A new ten-day festival is aiming to connect the game industry with the general public
How the London Games Festival will hail interactive entertainment
The UK’s capital city has long been served by events that celebrate the creative industries, such as London Fashion Week and the London Film Festival. Now games are being given their chance to enjoy the urban spotlight.
A new London Games Festival will take place on April 1–10 at various venues across the capital, and its organisers hope it will share its subject matter with a broad demographic sweep, from dedicated players to families and those with little or no experience of interactive entertainment.
The event is being put together by a newly formed organisation, Games London, itself a collaboration between videogame trade body UKIE and the longstanding Film London, the capital’s strategic agency for film and media. Backed by a £1.2 million investment from the Mayor of London’s London Enterprise Panel, the festival organisers promise a gathering point for consumers and industry alike, and one that leaves a lasting legacy.
“We’re establishing a brand-new annual event for London and the UK, which this country’s lacked since the demise of ECTS,” says Michael French, senior games programme executive for Games London and the London Games Festival. “If you look at the global games calendar, you know San Francisco has GDC, and E3 is in LA. In August everyone goes to Germany for Gamescom, and you’ve got things like Tokyo Game Show in September. Paris Games Week has now established itself in October. Why doesn’t the UK have something like that – a moment of our own? We should have one, and [London Games Festival] could be it.”
French and his team recognise they won’t change the UK public’s perception of games in ten days, but if they can replicate the impact of those giant conferences over time, they may be in with a chance of helping cement games as part of the fabric of UK culture.
There have been events named ‘London Games Festival’ before, the last of which took place in 2012. However, the 2016 event is entirely unrelated – save for the odd tangential connection thanks to the relatively close-knit nature of the game industry in the UK.
The festival itself brings numerous gaming-themed events to the capital, covering talks, workshops, indie titles, award shows and perhaps even a spot of competitive gaming.“We’re also putting together a fringe of events, and inviting people to put on their own events as part of that fringe,” French explains. “The stuff we’re getting through – the suggestions in the applications – are really diverse, whether it’s a Hearthstone tournament or a musical about a famous videogame.”
This year the British Academy Games Awards, which has made efforts to be more accessible in recent years by throwing its doors open to the public, is also aligned to the festival, pointing to the clout of the organisations getting on board. But not every group pooling resources to curate the event is an immediately obvious fit. Film London, in particular, stands out. “What Film London does is what Games London will do, and it’s been doing it for 13 years,” French says. “It does a huge amount of work in terms of helping to grow the film business here, and there’s a big argument to be made that people should be doing the same, but for the interactive entertainment sector.”
What’s more, French says, in an era when the technology, creative practice, studio structuring and even the companies of the film and game industries are starting to converge, the experience Film London has garnered in its time is increasingly relevant to games.
Then, of course, there’s the role of the Mayor of London’s London Enterprise Panel, even though Boris Johnson is perhaps the last person many would conjure to mind when it comes to videogames. “I think it’s unfair to characterise the mayor’s office as an organisation that wouldn’t understand games,” French asserts. “They’re sat working in the capital city, they see how big the creative industries are, and they know how big the games sector is. They’ve been 100 per cent supportive of this, and are in daily contact with us about some of the ideas here. They’ve been very helpful with access and contacts. It’s not just funding they provide; it’s ideas and support. If anything, the mayor’s team see this as overdue.”
French is keen to stress, though, that this isn’t a London-only event. “Everyone is welcome – it’s not just about London companies,” he says. “Game London has a London focus, but one of our stakeholders is a UK-wide trade body for the game industry. Anybody from the UK game industry is welcome to get involved, and we’re showing plenty from the non-London UK games companies.”
Full details of the festival are detailed at its official site, www.games.london.
“I think it’s unfair to characterise the mayor’s office as an organisation that wouldn’t understand games”