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The importance of regional events in supporting a healthy industry

How the Yorkshire Games Festival is fostering accessibility outside of London

While London is frequently thought of as an epicentre for the British games industry, it's certainly not the full story. In fact, according to UKIE figures, 72.1% of companies are based outside of the capital, and increasingly regional organisations are pushing the message that there's more to British games development than London.

The Yorkshire Games Festival, which returns next week to the Bradford Science and Media Museum for its third year, will be the biggest so far with speakers such as Vlambeer's Rami Ismail, Gem Abdeen from Media Molecule, Andreas Öjerfors from MachineGames, Image & Form CEO Brjann Sigurgeirsson, and Mette Andersen from IO Interactive.

This year marks a shift for the festival following its partnership with BAFTA Young Game Designers and the new Northern Games Showcase, designed to show off projects from developers across the region. In previous years the showcase was limited to just Yorkshire developers, but as the festival grows so do its constituent parts -- now it includes everything from Newcastle to Manchester.

Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Kathryn Penny from the Bradford Science and Media Museum, and Jamie Sefton from Game Republic, discussed how the Yorkshire Games Festival is good for the health of the wider industry.

"We're there to show kids that you can be from this area and do brilliant and be in a fantastic industry. There is nothing stopping you"

Jamie Sefton, Game Republic

As Penny said, when the festival was first conceived in 2016, it was done so to "create a bridge between education and employment, responding to the large number of well respected game courses in the region. We wanted to promote inter-generational gameplay, and encourage families to come into the museum and play games together, but we also wanted to promote Yorkshire as a region and the talent within it."

The showcase aspect "brought those objectives together. It really promoted indie games in the region, but it also gave families the opportunities to come and play together". Developers were able to test their games in front of an audience, while families were offered a chance to access games in a way that wasn't previously offered.

According to Sefton, improving the accessibility of games in the North is of particular importance. The North/South wealth disparity in the UK has only worsened after years of austerity, and the industry needs people from all walks of life in order to thrive, especially with the impending threat of Brexit.

"We are losing a lot of people, especially girls in programming and computer science in that 13 to 15 year-old region," he said. "And we need to do better at educating people and letting girls know there is a brilliant career for them in the industry... Bradford is one of the poorest cities in the UK and it's really important that we're there to show kids that you can be from this area and do brilliant and be in a fantastic industry. There is nothing stopping you. Having that aspiration is so important at the moment."

"We want to change the story about video games... and we think the Northern Game Showcase really contributes to that"

Kathryn Penny, Bradford Science and Media Museum

The games industry is well positioned to offer creative careers to people outside of London too, perhaps more so than other industries which predominantly live in the capital.

"Because of the way that digital distribution works, the way the game industry has developed from the 1980s in the UK where we had fantastic hubs in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield... it really is a national industry," said Sefton. "Maybe the media is in London, but it's certainly not a case for the industry itself."

Encouraging students into the creative industries is increasingly vital, with an estimated 1.2 million sector workers needed in the UK by 2022. The Yorkshire Games Festival is but one small piece the churning machine requires to feed eager young minds into the games sector. But it's an uphill battle -- according to a recent survey by visual effects academy Escape Studio, 40% of students felt they weren't given enough information from educators about jobs in the creative industries. Furthermore, 43% of parents were likely to pressure their children into choosing "traditional" career paths such as accounting or engineering.

"We want to change the story about video games," said Penny. "What's it been the last year? It's all be about Fortnite and kids spending too much time playing violent video games... There's absolutely nothing wrong with Fortnite and there's nothing wrong with kids playing it, but we want to start changing the story and we think the Northern Game Showcase really contributes to that.

"Not only are the games family friendly, they are also very broad in range, challenge perceptions of what a game is, and bring families together to play. Because the screen industry around games is growing, because jobs are growing, because we need more children learning coding and computer science, we've got to change the story that goes alongside that; to help grownups see that this is a viable leisure time and it's also a viable career move.I think the game showcase is a really important part of that."

The Yorkshire Game Festival runs from Wednesday, February 6 to Sunday, February 10. GamesIndustry.biz will be attending with help from the organiser.

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Ivy Taylor

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Ivy joined GamesIndustry.biz in 2017 having previously worked as a regional journalist, and a political campaigns manager before that. They are also one of the UK's foremost Sonic the Hedgehog apologists.

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