ELSPA boss discusses the UK's new games event
Following the announcement of London Interactive, a week-long games festival set to run at the end of next summer, we spoke to ELSPA director general Roger Bennett about the Europe's newest videogames event.
Following the announcement of London Interactive, a week-long games festival set to run at the end of next summer, we spoke to ELSPA director general Roger Bennett about Europe's newest videogames event.
The London Interactive week will encompass a number of events including a new trade show - European Games Network - and a televised public showcase, GameStars Live, as well as many other public-facing events. Controversially, it will run in the same week as is planned for CMP's London Games Week, with European Games Network running on exactly the same days that ECTS 2004 is scheduled for.
The event is being championed by ELSPA, the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association, and has received backing from the Mayor of London and the London tourist board, Visit London. We asked the director general of ELSPA, Roger Bennett, what had led the organisation to choose to launch the new event.
"Our board were concerned to ensure that the best interests of the industry in the UK were developed, and they felt that things have moved on since the old days," explained Bennett. "One of the areas we were particularly concerned to address was the general public, not just consumers who would attend a major consumer event. The hardcore gamers, and even casual gamers, will of course no doubt be thrilled to go to GameStars Live. London Interactive is the umbrella under which all of the events will fit, and it's a really up-front presence publicly - a lot of events, shows and even benign stunts."
"We're very keen to get the general public to sit up and recognise that gaming is a mainstream entertainment medium now," he continued - emphasising one of the key reasons for the launch of the London Interactive event, as he sees it.
However noble the thinking behind the event may be, the fact remains that ELSPA has chosen to compete head to head with CMP's long running ECTS event - a decision which Bennett says was not taken lightly. "CMP did make a pitch to us [for next year's London Games Week] and we had to make a choice," he explains. "We felt the time was right to ring the changes completely. There was a definite groundswell of support for a consumer event, linked to a high profile media partnership, and European Games Network was the obvious choice, since if, as we anticipate, all the major publishing companies and hardware formats choose to be at GameStars Live, this will ensure that they will be in ExCeL [the venue for both events] anyway."
Bennett confirmed that since the announcement of London Interactive there have been no talks between CMP and the organisers of the new rival event, but he expressed hope that a damaging division between the two shows at the end of the August might be avoided.
"CMP actually do have interests in Excel, and it would benefit everyone if the two could come under the same roof," he commented. "We could work to ensure that we have one event and that there is no contradiction in the context of what people have on offer. That would be the ideal."
However, Bennett is adamant that launching a new event on behalf of the industry as a whole rather than working with CMP on London Games Week and ECTS is the right decision. "I don't wish to be disparaging to CMP, as they have served the industry well, but things have moved on," he said. "We need to be moved forward with some innovation, rather than just dwelling on the successes of the past or indeed the failures."
"We believe that the format we have developed will deliver a better interface to both the industry and to the public, and on behalf of the industry as a whole we believe that this is the best way forward... There is no question of us not proceeding with our plans - they are well down the line."
Commenting on the choice of the ExCeL venue, which proved to be a very unpopular choice when ECTS moved there two years ago - prompting a move to the more central Earl's Court the following year - Bennett pointed out that "ExCeL two or three years ago paled into insignificance compared with what it is today - major public events now take place there in a perfect environment. There are now three or four major hotels around it and the infrastructure exists to allow people to stay there for the entire show if they wish. It's a different place now."
ELSPA is extremely serious about the London Interactive event, and it comes to the table with the backing of its membership - namely the UK game publishing community. Although the European Game Network event is unlikely to rival E3 any time soon, the hoped-for involvement of all three major platform holders and all of the key publishers makes it into a very credible European trade show - something which the industry has arguably lacked since the last ECTS show in the Olympia over three years ago.
"It is a fact of life that the vast majority of the companies that distribute both hardware and software throughout Europe are based here in the UK," mused Bennett, "and in those circumstances it is entirely appropriate that there should be an event in the UK that not only celebrates that fact but provides an interface with new users, with the trade and with the public."