London Calling

Publishers need to stop talking amongst themselves and start addressing the crowd.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz' widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial is a weekly dissection of one of the issues weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

The games industry, for all that it relies on cutting-edge technology, media and communications, isn't very good at talking to people. Specifically, it's got a rather odd attitude to communicating with its consumers - a rather stunted and unproductive approach to public events and product demonstrations that can leave the business looking socially awkward at best.

In fact, what the games industry is best at is talking to itself. A glance at the events calendar for any given year reveals a host of forums, conferences and expos at which the industry gazes in deep contemplation at its own navel, but remarkably few points at which it actually goes face to face with its consumers.

Things are getting better, of course. There are big public events on the calendar in the three biggest markets - Europe has Games Convention, America has PAX and Japan has TGS, and members of the public are welcome to all of them. Some individual companies love talking to their loyal customers, too. Blizzard has been lauded in this column before for its willingness to be open, honest and discursive in front of huge audiences of consumers, for instance.

In many ways, though, this is still the industry which thought that it was fine to occupy the LA Convention Center with multi-million dollar stands for a week, and not let any consumers in unless they blagged it. It's the industry which is happy to let intermediaries handle that whole tricky business of product sampling - for years, largely the preserve of magazine coverdiscs and pods in specialist retail stores. You'd think the interactive entertainment industry would be better at, well, interacting.

That's why it's been interesting to watch the development of the London Games Festival over the past couple of years. At the outset, this so-called festival was a perfect example of the games industry's reclusive tendencies.

Having billed itself, in essence, as the capital's games 'season', it proceeded to largely fill up with events that you could only get into if you were already in the games industry. More navel-gazing - great! (Honestly, if the industry actually showed any real sign of adopting best practices or standards in the wake of these events, their proliferation might seem a touch more justified.)

More recently, though, the balance is shifting. Now, no declaration of interest is really needed here - it won't have escaped your notice that two of the Festival's public-facing events this year, the Eurogamer Expo and the GamesIndustry.biz Career Fair, are being run by the sites which publish this column. However, combined with the Video Games Live concert and Electronic Arts' takeover of Trafalgar Square for two days to showcase major forthcoming titles, these events do at least provide consumers with some places to actually interact with the industry and play forthcoming games over the course of the Festival.

This - or at least, a vastly expanded and better supported version of this - is exactly what the games business in the United Kingdom needs. Despite a few brave efforts, Britain has failed to create a strong, consumer-focused games event - but rather than trying to take over an expo hall for a few days, a programme of events around the capital has the potential to pull in far more consumers and earn far more media exposure.

If anything, following the implosion of E3 - and faced with the amazing expansion of the industry's demographic reach and the corresponding opportunity to win genuine legitimacy with the public at large - London finds itself in a position to define the model for gaming events of the future.

Organisers of various other arts- and culture-focused festivals learned a long time ago that if you host a concentrated event in an exhibition centre, it attracts a small but dedicated hardcore audience - leaving you preaching to the converted, little more. If, however, you overspill the convention centre and instead trickle your events and installations into the city's public spaces and across a broader calendar, you've suddenly got a festival on your hands - supported by local government and attracting interest and attention from people and media outlets who would never have dreamed of going to an expo at ExCeL or Earl's Court.

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