming years.

London is the home to gold standard business success stories such as Mind Candy, with their 60 million registered players, Rocksteady Studios, creators of BAFTA winning Batman Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, Sports Interactive creators of BAFTA winning Football Manager, Splash Damage and Mediatonic whose games have been played by over 300 million people. Add to this the vibrant indie PC mobile and social games and App developers based in London such as, AppyNation, Future Games of London, We are Interactive, Ustwo, Hoopla, Honey Slug, Hotgen, Hand Circus, Playmob, Preloaded and many more.

 Alongside the games developers we also have a vibrant publishing and technology scene which is growing all the time. Sega, Square Enix, Capcom, Namco Bandai, Microsoft Studios, Konami, GREE, Sony Computer Entertainment, Mastertronic and many more  have their European headquarters here, along with household technology names like Facebook, Twitter and Google. Of course The UK Association for Interactive Entertainment, who have worked tirelessly on behalf of the whole industry to put this wonderful exhibition together, are also based right here in London. All of these companies employ thousands of skilled designers, marketeers, finance, legal and logistics professionals. London employs 24% of all UK jobs in computing and related activities.

An historic world trading centre, London is sat bang in between mainland Europe, Asia and the Americas. Historically, we used our technical prowess and innovation combined with our spirit of endeavour to build our great businesses and institutions. The old River Thames and the Oceans which were the arteries of trade, have now been complemented by the thing we call the Internet. Our ships and sailors have been replaced by our agile tech companies skippered by intrepid digital entrepreneurs. We are in a new Golden Age and the stakes are high.  London continues to lead the way in digital trade and exchange of ideas with an evolving culture fostered through a spirit of collaboration and disruptive  business models.

 In short London is at the epicentre of this digital world economy culture. But we are in a global race, and some may even say that this country is at economic war, either way the stakes are the highest they can be.

The UK and London have some of the most creative and innovative hi-tech businesses around.  We are growing and a success story but could grow faster and employ more Londoners if we could solve our talent shortages.

Simply put, we don’t train enough people, early enough in their education, in the right things – chiefly computer programming – and we need to address this.   

The Mayor’s Education Inquiry recognised the challenge for London set out by Next Gen Skills’ evidence. 

In 2011 there were just 382 A level computing and computer studies entries across London out of 98,027 entries in all subjects – 0.4% of all A-levels taken in the city.  We know that this is down to poor curriculum, low numbers of schools offering the subject, low numbers of qualified teachers and poorly articulated career horizons.

The Ukie-backed Next Gen Skills campaign was launched last year to solve skills shortages not just in the video games industry, but across digital creative and hi-tech businesses.

Since then the Government has committed to reforming the outdated ICT course students study at GCSE and create space in the curriculum for Computer Science to be taught in our schools. 

On 19 October the Government has also made clear its support for Computer Science teachers, by providing £20,000 bursaries  akin to Physics teachers to attract bright new talent.

This is welcomed – at the moment 2/3 of ICT teachers in London are not qualified to teacher even the outgoing ICT curriculum. 

Now we need a new strategic look across London’s 32 Boroughs at the quality of our provision and the quality of our teaching.

We believe the Mayor could play a major role in improving partnerships between business, universities and schools for the study of STEM subjects, and promote effective routes into STEM-related professions like ours.

So we have challenges, of course we do. All new and innovative industries will have these, but we know what we have to do and if we are in any doubt about the power of games, just draw on the inspiration around here  at City Hall. The video games and Interactive Entertainment is the new rock ‘n’ roll and the movies rolled up in one. Our games, our play and our communities will shape and define our culture and create our wealth.

Enjoy these wonderful images.

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GamesAid gets pretty vocal

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It was back in April at the MCV Awards  that Ian Chambers mentioned to Ian Livingstone and I that he had the idea of assembling a choir and performing a live concert, in front of real people, entirely made up of people from the games industry. Without really thinking it through, Ian and I said we were in and it would not be a problem to get 25 fellow games industry people together. To make things even ‘better’ we would do it as a fund raiser for GamesAid and set a target to raise £10,000 and a load of awareness to boot.

Then it dawned on me. It’s not often that one really does take oneself out of one’s comfort zone. [Or indeed refer to yourself as ‘one’ Ed ].  Yes we all talk about it and some of us do it, but usually we know that we can and will achieve the goal. But this choir lark means some of us i.e. me, were truly going to a new place.

