the most fantastic thing about the Norwich scene is the amount of support and events available for young people
When talking tech we often think of software development in a commercial sense, to solve a problem or cut expenditure. But tech isn’t just about business processes or entrepreneurial start-ups, it can also be for pure entertainment! With that in mind, the 28th May marks the beginning of the week long Norwich Gaming Festival, hosted by The Forum. Featuring classic arcade games right up to virtual reality (and even some board games) it has something for every age and every level. There’s even talks to give you the lowdown on what it takes to be a game developer and code clubs to give you a head start in the industry! And it’s all for FREE! We spoke to Dan, one of the brains behind the festival, to get the inside track and, more importantly, if he’s Xbox or Playstation (turns out he’s neither!)
When did Norwich Gaming Festival begin?
Norwich Gaming Festival started life as Retro Arcade in 2012, as a way of offering something free, interactive and unique to young people and families during the Easter holidays. Norwich Gaming Festival is a non-profit event run by The Forum Trust, a self-financing charitable organisation which manages The Forum building in Norwich. All money raised by the festival is invested back into the event.
What was the impetus for starting a festival like this?
The original inspiration and suggestion came from one of The Forum team members who loved retro gaming and suggested that The Forum should host a retro gaming event to offering something free, interactive and unique during the Easter holidays.
Why should a whole festival be dedicated to gaming?
Gaming is a fantastic medium to dedicate a festival to, as a result of the variety of experiences available - and the number of different job roles required to make games possible. From game designers, to writers, programmers & lawyers - the festival allows us to explore all the different elements of development and the games industry as a whole. We often find that although young people know they would like to look at getting into the games industry - it's often difficult to know where to start, or what roles in industry actually exist. It's also a great way to demonstrate transferable skills - as the skills required to create elements of a game can transfer into other fields. For example, one of our guest speakers turned their passion for games into a career as a games industry specialised lawyer.
What is the demographic of attendees?
We pride ourselves in being a family friendly event – targeting demographics that other gaming events can struggle to reach. We aim to reach: Gaming enthusiasts, Newcomers keen to learn more, Young people, Families and older generations, Game developers, industry freelancers, and gaming course students and graduates.
What are some of the highlights people can look forward to this year?
This year, we have a record number of developers joining us for the Festival - with over 50 games announced so far, and we'll be adding more games in the run up to the Festival. On the 1st & 2nd of June, we'll be running the Industry Days, presented by our Lead Educational Partners, Norwich University of the Arts; with speakers from various backgrounds in the games industry running free talks - which we'll be announcing in the run up to the Festival.
One of the additions we're most excited about is the creation of our relaxed sessions in the evenings of the 29th & 30th of May. These sessions are designed for children with additional needs, allowing them to enjoy a visit without the usual crowds, at their own pace.
Is there anything new for this year?
One of the most interesting new additions to the Festival this year, I feel, is the GameMaker workshops delivered by game developers Shaun Spalding & Tommy Thompson. These are introductory sessions to game development where, using the audiences concepts and designs, Shaun & Tommy will be building a playable game in just an hour - which visitors will then be able to play at the Festival! We ran these sessions as part of our learning week in February and the results were fantastic - we can't wait to see what our visitors come up with!
Are there any trends in gaming you’ve noticed?
Since I first got involved with the Festival in 2015, the main trend I've noticed is people treating gaming as more of a social activity and looking for more varied and unique experiences. In the previous generation of consoles, online gaming was a huge focus, and local multiplayer games were quite difficult to find; but this niche has come back in a big way with social games from smaller studios such as Overcooked by Ghost Town games, or with experiences such as PlayLink on the PS4 with games like Hidden Agenda.
How does the Norwich tech scene compare to other regions do you think?
As only ever having really been part of the Norwich tech scene, I'm not sure how it compares to other regions - but I think the most fantastic thing about the Norwich scene is the amount of support and events available for young people. There are so many fantastic jams & events happening over Norfolk and everyone is always happy to help to deliver more opportunities to young people, which I think is fantastic.
Do other areas have gaming festivals? How does Norwich’s fest compare?
There aren’t as many regional gaming festivals as you might expect. We aren’t as big as London Games Festival or Insomnia but that’s a good thing as size isn’t our focus. We’re different because of our family friendly and indie developer focus.
Are you a gamer yourself? What platforms do you play on and what is your current game of choice?
As well as being a gamer, I'm also a game developer - which means I often struggle to find the time to play games! I currently make use of my Nintendo Switch the most - as it has a tonne of great indie titles and it's portability makes the games super accessible, without having a negative impact on the experience.
Lastly, how can people get involved in Norwich Gaming Fest?
There's a handful of ways that people can get involved with this year's festival; we offer free exhibition space to game developers hoping to show their projects, and applications are open on our website. Young developers who have made something they'd like to bring along can apply to bring their projects to our Warp Zone on the 29th of May; these projects can be anything game or tech related - and could have been crafted at home, at school, or even as part of a jam! On the evening of the 31st of May, Code Club will be running a volunteer training session for anyone confident with technology or code, and are keen to find out more about running their own Club Event.