Preview: Festival of Games 2011

Chairman Seth van der Meer discusses exciting plans for this year's event in The Netherlands

Preparations for one of Europe's first big games events, the Festival of Games - taking place on April 28-29 in Utrecht, The Netherlands - are well underway, with a raft of top-level speakers already announced and more to follow.

Here, chairman of the event, Seth van der Meer explains the theme of Games Anywhere, and why the Festival of Games this year could be among the most incisive on the calendar.

Q: What are the ambitions behind Festival of Games?

Seth van der Meer: Well, the whole plan when we started was to strengthen the Dutch games development market, and actually with the growth of the industry we discovered that Europe has its own agenda - it's much more focused on the creation of original IP and a bit less on publishing.

That's been changing over the last couple of years, away from the developer-publisher-retailer model to the digital distribution era, and we've seen some interesting European companies spring up, like SPIL Games, Bigpoint and Gameforge.

On the wave of those new developments we thought it would be interesting to have a festival that would align and present those developments in this area in Europe. That's what we've been trying to do in the last couple of years - programme an event that has its own European agenda; that shows the way the games industry is developing over here, in contrast to what's going on in other parts of the world.

Q: Do you still try to promote the Dutch industry as well?

Seth van der Meer: Not in a direct way; it's not that we try to be a Dutch event - but the fact that we're located in The Netherlands and have good ties with a couple of the European organisations... that does offer a good opportunity for Dutch developers in their own back yards. They can profit a lot from this event that's taking place so close to home - with very little investment they're able to meet many companies and interesting people.

Q: The European angle is interesting - one the one hand it's a challenge because there are a host of different markets and cultures in evidence. How difficult is it to pull all of that together and represent the developing business scene across the region?

Seth van der Meer: It depends from which angle you look at it. Of course there are cultural differences and language barriers that you still have in many European countries, but if you look at the MMO genre, where players from all kinds of backgrounds play together and don't even care from which country a person comes... I think you see something similar in the development scene as well - the fact that most European countries have a relatively small home market generates the need for them to go out for larger opportunities.

A lot of those developers have the same challenges, so they may have differences, but they've got a lot of agreement when it comes to getting into the big pool of what's an America-dominated publishing scene.

It's something that's been changing for the last couple of years, but whether you're from Denmark, or Italy, or Poland - there are differences when it comes to the home market, but when it comes to the global market they have a lot in common.

Q: This year's event is all about 'Games Anywhere' - can you explain the thinking behind that theme?

Seth van der Meer: Well, the most important developments that we see - not just in Europe, but globally - is the fact that games really have broken free of the living room. They're not just on consoles or PCs - they've invaded the handheld, mobile phone, and you're seeing games showing up in all kinds of applications.

You see them in software, and even in consumer electronics, where games are ways for people to learn to understand their devices.

That's really tapped into a very big target group - whereas games 15 years ago were for a much smaller, hardcore group, now almost all young people today... but also a lot of older people play; even though they would never consider themselves a 'gamer,' even if they do play three hours per day on Bejewelled, or World of Goo, or anything else.

With the new distribution methods, and devices that are capable of playing more interesting games, a whole new target group has risen up - and the way that people play, and the places they play, has also changed. They play on the bus, on the plane, on the street - and we want to show what that means.

When you think about the games market there are so many segments that have developed in the last couple of years that even if you never develop a console title you can still be a leading business in the iPhone or web space. That's the main thinking behind the theme - everywhere you look you see some form of gaming, and that impacts on who your target group, your business model, your distribution method and so on. There are lots of new opportunities that developers and publishers can look into.

Q: You've already announced some of the first speakers on the schedule - talk us through those so far.

Seth van der Meer: Currently we have four or five really good names, and names that are very relevant to the main theme. For example, we've announced that Tom DuBois from OnLive is coming to speak - they've really into the Games Anywhere idea with their platform, and the opportunity to play almost any game on almost any device. That's a very new way of thinking about your distribution, but also the way in which you target games to your audience.

Nicholas Francis will also be there - he's a co-founder of Unity, which has been one of the leading development platforms to provide cross-platform, something that gives companies some very interesting opportunities to think about what devices or outlets they want their players to use when playing the games.

We've also got the managing director of Endemol Games, Jurian van der Meer - with this Games Anywhere theme it's clear that games are no longer just the domain of the traditional publishers that have been around for years; you see many new media companies stepping into this area and thinking about how they can combine television or films with games. It opens up a whole new spectrum of game idea to develop; how can you integrate a television programme or film with games?

We've also got Scott Steinberg, who'll be talking about how the games industry is going to be turned upside down by all those players that go from traditional devices to the new platforms, like iPhone and Facebook - if you're looking at the question of what the gamers are going to be doing in the next few years, that will be interesting for you.

So it's quite an international line-up so far, and great that those speakers are coming to share their visions on Games Anywhere - plus of course we'll be announcing lots more in the coming

Seth van der Meer is the chairman of Festival of Games. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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