In this insight on the video games industry and its future workforce, we look at two of today's emerging areas of focus for the sector – neurodiversity and tax status of off payroll workers – that studios and games businesses should keep an eye on for the future.

The video games industry, with its need for a steady stream of highly skilled, innovative and creative talent, has to make sure that the decisions it makes today can create a workforce for the future that can deliver growth and prosperity. The challenge takes in a wide range of considerations, including diversity and inclusion, remote and agile working, workplace transformation, the automation of work, retention of talent, “crunch culture”, immigration, Brexit and the “gig economy”.

Two emerging areas of focus for the industry as it looks to “future-proof” its workforce are neurodiversity and the employment status of its workers.

Supporting neurodiverse employees

Neurodiversity is perhaps not (yet) a term with which everyone is familiar. It refers to individuals whose brain functions in a way that diverges from that which is seen as “normal” or “neurotypical”. It is commonly used to describe those who have dyslexia, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyspraxia and certain other neurological conditions. The notion of “neurodiversity” is of particular interest for the video games industry – which draws on a diverse and creative pool of talent – as business in general engages more with the concept and how it might play out in the workforce.

From an employment law perspective, neurodiverse employees will often (although not always) be covered by the disability protections of the Equality Act 2010, meaning that employers, for example, have certain obligations around reasonable adjustments. But rather than focus on the legal points around neurodivergence in the workplace, we find that many are focusing on the unique and valuable strengths that thinking differently can bring to an individual’s work. This can be celebrated and leveraged by video games companies. Real benefits can be derived from a diverse workforce with different perspectives offering innovation and creativity – which are crucial attributes for the games industry.

Neurodiverse employees may not have been diagnosed, or they may not wish to discuss their diagnosis. But it is important that businesses provide appropriate assistance and support. Ways in which this can be achieved include: offering diagnostic and/or workplace needs assessments; providing training for managers and/or employees on awareness or to become neurodiversity “champions”; and allowing an alternative route to raise issues or concerns to management where a formal option may be less appropriate to some neurodiverse individuals.

Understanding how to attract and support neurodivergent employees can also help to fill skills gaps and meet future workplace requirements within the industry. Reviewing job descriptions, recruitment practices and promotional opportunities is a good starting point, as is publicising the businesses commitment to supporting the neurodivergent community. There are also a number of adjustments that might be made to the working environment and roles and responsibilities to help any neurodiverse employees to do their best work.

Awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace and in general is still in its infancy – although it is estimated that around one in 10 people are neurodivergent. Helping to increase the awareness of your managers and teams can help prevent problems developing and issues escalating. Supporting those who think differently, to be both an inclusive employer and also to benefit from the diversity of thought offered by neurodiverse employees is something that we expect to continue to increase in the games industry.

Tax status: IR35

Many games businesses are heavily reliant on contractor workforces to supplement their employed headcount and to provide flexible resourcing and specialist skills. Consequently, tax and employment status of contractors – continues to be a hot topic in 2020, with further developments afoot in the UK.

It is unlikely to have gone unnoticed in the industry that important changes to the IR35 regime, which will have an impact on the use of contractors who work via their personal service companies (PSCs), are imminent in the form of the off-payroll working rules. These rules are due to be extended to medium and large companies in the private sector from 6 April 2020.

For businesses that use PSC contractors (for example, IT contractors who assist with coding, design or back-system infrastructure), it is essential to take note of the new legal obligations that will fall on businesses that use the contractors (“end users”). From 6 April 2020, end users will be required to make and issue IR35 “status determinations” in relation to each role involving the use of a PSC contractor’s services and ensure the appropriate level of tax is being paid – the responsibility for this will no longer rest with the contractor company. These changes will apply regardless of whether end users engage directly with the PSC contractor or indirectly via a recruitment agency. They will also apply to arrangements with consultancy companies where what is being supplied is a PSC consultant rather than a consultancy service.

What’s next?

Many gaming businesses will have already undertaken work to prepare for the April 2020 changes. Companies need to assess their workforce to identify where these changes may apply and to understand what options are open to them – as well as the risks and financial consequences of the various routes. It is likely that most existing contracts for the supply of contractors’ services will need to be reviewed, updated and re-issued prior to 6 April.