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Looking Ahead: GameHorizon 2009

Carri Cunliffe on the main focus for this year's event, and why the games industry contains so many regional hubs

Now the games industry is fully into event season, GamesIndustry.biz is looking ahead to another event that will be a close partner this year - the GameHorizon Conference, taking place at the end of June in Newcastle/Gateshead, in the north of England.

To find out more about the event, and what the main topics of discussion will be, we spoke to Carri Cunliffe, the head of sector development at Codeworks GameHorizon.

GamesIndustry.biz How do you feel GameHorizon has developed since it first started?
Carri Cunliffe

Well, we started off doing a smaller, niche events which appealed to UK developers, and we've always had a wider audience than just regional or Northern developers coming to our events - because we've spent a lot of time thinking about what the themes should be and what the current topics are.

That's where we started, and we've just grown. We did something in 2007 with Game Republic called Northern Exposure and that was our biggest event prior to GameHorizon. It was about 150 attendees, and we thought that if we could get 150 people to a half-day event then we should be looking to grow the event to become two days.

I think what's quite interesting is that people have said from the start they liked our event because they were themed, and they got to meet the people they wanted to meet - we attract business people to our event, because our themes tend to be about where the industry is going, what the business models are, future technology, and so on.

GamesIndustry.biz So looking at this year's event specifically, what are the main topics?
Carri Cunliffe

From the very nature of what's happening in the games industry a lot of the themes are based around digital distribution - that obviously encompasses a broad area, but if you look at it, a lot of companies are either publishing new games themselves, or looking at current IP and distributing that via digital distribution methods.

GamesIndustry.biz What sort of numbers are you expecting this year?
Carri Cunliffe

We're expecting around 300 people at least.

GamesIndustry.biz Compared to some events, that's not huge, but I imagine it enables strong networking options?
Carri Cunliffe

It does - I think the unique selling point of GameHorizon is that we attract executives, like studio heads, acquisition professionals, and basically the people making the business decisions.

The feedback that we had last year was positive, because you're able to meet all of the people you want to do business with in one room. You don't have to sit down and work out which talks you want to go to, or when you've got a free five minutes to do some networking.

GamesIndustry.biz You've got some interesting speakers - David Jones, for example - how did you get him involved?
Carri Cunliffe

We actually had an event earlier in the year called The Future of Games is Online, and we had Mario Rizio from Realtime Worlds talking about APB - so actually it kind of grew off the back of that.

GameHorizon is well networked across the UK, Europe and the US, so we tend to have a lot of contacts in a number of games companies. I think all we really did was speak to Realtime Worlds explaining that we were expanding on the earlier event, and would they speak? And they said yes.

GamesIndustry.biz So although the event is based in Newcastle/Gateshead, it's not just about issues local to that area?
Carri Cunliffe

It's not about local issues - the games industry by its very nature is global - but it's a big help to Northern developers and publishers because they actually don't have to travel so far. The benefit to GameHorizon as a regional network is that it's on their doorstep.

GamesIndustry.biz But what are the issues facing local businesses there?
Carri Cunliffe

Well, I've touched on it already - a lot of companies are looking at self-publishing.

GamesIndustry.biz Why is that happening now? Is it because of the economy, or technology?
Carri Cunliffe

Obviously technology is one thing, but the other side of it is that it's an opportunity to try and take control of their own IP. Working with publishers means that developers have to give away a lot of money, and some of the decision-making on the product as well, and I think a lot of companies are now looking - with the advances in technology and the availability of methods to distribute games as well - to actually keep hold the control of their IP.

GamesIndustry.biz Has there been much economic impact in the area?
Carri Cunliffe

Not at the moment, no. We've not seen any major closures, and fingers crossed there won't be any major impact massively in terms of the economic problems.

GamesIndustry.biz The UK games industry - unlike other media - is very well spread out in hubs. Why does that happen for the videogames business, when it doesn't really happen for film or TV?
Carri Cunliffe

There was one company set up in the region, called Tynesoft, and it almost became a training ground for creating talent in the region, with people leaving to set up their own businesses. I think it then becomes a kind of virtuous circle.

I think that's the reason why there's a strong cluster, and I think the reason it's remained a strong cluster is because they do actually work together. GameHorizon was created in 2004 - before that they didn't really talk to each other that much, but since then the companies have been sharing information, resources - even people. And the larger companies are working with the smaller ones, so if they haven't got enough talent in-house for a project, they will outsource to smaller companies in the region.

Definitely networks do work - I think they work for the bigger companies as well as the smaller ones. We have a number of start-up companies that were spun out from Teesside University and their biggest issue is actually building track record. In order to do that they work with the bigger companies which are a bit further north and then develop that history.

Then they can win their own contracts in their own right.

Carri Cunliffe is head of sector development at Codeworks GameHorizon. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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