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Yorkshire’s Feral Vector Festival Shows Us That Indie Gaming Needs Greater Support

We headed to Hebden Bridge to speak to some of the games makers and players who stand to shape the future of the industry.

by Jake Tucker
04 June 2015, 3:23pm

All photos by Jake Tucker

Feral Vector ran at a loss of £300 this year.

David Hayward, the event's organiser, is angry. He's not angry about the loss: he's happy to cover the costs to provide something for the community. "I'm angry at senior video game figures that can't talk about the culture of video games," he says in an impassioned opening speech to kick off Feral Vector's festivities. "It always comes back to the money. Every time. That creates a bleak future for them and for us."

It's brave to hold a games event outside of London, especially in the small town of Hebden Bridge, but Hayward has form. After "accidentally" getting into games while trying to use Unreal Engine to design a house, he's been organising events like this one for as long as the UK indie scene has existed, undertaking curator duties for EGX, Rezzed and Virgin Media's Game Space.

"I started to think that conferences were a little dull," Hayward muses, when I ask him about what inspired him to create events like this. " The people I was inviting were quite nervous about speaking on a stage in a hall, but they were really interesting creative people who could do all kinds of stuff. There were things happening at the same time, like Hide & Seek's Sandpit festival, full of amazing games where you run around the Southbank, pretending to be a bee, or you have a room full of contraband that you have to smuggle to somewhere else in the Royal Festival Hall, past people dressed up as security guards without them realising what you're carrying. And, you know, there was little stuff, but that game had things like chairs and a rolled-up carpet and a person pretending to be unconscious.

"And I realised that games events could be a lot more fun, a lot more useful, because I always fall asleep at conferences. Like, in the afternoon, after you've had lunch, you go into some sweaty, stuffy room and listen to some guy droning on from a stage. It just sends me straight to sleep, and I don't want my events to be like that."

There's a real feeling of optimism to Feral Vector. From David's opening speech to the final breakfast on Sunday morning, there's a sense here that gaming is coming together as a community, rather than just an industry.

"I come here for many reasons, but I think one of the main ones is that it's nothing to do with money," says Simon Roth, developer of Maia. "It's nice to go to events and learn stuff, but I'm tired of people telling me that I need to do things just for the money. There's no talk of free to play here, no one is trying to sell me a new business model."

"As an industry we need lots of innovation," he continues, "and here you can bring your little game and get people's reactions without spending £2,000 for a booth or $250 for a conference pass. You can just get out and connect to people."

He stops, stifling giggles as four players all flail into the water as one at the end of a tense round of Gang Beasts. Cheers ring around the large hall. Tickets for Feral Vector started at £30 for the full weekend. Small clusters of people are trying out new games for the first time on laptops as their developers look on nervously, while popular party games are being played out in the main space.

"Here, there's massive explosions of stuff coming together in new ways that are completely awesome, rather than just incremental improvements," Roth says. "That means that someone here is going to go home and invent the next indie breakout. It's not about if these games are commercially viable, but whether or not they're innovative."

Rather than focussing on video games as a medium, Feral Vector is championing the values behind games and play. George Buckenham's Twitter Bot Workshop wasn't about video games, rather creativity and innovation: he wrote a tool before the event to allow attendees without coding experience to learn easily, which is now available for all to use.

Other activities have a similar ethos: botany walks featured Proteus developer Ed Key chowing down on various (hopefully) edible plants and Harry Giles' game-poem exercise had attendees showing off their best primal screams and discovering the workshop areas weren't soundproofed. A spontaneous micro-talk at the counter for tea focussed on one attendee's love for Neko Atsume, a cat collecting game available solely in Japanese that infiltrates the smartphones of every person that comes into contact with it. For the rest of the event people were furtively showing off pictures of digital cats they'd charmed.


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This is what Feral Vector is all about. There's a human side to games that can get swallowed up between all the hype and bluster of the triple-A machine. This event and others like it are giving people new experiences and new opportunities. The sense that the games industry is moving forwards here, in a small building in Yorkshire, is equal parts humorous and invigorating.

It's not easy going. Without the big money publishers throw at the larger industry events, this area could be starting to flounder. William Pugh, one of the writers behind The Stanley Parable, is showing Bird Ball and The Kevin Patterson Experience at the show, and thinks this level of event is essential.

"I deeply wish that there is a trend to events like this," he tells me. "But I don't know if I'd say that there was. I'd say that it's becoming increasingly difficult to get funding for these sorts of things. I mean, I know people who run stuff like Screenshake over in Belgium, more than half the energy that they're putting into their festivals is trying to acquire funding via stuff like Indiegogo. I wouldn't think you'd see Arts Council England funding something like this. I don't want to get... I'm not getting political, but I think I'd be very worried about the trajectory that we see, like, the notion of publicly funded arts stuff going, with the new government.

"So, I'm saying that I deeply, deeply wish that there is a trend towards this sort of stuff, but I worry for its future."

I'm happy to get political about it. Inclusive and exploratory occasions like Feral Vector are essential for shaping the next wave of video games. The future isn't sticky controllers while people paw at the latest Call of Duty in humid conference halls: it's in these smaller events, that bring people together and let them share ideas in a safe space, where everyone can speak up and be heard.

@_jaketucker

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Tagged:
Gaming
Interviews
Jake Tucker
Indie Gaming
Gang Beasts
Feral Vector
Proteus
Hebden Bridge
The Stanley Parable
Maia
David Haywood
Simon Roth
George Buckenham
William Pugh