The games industry's gradual progress into the hearts and minds of Westminster took another step forward last night, as several MPs and various industry figures attended an evening event in the House of Commons, organised by voluntary consumer group Gamers' Voice.
The organisation, founded by Labour MP Tom Watson in 2009, arranged the event in the hope of getting MPs in front of some games, encouraging them to play and dispel negative impressions fuelled by sensationalist mainstream press coverage.
Despite a number of interruptions from the division bell which calls MPs to vote, attendance was fairly high. Chair of the cross party panel on games John Wittingdale introduced the evening, and there were appearances from Ed Vaizey and, astonishingly, Keith Vaz, among others. Vaz didn't stay long, being called away to vote after a few minutes, but did take the time to make clear that he wasn't necessarily "anti-gaming".
Many of the industry's major figures were present, with UKIE and TIGA heads Michael Rawlinson and Richard Wilson mingling with Ian Livingstone and the newly honoured Miles Jacobson OBE. Charity Special Effect, which provides technology to allow the disabled to enjoy gaming via new forms of control and interaction, also gave a demonstration of its work.
A generally convivial atmosphere pervaded, as MPs flitted between FlOwer, Kinect Sports and World of Goo, every bit as much a well-heeled party as what was essentially a piece of political lobbying. Whilst it is unlikely that the evening's ramifications will involve policy change, the sight of the nation's elected representatives relaxing with games and genuinely enjoying themselves was something of a revelation in itself, Ed Vaizey's energetic efforts on Kinect Sports a particular highlight.
The event was certainly a huge step forward for the cause of Gamers' Voice, which has attracted 16,500 members on its Facebook page but has, in the words of chairman Paul Gibson, had a "difficult year" with a "number of disappointments".
Head of industry relations for the group, Chris O'Regan, made clear that Gamers' Voice is very much hoping to become a conduit for dialogue between consumers and the industry, but needs the support of gamers to achieve that aim.
"We wanted to raise our profile, to be completely honest. To be brutally frank we wanted to make our mark this year, to say: 'we're Gamers' Voice, we can speak to you as consumers of videogames. Talk to us, we'll help you out'," he said.
"But also, almost as a symptom of that, we're here to help the videogames industry raise its profile. On top of that we're getting MPs in front of videogames to show them that they're not awful, they're just a form of entertainment."
"We're a voluntary organisation. We all have our own day jobs. We all have our own pressures on our time, there's no external money behind this. I'm just very happy that we're all here and that it's all kicked off as such a success. The real aim here is that, if we raise our profile, more people are going to join us, we're going to get grass roots support and then we can speak for them: tell the gaming industry what we want from it."
Dr Richard Wilson, head of industry body TIGA, was on hand to offer his support, seemingly pleased that a third faction had been introduced to the industry and parliament dialogue and encouraging the group to engage in ongoing discussions.
"Gamers' Voice has done a great job of making this event happen today," Wilson told GamesIndustry.biz. "I hope we're able to work together in the future on some joint initiatives - there are some things which I'm sure we're going to have in common, for example the need to have strong, UK-based, indigenously controlled enterprises. I think Gamers' Voice will support that, so will TIGA. I'll be interested to see what else they're proposing and how they want to work the relationship."
Wilson did express some frustration at the current state of play, however, indicating that an improved relationship between the industry and the treasury was very much at the top of TIGA's agenda.
"Engagement on a ministerial level - it could be better, no doubt about it. We want to engage with the treasury team in particular. We're seeing Ed Vaizey next week for a round table meeting, so it's okay, but I find it frustrating that the treasury team won't engage and hasn't sat down for a meeting with us so far. But we'll carry on asking for meeting, working with our friends in the all-party group to facilitate such a meeting. This is a marathon - not a sprint."
UKIE's Ian Livingstone, who's Livingstone Hope review on skills in due for publication on February 1, expressed his admiration and support for the event.
"I think they're great, because the consumers say it how it is - they're totally impartial. The fact that we're here today in the House of Commons is a great testament to what they've achieved - ten years ago we wouldn't be here because of the negative sentiment surrounding games. Sensationalist headlines in the popular press about the bad things about games rather than celebrations of the good things about games, so this is fantastic.
"I think the industry will do all it can to help them spread their opinions."