Lon­don call­ing

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”

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