Game on: Bradford hosts Yorkshire Games Festival

I was hooked as soon as I read the blurb: a near-future anti-gravity racing game that brings fast, frantic, adrenaline-fuelled action together with the raw sound of a thumping dance soundtrack and psychedelic visual effects. Formula Fusion is a video game developed by R8 Games for Microsoft Windows and hailed as a spiritual successor to the million-selling Wipeout series.

This one got me as well: a gang of bored friends find themselves locked in a haunted house crammed full of ghosts, exploring the hidden rooms and its dreaded contents for a means of escape. Candy Ghosts is a physical board game and digital companion developed by Wetgenes.

Both developers are based in Bradford and highlight the creativity at work in the UK games industry, which is estimated to generate nearly £3bn in GVA for the national economy and sustain more than 20,000 jobs in development, publishing and retail.

Bradford’s National Science and Media Museum this month hosted the Yorkshire Games Festival, the third such annual event and the biggest to date in terms of international speakers, suggesting that the festival’s reach and reputation is spreading.

The five-day festival was filled with inspiring talks, creative workshops and fun family activities, which the organisers said were designed to celebrate games culture and introduce new generations to the science and art of games development.

Talks included an insight into the imagination of Media Molecule, award-winning developer of the visually stunning PS4 game Dreams, a presentation by the BAFTA-nominated creative technologist Richard England about his work on the Jurassic World VR Expedition and a session about how a semester of social anthropology helped the developers of the hugely successful Hitman series to create dynamic social scenes.

Local independent developers presented their new games to a family audience for beta testing and valuable feedback. The sheer diversity of the medium was showcased with a collection of games that weren’t entirely rooted in the industry, such as the delightful Wobble Garden by Robin Baumgarten, a hand-crafted arrangement of sensing springs combined with reactive lighting and a favourite of the youngest visitors.

For nostalgia lovers, the museum’s Games Lounge featured a line-up of legendary arcade games from the Eighties, such as Street Fighter II, Galaxian, Space Invaders and the mighty Gauntlet. You’ve got to love the original Eighties prices too.

At their best, games offer pure, unadulterated fun and a chance to escape into fantastic new realms of the imagination. Behind the curtain, the creative mastery, developmental expertise and intellectual property realisation are equally awe-inspiring. From a business point of view, many of the technologies pioneered and commercialised by the gaming industry have potent applications for a wide range of sectors, from manufacturing to retail and financial services to agriculture.

For me, the most exciting part of the Yorkshire Games Festival was the opportunity to explore these applications in a two-day matchmaking event called Up Your Game, which was delivered by Bradford Council’s Enterprise Europe Network service and attracted nearly 50 businesses. It was designed to help entrepreneurs, SMEs and other organisations find new partners for collaborations such as commercial or licensing agreements, subcontracting or transfer of technology or knowhow in fields such as virtual reality, augmented reality or gamification.

Specialist tech companies from as far afield as Spain, Lithuania, Romania, Cyprus and Sweden attended Up Your Game and hooked up with Yorkshire firms to explore potential partnerships. These included Mirror 3D Lab from Cyprus, a specialist in 3D scanning, modelling and printing and  creators of true 3D copies of yourself, and Divine Robot from Sweden, a gaming developer that has expanded into corporate VR simulation for a number of different industries.

Congratulations to the festival director Kathryn Penny and the Enterprise Europe Network team. The Yorkshire Games Festival provided an inspirational look at the past, present and future of the industry in a way that was accessible for all ages. And I look forward to seeing what our local businesses can make of all the immersive technology they were exposed to during Up Your Game.

Finally, if anyone thinks this is solely a male preserve, they’d be wrong. Of the 32 million active gamers in the UK, an estimated 15 million are female.

• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club

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