Head of London Games Festival on the punk attitude of British games

“There is so much Britain has given to the games sector. It wouldn’t be the same global industry without us"

Next month, London Games Festival returns as a real-world event after being forced to go digital over the past two years. The 10 day festival runs from April 1 – 10 and will see a host of showcases, talks and exhibitions pop up all over the capital as London Games look to drive investment and business to the sector. It’s basically the gaming equivalent of Brighton’s The Great Escape.

And like that new music showcase, London Games Festival isn’t just for people who work in the industry.

“There is definitely something for everyone,” explains Michael French, head of London Games. “We’ve got the conferences and pitch events but if you’re looking to check out new indie games, there’s W.A.S.D. at Tobacco Dock. If you are curious about the artistic side of games, there’s Now Play This at Somerset House. We’ve got art exhibitions taking over Trafalgar Square from Ensemble (which showcases Black, Asian and minority ethnic UK video games talent and champions game developers from a broad spectrum of roles and a wide variety of backgrounds). There’s also a strong online offering, available from all over the world. There’s something for any amount of interest or taste in video games,” he continues. “That’s the real power of what we have to offer.”

London Games Festival
The final of Let’s Play This, London Games Festival 2019. CREDIT: Press

The first London Games Festival was held in 2016, after receiving funding from the Mayor’s office to create the gaming equivalent of the London Film Festival or London Fashion Week because it rightly believed that gaming is ”as valid an art form as anything else”. “The industry is having a real breakout moment right now,” explains French. “Some people say gaming is the most popular pastime in the world, and we’ve felt that growth over the years. I’ve always believed games are a really exciting medium. It’s quite refreshing to feel that that’s been picked up by the wider world now.”

As he explains, “what London Games Festival does is connect with people that perhaps wouldn’t engage with games, as well as offering something for people who live and breathe gaming.”

Beyond putting on a great event though, London Games has a slightly more ambitious goal. As its website proudly declares, it wants to make London the games capital of the world. Hollow slogan or does French think it’s actually possible?

Alongside the great infrastructure and huge creative sector that calls London home, “there’s something like 600 games businesses in the city already of various types,” French explains. “Maybe we already are the games capital of the world?”

London Games Festival
Mayor Of London Sadiq Khan an London Games Festival 2019. CREDIT: Press

“There is so much Britain has given to the games sector. It wouldn’t be the same global industry without us,” he continues. “We’re a pretty switched on nation. There’s just this real spirit of creativity, this is the country that invented the Raspberry Pi afterall. In the ‘80s, we had all those bedroom coders. And now, after two years of lockdown, we’ve got another generation of bedroom coders. That self-starting, entrepreneurial attitude is really active, and it always has been. Just now, instead of creating games to play at home, they’re innovating on Steam.”

French reckons there’s a real punk swagger to the British games industry. “I definitely think that slightly renegade, outspoken stuff really does feel active in the games that are made here. There’s definitely a British flavour to some of the big tentpole things we’ve put out as well, whether that’s Grand Theft Auto, Monument Valley or Football Manager.”

French has been reliably informed from a clutch of international investors that what makes the United Kingdom so good at games is the stories they tell. “We’ve got a real talent for narrative. That quality of writing, a sense of humour and the visual arts side of things,” has become synonymous with British titles.

“We just understand what goes into making a game,” says French. It’s something London Games hope to prove with this year’s Made In London Official Selection, which includes Beatstar (Space Ape Games), Mask of the Rose (Failbetter Games) and Paper Trail (Newfangled Games).

“We are known for tentpole games but we also create compelling indie experiences and smaller, personally provoking games that are really powerful,” he explains. “That’s why people flock here. Games publishers are always looking at UK talent. No one’s ever counted this territory out.”

The theme for London Games Festival 2022 is Escape The Metaverse, a reference to the fact it’s a real-world event but also because a series of talks look set to cut through the noise and work out exactly what the metaverse means for gaming.

“We’re the industry that basically invented this stuff, so what do those blockchain things really mean for our sector? We look at esports, things happening on TikTok and areas like Roblox and we can see UK companies, creators and players really pioneering on those platforms. We’re constantly evolving as a sector and it’s important to remind people about that.”

London Games Festival
London Games Festival 2019. CREDIT: Press

French is sceptical about the metaverse but isn’t someone to “rule out an entire technology, because that’s just unfair. Someone will innovate on those platforms but developers have to be careful.”

We’ve seen countless times games announcing, then cancelling plans for NFTs after backlash. “Gaming taught the world how important communities are. If the community doesn’t like something, they’ll tell you – that’s true of NFTs and that’s true with other things as well.”

He isn’t sure if things like the metaverse will change gaming, “it’s more the other way around. We’ve not got a generation of people that grew up playing video games, which has created a behaviour and a mindset change. People are more likely to pop on a VR headset these days, because they’ve seen those experiences in 2D. It’s quite an immediate leap.”

“Web3 is here to stay as a movement,” he continues, “but how that trickles down into everything else, especially since it’s taking a lot of games principles and applying them to non games things, remains to be seen. The excitement around it proves just how valid games development, graphic design, virtual design is as a skill though. That just proves how valuable video games are,” French adds.

“This is the seventh year of the festival, and we’re here to say. As attitudes towards gaming changes, there’s a real opportunity for London Games Festival. There’s so much talent and so much potential in this country, we can’t not have a bright future.”

If you’re interested in paying it a visit, you can get tickets to the London Games Festival here

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