Silicon Spa continues to soar thanks to its great skills and unique warmth
The inaugural Interactive Futures festival, held in Leamington Spa, was a resounding success and cemented Warwickshire's place at the heart of the UK digital creative sector. But the county's appeal in the sector extends beyond the vast array of skills that it offers.
Everyone wants to work in a warm, constructive, welcoming environment - and that's exactly what you get in the Silicon Spa cluster, says Warwickshire County Council investment officer Sim Lee.
"The Festival perfectly summed up the skills, warmth and 'can do' attitude that drives Silicon Spa."
Sumo Digital, the Sheffield-headquartered studio famous for titles such as Littlebigplanet 3, Outrun 2 and the upcoming Team Sonic Racing, recently announced the opening of their fifth UK studio in Leamington Spa.
This prestigious addition brings the number of games studios in the town to 51 and in the Coventry & Warwickshire area to 84 - more than in other development powerhouses such as Sheffield (41), Bristol (50), Guildford (70) and Brighton (73). [*The games industry in numbers, UKIE, 2018]
With so many studios in a town of just 55,000 people, you might expect almost unhealthy competition for talent and space. Far from that, however, Leamington continues to thrive on this competition with studios assisting and supporting each other and celebrating each other's success - and that is unique to this cluster.
The continued growth and success of Silicon Spa owes much to the character and skills of those working in the industry, of course, but also to the long history of game development in the area. If you were to draw up a family tree of studios since Codemasters first started in the mid-1980s, most of the studios operating here today would display some of that original DNA - and almost all developers in the area have some connection with Codemasters.
After Codemasters shed a big proportion of their staff throughout the '90s, many who worked for them stayed in the area and setup by themselves. Some became large AAA studios such as Playground Games and Pixel Toys, employing hundreds between them, but many remained small and acted as a crucial pool of talent and expertise for the larger studios during their development cycles.
The closeness and mutually-supportive relationships between these studios just isn’t found in other clusters such as Dundee, Brighton and Guildford, which is perhaps one of the catalysts for such a successful ecosystem in Leamington.
The Interactive Futures festival was a perfect example of the cooperation and collaboration of the studios. In the planning stages of the event, recruitment managers and heads of studios were frequently seen in meetings with other studios and they all exhibited alongside each other at the showcase expo. Shared activity like this is almost unheard of in other clusters and industries but in Leamington they see the bigger picture - the importance of attracting talent to the area and raising the profile of Silicon Spa.
The inaugural event itself exceeded expectations on all levels. Footfall tripled the initial target, student workshops were all fully booked, exhibitors rebooked for 2020 and Ubisoft even had to repeat one of their talks during the lunch hour as the stage was at capacity first time round.
There was a lot of wonderful feedback. Barnaby Smith, of SabreSaurus said:"Exhibiting at Interactive Futures opened up opportunities that are difficult to find for indie developers, allowing us to meet both potential commercial partners as well as players. There's no substitute for seeing so many people play your game for the first time - the Local Indie Showcase enabled us to learn from players, promote the game and meet industry from around the world."
Paul Marrable, of Flump Studios, reflected upon Interactive Futures as "one of the most enjoyable events I've been lucky enough to exhibit at," adding "there were some fantastic speakers and exhibitors at the show and the visitor engagement was just fantastic. Roll on Interactive Futures 2020.”
Warwickshire County Council is proud to be a co-organiser of the event and will continue to support activity like this to help raise the profile of Silicon Spa and attract and inspire the next generation of creative talent. Our thanks go to all who were involved in making Interactive Futures such a brilliant success. The Festival perfectly summed up the skills, warmth and 'can do' attitude that drives Silicon Spa.