London Games event presses ‘Start’

Games London will ‘supercharge’ UK’s growing sector, says city mayor Johnson

 Boris Johnson: animated Johnson and his beloved London City are rendered in the blocky, retro style of the iconic Minecraft. Photograph:   Alex B. Huckle/Getty Images

Boris Johnson: animated Johnson and his beloved London City are rendered in the blocky, retro style of the iconic Minecraft. Photograph: Alex B. Huckle/Getty Images

 

From the moment Boris Johnson appears, it is clear which game is being referenced. His plumy voice is unchanged, but the animated Johnson and his beloved London City are rendered in the blocky, retro style of the iconic Minecraft.

“For the first 10 days of April this year, London will truly become a city of gaming,” the digital Johnson says.

In real life, the London mayor (and chair of the London Enterprise Panel), Johnson released a statement saying: “London is already a star player when it comes to games and interactive entertainment, but international competition is fierce and we need to ensure our city can compete with our global gaming rivals.

“Through Games London we are supercharging an increasingly important sector for our economy, one that exemplifies the capital’s reputation for creativity and innovation.

“From design to banking and civil engineering to film, games technology is being used in a host of different sectors. We are investing in a dynamic and constantly evolving industry to take London to another level as a world-leading capital for games and interactive entertainment.”

The 10-day event, taking place from April 1st, will be a mix of trade and consumer happenings, including inbound and outbound trade missions to promote the tax relief and the sector overseas; BFI talks; the British Academy of Games Awards (Bafta equivalent); training and skills initiatives and the Games Finance Market, described by its organisers as “a first of its kind event that recreates the successful formula delivered by Film London in matching film finance to film projects during the London Film Festival.

“The Games Finance Market will connect interactive content talent with global investors and partners from across sectors.”

The event and its £1.2 million (€1.58 million) investment from the London Enterprise Panel, sounds like a win-win for London; a boost for a growing, indigenous industry and for a city that is competing with other parts of Europe for tech and game investment and development: world-conquering franchises like Grand Theft Auto, Angry Birds and Assassin’s Creed have their roots in Scotland, Denmark and France, respectively.

Virtual reality

It also raises questions for Ireland and the UK: namely, how will Games London affect the rest of the UK? Will Games London have a negative effect on Ireland’s small games development industry? And could a competing event happen here?

“I think it’s great to see a government get involved in their indigenous games industry,” says Owen Harris, who is developing the virtual reality game DEEP and who organises local development events Dubludo.

“I hope the money is spent on community and grassroots level. The national video game arcade in Nottingham is a great example of how the government supports game creation culture and game playing.”

Ray Walsh of Enterprise Ireland expressed a similar sentiment about the city-specific nature of Games London. “It seems an impressive plan for London games,” he says. “It’s a bit sad about other regions, like Scotland. But it’s still a good lighthouse show event for the week.”

A more pressing concern for Ireland, of course, is what effect (if any) it would have on Irish game developers. “I think the UK poses a constant drain on the Irish game creation scene,” says Harris. “The fact is that it’s so incentivised for people to set up in the UK over the Republic, due not just to tax but the assistance and support offered there. I’d like to see our Government take a more competitive stance.”

“So far we haven’t had support for any events we’ve run in the past. But this is changing. It changed last year with the Irish year of Design supporting game design workshops over the summer, and secondly a trip to GDC [Game Developers Conference] in March.

“So we have a total of about 30 or 35 Irish designers going to San Francisco to show the amazing work happening here. Enterprise Ireland are helping make that happen.”

“We’ve had some events,” says Walsh, “like Games Ireland, which was a showcase a couple of years ago. There was indirect support from us bringing over some speakers. It helped shine a light that there was a games industry here.

“Also, Imirt [the Irish Games Makers’ Association] have, over the last couple of months, come together and are giving knowledge events in Dublin and around the country.

“Enterprise Ireland doesn’t deal with international companies. Enterprise Ireland deals with very early-stage, one-man bands, going through new frontiers. We created a fund for games and software companies called Competitive Start Fund – a €50,000 pledge.

“We did a pilot in 2010, during the recession, and we made 15 investments in that stage. They focus on widespread software industry, life science and so on.

“We fund companies, not projects. We funded a lot of companies on that side, which would be a larger deal. They would include the likes of Digit and localisation companies like Keywords. We also do HPSU [high potential start-up] investments – 110 a year with 80 software companies, and a small number of games companies have received those.

“Standouts are the likes of Digit and StoryToys. In the past, middleware was the flavour of the day, such as Havok and Demonware.”

Harris also says that there are ways to help the local games industry that don’t involve major events and summits. “I’d love to see something like [Games London] here,” he says, “but to me, the most important and easiest thing to provide would be space. An investment like the London one would be best used for space, and second for game culture. For Dubludo having a dedicated space would be ideal.

“What we’ve seen work is nurturing the culture of game dev, which can be done at a lower risk and price tag than the business of game creation – it’s much more effective in the long run.”

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