How Did the UK Gaming Industry Get So Big?

How Did the UK Gaming Industry Get So Big?

Video gaming is a common hobby among Brits, today. The exact proportion varies from study to study, but around two-thirds of people in the UK enjoy playing games at least occasionally. It’s easy to see why too, as the range of choice that they have available has exploded in recent years. On top of that, the gaming companies’ marketing efforts are reaching wider audiences. For example, many online casinos now run special offers aimed at new customers as they try to compete in a very crowded market.

While the gaming landscape of the United Kingdom in 2023 may consist of luscious and fertile meadows for as far as the eye can see, this was not some sort of overnight success. It has been tilled, sewn, irrigated, and fertilised over several decades to help it yield bountiful harvests year after year.

How bountiful? According to the BBC, the UK video games market is worth more than £7.16 billion. It’s also been growing steadily in recent years, with current estimates suggesting spending on gaming-related products and services will grow at a CAGR of 7.75% between 2023 and 2027 with the number of UK nationals taking part in this popular pastime rising to over 70% of the population over the same period.

Origins of Computing and Gaming

We often associate the gaming industry with the United States because of the huge role that it plays in it today. However, the UK had a key role in the early development of video games and the underlying technology that was needed to making playing them possible.

While they likely didn’t intend to at the time, famous Brits like Alan Turing directly contributed to the creation of modern video games by developing the early computers that our modern devices have descended from.

Even more recently, it was British engineers that invented the RISC processor concept that that powers the ARM chips used in smartphones, tablets, and even some consoles like the Nintendo Switch.


While Brits have been embracing and inventing computer technology for centuries, it was American imports from companies like Atari that helped plant the seeds for the industry in the UK.

In the 1970s, titles like Pong, Breakout, and Space Invaders were all the rage in the UK as Brits flocked to video arcades to enjoy these cutting-edge titles.

These early games helped to inspire a new generation of inventors. But instead of focusing on hardware, they put their efforts into creating new video games that they could enjoy themselves, give to friends, or share with the public.

The prevalence of microcomputers, such as the BBC Micro and the ZX Spectrum, was instrumental in this too as these devices allowed people to write code at home. This also helped to insulate the UK against the 1983 video game crash that occurred in the USA and it had helped to create a completely separate and very resilient domestic market.


This homegrown market for games was filled with bedroom programmers and small studios who released hit after hit, often beating the larger publishers. Some early examples of this include Matthew Smith’s Manic Miner and David Braben and Ian Bell’s Elite.

Over time, technology improved and the skills of developers increased dramatically. This led to the United Kingdom being the birthplace of some of the biggest and most successful video game franchises in the world.

Lemmings, which was released in 1991 by DMA Design, was one of these early international success stories. However, this puzzle game’s developers went on to create something even more successful just a few years later. DMA (now Rockstar Games) developed the original Grand Theft Auto in the 1990s and continues to lead the creation of titles in the series today.

Chris Sawyer, another Scottish programmer, is another great pioneer of video game genres. Through his Transport Tycoon and Rollercoaster Tycoon franchises, he helped to create and popularise the business simulation genre.


The legacy of these trailblazers lives on today. Demand for gaming continues to grow thanks to the quality content created here and abroad. Additionally, favourable regulatory environments and government incentives have helped the UK’s video game industry to thrive and prosper and, arguably, punch well above its weight.