Michael French, head of games at Games London, discusses the return of the London Games Festival last year, what we should expect from this year's edition, kicking off today, and tells us more about next week's Games Finance Market.
Why bring the festival back in 2016?
This isn’t a return of the old London Games Festival – this is an entirely new festival concept and strategy. The prior London Games Festival was a wonderful way to group a set of events together during peak season. This takes a different tack, and creates something more akin to London Film Festival, London Fashion Week or London Design Week. Which is to say: London Games Festival is about promoting the city as a place to do business, work, make games and play games.
Games London, which delivers the Festival, is a joint initiative between Film London and Ukie, and our significant funding from Mayor of London guarantees we can build a programme that supports the games companies here, attracts investors, and provides a major spotlight. We are on course to have attracted £35m into London games companies over our first three years. Our bigger aim is to make London the games capital of the world.
Who is the Games Finance Market targeted at?
The Games Finance Market is a core part of our activity around attracting investors and getting money into London. We have 60 games companies signed up to show over 50 investors their concepts and business plans. We’ve sent some of the attendees on a pre-market training bootcamp to ensure they are ready to engage with potential business partners. Our investors are hugely diverse, a much broader mix than any event of this type that has existed – we have a delegation from China, media funds, platforms, VCs that were once reluctant about games but we have convinced to take a fresh look, and so on. In fact, one third of the companies at this year’s Market are from overseas. There’s a total of £500m in total potential investment at this year’s Games Finance Market, too. The games content they see is also very varied, with lots of mobile, VR and interactive pieces as well as ‘core’ games.
"We reached 38,000 people in 2016 and want to reach 50,000 this year."
Michael French, Games London
As the UK is often accused of being to London-centric – why hold the festival here?
Our take is that a London event doesn’t just help the local sector but is a gateway to the whole country. This is the UK's capital city, a go-to point for culture and finance with a huge legacy and an enviable prestige, and obviously we should cash in on that global reputation if we want to overall grow the games sector. Also, London is the UK’s biggest games hub – a quarter of UK games firms are here.
How will you judge the success of such an eclectic event?
We have a few ways to measure achievements. The first is attendance. We reached 38,000 people in 2016 and want to reach 50,000 this year. The second is in terms of the investment money we attract to games companies, via things like the Games Finance Market. Third is the economic impact a Festival has on London – don’t forget that a significant event like this has add-on benefits to the economy around tourism and income for venues and transport.
How will you improve the festival for 2018?
Next year will represent the third year of our first three-year plan. I don’t want to spoil too much before Festival 2017 even starts, but we have a few events that will reach a bigger scale when it comes to opportunities for developers and the industry. Some of our existing elements will grow too – and I imagine some of the favourite core events will remain or grow too. We also have a very exciting concept for our Trafalgar Square moment which we are recruiting partners for right now… As you might be able to tell, the aim is to just keep growing this. I personally won’t be happy until we’re confident we have created something which stands next to the equivalent events that support other cultural and creative industries like film, fashion and design. Thankfully, we’ve got the backing – and the team – to deliver that.