London Games Festival: What will the impact on the UK development sector be?

London Games Festival: What will the impact on the UK development sector be?

By Julian Ward, Hamlins LLP

February 23rd 2016 at 10:10AM

Julian Ward, a partner at law firm Hamlins specialising in digital, games and interactive entertainment, weighs up the pros and cons of the UK's latest flagship games event

The London Games Festival, announced by Boris Johnson via an in-game press conference in Minecraft, holds the exciting prospect of London finally getting a large scale gaming event aimed at rivalling Gamescom, E3 and the Tokyo Games Show.

But behind the headlines and Minecraft-ified Mayor’s pronouncements, what will it really mean for UK developers? Is this another false dawn or the start of a concerted effort by those with their hands on the levers of power to really support and maximise the fantastic talent we have – not just in London, but throughout the UK?

Well there’s certainly no lack of ambition from the Mayor. Johnson wants to ‘take London to another level as a world-leading capital for games and interactive entertainment’, with the festival just one part of a three year ‘Games London’ programme, backed by £1.2M of investment. This is clearly more than a one-off event.

Reading over the festival’s agenda there are plenty of promising points.

Importance is placed on getting the public engaged and involved in the games sector – with the Now Play This exhibition, which includes talks and workshops over three days, and by bringing the EGX Rezzed convention, traditionally focused on indie and PC games, under the London Games Festival umbrella.

For those involved in the business of making games, the prominence given to the Games Finance Market (GFM) is another thumbs up by matching financiers from around the world with UK games projects in need of investment.

The GFM slot will also focus on boring – but really important – aspects of running a games business, such as tax relief and maximising sales outside of the UK. It's an area that still requires a lot of work.

Let’s not forget the Festival Fringe (details still to be confirmed) promising various supporting games events running across the whole 10 days of the festival.

All these initiatives are rightly laudable. But in the long term will they make any difference to the UK games development sector? What will be the ‘legacy’ of the festival?

Ultimately, we’ll need to wait and see. But if the reality is to match the ambition of making London a true rival to Cologne, Los Angeles and Tokyo for games and interactive entertainment, it’s vital the festival is more than part of a three-year programme and represents the start of a long term coherent and well financed strategy – not just for London, but for the whole of the games sector in the UK.

UKIE is doing a fantastic job and certainly the government is beginning to wake up to the importance of the games sector with policies like tax breaks for games and putting coding on the national curriculum, which are all steps in the right direction.

But for a sector worth an estimated £4 billion to the UK economy, and with such an abundance of world-class talent available, we can and must do more.

We must continue with and expand the regional investment funds helping tech and interactive entertainment start-ups move to the next level and encourage more established players to work with incubators.

We must improve the speed and reach of broadband throughout the country – for a leading economy we are still well behind our rivals.

It’s a competitive world out there and getting more so. But we do have a massive advantage in the scope and quality of our developer talent pool. It’s time we harnessed this to its full potential.