So on the 19th of September this year, a few souls from the games industry assembled at the wonderful Neville Mariner rehearsal room deep in the crypt area of St Martin’s, just off Trafalgar Square in central London on the start of our journey. Could we be blended into a functioning choir?

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Ian was very clear from the start. We needed to both believe we could do it and enjoy the experience. If we did that, then the hard work or the ‘note crunching‘ would become secondary and thus easier.

It turned out that we did have some ‘form’ in the gathering. Rich Keen, Becca Roberts, Harry Holmwood, Ombelline Wallon, Katie Brooks and Rob Cooper all have great voices. Ian of course is an accomplished musician and singer, although as a choir we would not have the benefit of his Alto on the night!

The overriding lessons of the early sessions were geared around the act of breathing which is vital, obviously. I was struck by just how hard this can be and how exhausting one is after just one number! We were told to stand up straight and put our weight on our toes. Look forward, head up and smile. We did as we were told. We always do.

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The curve ball outside of all the physical effort and technique needed is that the songs are not always as I remembered them as a kid. Because many of them are different ‘arrangements’ we are effectively learning new songs. Without giving the game away too much, harmonies can lead us all into temptation. Temptation to sing the versions or arrangements we all know and have come to love. Unlearning can be as hard as learning especially after all these years!

Despite all of this, Ian has managed to drill us into a semblance of a harmonised unit. The 2 months have flown by, we have had 6 rehearsals which have all been well attended, given everyone is always mega busy, it’s a tribute to the dedication of the choir members (I am loathe to use choristers just yet) that we have come so far. But with less than a month to go now, we have to up our game. A lot.

So more single practice at home, in the shower or walking along the street, more rehearsals and more belief are needed. As our choir master keeps telling us there is no substitute for the hard hours we all need to put in to make sure we deliver on the night of the 19th of December.

The venue is booked, and it is stunning the wonderful St Stephen’s in Rosslyn Hil, London, NW3.

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We have even got  the mince pies, mulled wine, film crew, sheet music, venue, ticketing all sponsored by the wonderful people at EA, IGN, Sega, Indigo Pearl, Ubisoft, OnLive, Mastertronic and Fink Creative.

If you would like to come along and lend your support on the night, sing along, enjoy the festive fancies and support the wonderful charity that is GamesAid www.gamesaid.org then you can buy at ticket at http://www.justgiving.com/christmasconcert .

Every single penny of your entrance fee goes to GamesAid. It’s only £20 for adults and only a tenner £10 for under-16s. 6.45pm on Thursday 19th December 2012, mark your diary now.

Have yourselves a Merry Little Christmas!

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My Mum, my inspiration

We all have our inspirational characters, some we know and love dearly, some we have never met. Some may be teachers and hopefully for all us, our parents would be right up there.

I am happy to say that both my parents are the most inspirational people in my life. Dad has always been spiritual, polite, mannered, considerate and above all loyal. He dislikes confrontation but will never yield on his principles, but he just won’t attack head first. Instead he always gets his way through consensus and wants to see everyone treated fairly. He has always liked sport, but his first love has always been music, closely followed by his garden. As a boy, Dad was not the one on the touch line, yelling support, encouraging me to play every single sport on offer, and give everything for the team, he inspired me in other ways. No, the person always there, always taking an interest in sport and pushing me was my Mum.

So when the tickets for the London Olympics went on sale, I just had to get a ticket for Mum. We have watched the Olympics down the years on the BBC starting with Mexico 68. The image of Bob Beamon smashing the World Record in the Long Jump was iconic. Even more so was the Smith and Carlos salute. David Hemery winning the 400m Hurdles. Then in Munich1972 the horror of the Israeli athletes being taken hostage, and then killed, Mary Peters winning the Pentathlon and Mark Spitz what an icon. Montreal 1976 was Brendan Foster bronze in 10,000m. Mum and I would be up all night watching everything. Mum’s absolute favourite of all time was and still is of course Daley Thompson.

So when I was lucky enough to get 3 tickets for the Athletics on August 9th 2012 I couldn’t wait to tell my Mum that she would be there. She was literally over the moon.

For the last year she has been bursting to get to the Olympic Stadium. Today is the day we are there together. Stratford is about a mile from Leyton where Mum and Dad were born. Today my Mum’s dream of attending the Olympic Games is realised and it’s on her doorstep. This is what it is all about. Citius, Altius, Fortius.

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