Pop culture and uniting Southern European studios: The future of Paris Games Week
Organiser SELL on its ambitions to reach beyond the boundaries of both the games industry and the country
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The 2023 edition of Paris Games Week was announced last week, with the event returning to the French capital this November.
The event has been running since 2010, although the 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Paris Games Week made a comeback last year with an edition dubbed 'Restart'. But this year, the team behind the event is keen to go back to pre-pandemic heights, with the 2023 edition given the name 'Next level'.
"This 'Next level' edition will be the occasion for us to extend a little bit [on] the experience you can live at Paris Games Week," explains Nicolas Vignolles, general delegate at organiser SELL, one of the key games trade associations in France.
"We will try to make the experience bigger [with] this huge local showcase. We are trying to be more engaged in the gaming culture and all the related media or sectors connected to video games."
"A physical event, to promote products towards the public; it is still worthy for the big companies, it is still something that is valuable"
Beyond the obvious publishers, platform holders, and development studios, Vignolles says Paris Games Week is keen to reach streaming platforms, anime and manga specialists, esports and cosplay companies, as well as pop culture more generally, to make the event a "richer experience."
But more than anything, SELL wants the event to be a place where players can go hands-on with yet-to-be-released games, and is keen to have a well attended show floor to make the most of its strategic spot in the calendar: right in the middle of busy Q4.
"Paris Games Week is always in a very special position," Vignolles says. "We want to have a physical experience, a very hands-on experience, we want to always give the occasion to play to our [audience], to test the games live."
When asked how the 2022 edition fared, he laughs and answers: "It was a fight." But SELL is keen to continue exploring physical events despite a lot of companies and shows having retreated to a more digital place since the pandemic, or having ceased to exist altogether.
Vignolles says there's still a lot of value for companies to show their titles at a physical event.
"We think that Paris Games Week is well positioned and 2022 has confirmed this position. We're just seven weeks before Christmas and it's a very clear position even in the agenda because we are a clear B2C event just before Christmas with a clear consumer objective, KPIs, and positioning.
"So we were quite confident, even during the pandemic period. And it was confirmed because the three [platform holders] were at PGW in 2022; we were the first event in the world to have the three [platform holders after lockdown].
"[Our] positioning is a strength and we think we can capitalise on that DNA in the future – a physical event, to promote products towards the public, to test the games in real [life]; it is still worthy for the big companies, it is still something that is valuable. So we think we can capitalise on that and take the lead on that position."
Rallying games companies to show up at a physical event and buy booths on a show floor can be a struggle in this day and age, as demonstrated by the demise of E3. And Vignolles is transparent about having to overcome that type of challenge with Paris Games Week.
"It's always a promise we make to the public, so we don't want to be deceptive. And the promise is very clear: when you go to PGW, you can play video games. So we need to have the [platform holders], the publishers, we need to have new games. And it's a showcase, it's a very hands-on experience, so [if] we want to build this, we need video games companies to be very involved, even in the way they will be on site. So the clear promise is: if you come to Paris Games Week, you will play games. [But] it's always a challenge."
Legacy events like E3 disappearing from the scene isn't something that worries Vignolles, he tells us, but he's keeping a close eye on the event ecosystem on the other side of the pond nonetheless.
"E3, for the whole ecosystem of video games, is a leader, is a key event, so we are always looking at what happens in the US and especially during the period of E3. It's always bad news when E3 is disturbed. But E3 is not dead. Maybe they can create something new, [and] we are looking at that very seriously. But I think each [organiser] has to renew the way we build physical events."
SELL will announce more information about the programme and the first exhibitors involved in June. And beyond the focus on players, the organiser is also keen to build up the event's B2B aspect, and become an unmissable beat in the calendar for studios in the South of Europe.
"To be honest, our priority [this year] is to develop the B2C aspect in many ways," Vignolles says. "But we want to try to develop in the five years to come a very international dimension, especially if we consider the southern Europe market. We want to develop a [bigger] B2B section."
Business convention Game Connection usually runs alongside Paris Games Week for a few days – and it will return this year as well. SELL is keen to build on these foundations to bring the European industry together, with Vignolles saying they are currently at "the first stage of this new strategy and new positioning," with discussions happening with Game Connection and Business France (a public institution focused on supporting and promoting French companies).
"[Together], we want to organise a huge networking evening in Paris Games Week to connect all the French studios but not only; also to invite a lot of Southern Europe studios to PGW to connect during this evening with the French ecosystem and maybe to invite more investors.
"So it will be the first stage this year. And in the years to come we want to build something bigger, definitely. It's not a priority at this stage because it is first a B2C event but we are clearly in a reflection in that way, to build something bigger."
He continues: "With modesty, we think we can [play] a role for Southern Europe, maybe to [showcase] more [of] the talented studios that exist also in Italy, in Spain. Of course there are wonderful local events in these countries but maybe Paris Games Week could be the place to promote all these studios of Southern Europe. So it's key for the development of Paris Games Week."
"We think we can [play] a role for Southern Europe, to [showcase] more [of] the talented studios that exist also in Italy, Spain"
Discussions have already started with local trade bodies and organisations in these countries, Vignolles adds. And European studios and delegations will already be present in the 2023 edition of course, which he says will "kick off this growing 'Europeanisation' strategy for the event."
He adds that the idea isn't necessarily to compete with existing European events such as Gamescom, but more about expanding the international dimension of an otherwise local event.
"And clearly we are looking to the South of Europe [to do that]," he adds. "We think we can be the place to promote this ecosystem."
Paris Games Week was attended by 300,000 people in 2019. The goal this year is to land somewhere between 200,000 and 250,000. Vignolles is hopeful that rallying more voices from various facets of pop culture will help reach that objective.
"We will always be a gaming event but we want to capitalise on the Paris location and develop the pop culture [aspect], to invite more and more sectors connected to gaming. And they are very interested to connect with us, because of our audience and of the popularity of video games. We think there is something bigger to build in that area."
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