Preview: ExPlay 2011

Categorised as GENERAL.

Next weekend bears witness to the 2011 ExPlay, or Extended Play, convention in the South West of England and Marcus Harris and I will be heading down to what is effectively my home city, Plymouth, to attend. It promises to look in depth at how digital entertainment has transformed from a product to a service. We will also be playing a lot of video games and doing a lot of live tweeting…

The video games industry is a huge business now, with some games costing an eye watering amount of money and involving cinematic levels of crew involvement. Explay is a celebration of and an encouragement to the UK games industry and is split into three parts. The first, Bootcamp (unlike on the X-Factor), is a springboard for new creative talent in the area which offers emergent developers an opportunity to get an insight into how to best go about turning their concepts and ideas into the next wave of independent gaming, giving startups a year long program of direct intervention and a steady supply of inspiration from industry experts.

Secondly, the Friday and Saturday will also play host to an interactive “Game Jam” where participants are given the opportunity to create a game – whether they start from scratch or continue work on their own projects is entirely up to them – during an intensive 20-hour “hack-a-thon” spread over the two days.

The Conference is the third part of the festival and includes dozens of speakers from various aspects of the digital entertainment industry; games journalists, publishers, studio heads, academics and some well recognised people in the current game development community of the UK, including Ian Livingstone and Richard Wilson.

Yeah, I know. They’re probably not household names to the majority of people. Richard Wilson is the CEO of TIGA, the trade association responsible for the representation of the gaming industry in the UK. Under Wilson’s guidance, TIGA spearheaded the movement to give tax breaks to UK based game developers and publishers, both in-house and independent. He’s in a pretty unique position and it’s hard to argue that anyone currently has more sway over the future progress of gaming in the UK.

Ian Livingstone may, however, be a somewhat more familiar name; at least to the geekier amongst you. Livingstone has been part of the “games” industry since 1975 when he launched Games Workshop with a couple of friends, which is now the largest tabletop game retailer in the UK, as well as the primary distributor of Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer, Warhammer: 40,000. He has also written fantasy novels, including The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain, a single-player RPG-novel that my Dad gave me a copy of when I was younger – and proceeded to power through during a family holiday.

This is a lot more exciting than watching kids play with figurines they have painted badly

However, Livingstone is probably better known as the Life President (like a dictator) and CEO of Eidos Interactive, who are arguably the most important game publisher in the UK, with some of the most important and iconic intellectual properties of all time in their repertoire, including the Deus Ex, Time Splitters and Tomb Raider franchises. Livingstone is one of the few people who have seen the progression of games from their origin, both tabletop and digital, and his keynote promises a brief history of computer games, touching on their past, present and possible future.

The third and final keynote on the Saturday will be coming from Paul Taylor, the Joint Managing Director of Mode 7 Games, the independent developers of the award winning 2007 release Determinance, as well as their latest effort, Frozen Synapse, which launched on Steam earlier this year to much critical acclaim. Taylor is someone whose first game failed in a rather spectacular fashion, as well as having a substantial hit with his second, so he is well versed in the highs and lows of the gaming industry.

And of course we wont be stuck in a conference hall all day. I will be taking Marcus on a lengthy tour of the Plymouth nightlife, which includes both an Oceana and a Walkabout…. 


Luke Waldock

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