Thursday, 16 June 2016

UK Games Expo 2016 - Teaching with Games Seminar

So the seminar was billed as - "How are games used to teach and learn? Games Jams, boardgames sessions and design are increasingly used in universities around the UK to help the next generation of games developers explore gaming. Come and find out how games help us learn, what academics are getting up to in various universities around the country, and where you can learn games design! 

Dr Esther MacCallum-Stewart is joined by Douglas Brown, Brian McDonald, Patrick Morrison and James Wallis."

Well, did it live up to that?  Kinda sorta...

The seminar covered two key things -

  • Game design whether it be video, mobile or whatever has it's foundations in board game design.  If you can design a board game then you have the building blocks for any sort of game.
  • Game Jams are cool (more below) and give attendees the opportunity / challenge to create a game from scratch over roughly 48 hours.
What it didn't cover was the use of games as an tool for education as it was focused on the use of tabletop games as a design method as part of an educational programme.  No biggie, I still got stuff out of it just not what I wanted or went in to get.

The topic of using games as a tool for education is what "Teaching with Games" suggests it would be about.  Granted the description doesn't spin that way and does lean more to the game design aspect.  I would have liked to have heard something for the former but was happy with what I heard ultimately anyway.

Core element of the seminar that I took was the power of Game Jams.

So what is a Game Jam then?  Well it's like a lot of "creative bubble" events. You enter with nothing more than a desire to create something and leave with an idea developed and physically represented by a prototype.

In the 1st Chapter I ran 24 Hour Comic Book Day and 24 Hour RPG / Game Chef events at the shop.  These are essentially Game Jams by a different name.  Arrive with nothing, take some keywords and formulate an idea either on your own or in a team then turn it into something tangible.  Sites like 1000 Monkeys, 1000 Typewriters specialise in distributing that kind of content in games at least.

The Game Jams that the panel talked about tended to 48 hour events (long enough to crash and burn then recover to achieve something) which is different from those I've hosted and I can see the advantage of that.  Especially in the case of 24 Hour Comic Book Day which is 24 pages in 24 hours, a much harder task than you'd consider on the face of it.

So having taken away the Game Jam guidance they gave I think I see their inherent advantage over the one's I hosted in the 1st Chapter.  Not least of which is the 48 hours involved as the number of times someone "won" a 24 hour event was few and far between.  Giving them 48 hours enables that reset and try again opportunity plus of course it also means you're more likely to come out with a pretty decent prototype game and associated components!

For those interested in holding a Game Jam here are some links -

Global Game Jam

Scottish Game Jam
Moray Game Jam Website -
Glasgow Caledonian University Game Jam -

Plus Game Jam Central -

If you do host one or are interested in doing one, let me know!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

UK Games Expo 2016 - RPGLifeUK TweetUp

As per my previous post about RPG Life UK I met up with some twitter folks to talk about RPGs and other stuff.

Tweetup Part 1 - Hilton Thursday 8pm

For something that was largely a random collection of twitter folks this went better than it probably should have.  Ok, so we didn't really get into any kind of debate about the UK RPG Scene or anything like that other than to conclude early on that there really wasn't one.

The group chat seemed to only last for about 15 to 30 minutes but after that we largely split off into different groups to chat about all things hobby and not just RPGs.  Also had the benefit of chatting with a retailer post the retailer event to get the inside “scoop” on what was coming out.  Some cool stuff was talked about (Mystic Vale I'm thinking of you) but nothing ground breaking or market changing etc.

There was one particularly interesting snippet from the overall conversation - "There are lots of RPG conventions in the UK so we don’t need any more."

Ok so this wasn't what was actually said but it was how I interpreted what was being said.

We didn’t really get into this in the tweetup but I've been reflecting on it since the tweetup itself and I suppose my underlying thought here is that it’s not actually reflective of the UK.

It may be reflective of England but then that’s probably not a surprise given the relatively healthy state of the English RPG con scene.
It is also probably a reflective position as the diversity of RPGs people were interested in and able to talk about at the tweetup likely has a causal relationship to the diversity of the cons where RPGs are played in England.  A lot of the games people talked about were small press and relatively obscure (to me), including a decent selection of home designed systems.  All of which is great but serves to remind me that I’m not gaming enough, or specifically not RPGing enough to enable any form of diversity in my RPG gaming.  Something that I need to resolve or accept.

Tweetup Part 2 - Beer Bus Saturday 2pm

A few extra / new faces this time and it was a more general meet & greet.  Managed to chat with Adam from RPGKitchen about Game Jams / Game Chef (I’ll include content in the post I’ll do on the seminar) which was a lot of fun.

Again it was a pleasure to chat with folks who have a similar interest and for want of a better word “belong”.

Conclusions?  Well other than I need to do more of this sort of thing I also took away a number of outcomes that I will endeavour to achieve.  Let's cover that in a future post though as I think reality it's as much about a re-visit of my hobby objectives as it is anything else.

Monday, 6 June 2016

UK Games Expo 2016 - Summary Thoughts


I had fun, met some great people, played some great games, bought some games, drank beer (some good, some not) and all in all had a great time.


  • Travel there and back went smoothly. No real delays and we made good time despite some crazy drivers on the road at times!
  • RPGLifeUK TweetUp - Will cover that in a separate post, both the tweetup(s) themselves and the outcomes I am considering, but all in all it was fantastic to be able to meet up with folks.
  • Seminar on Games in Education - Also a separate post but at a high level the seminar was a) overly focussed on those who want to work in the industry (negative) and b) great at providing an insight into the Game Jam process (positive).
  • Using the NEC really gave the con a feeling of scale and of course fantastic presence with general public.  What it also enabled was a fantastic amount of game space in the Hilton which removed the need for what must have been an expensive marquee from last year.  There are niggles with the split site (see below) but overall the UK Games Expo team delivered.
  • Trade presence. Good balance between small press <=> publisher <=> retailer and but still some notable absentees. Someone needs to kick people like Wizards Of The Coast to make sure they know how big a deal this convention is becoming. 12,500 unique attendees (current estimates) is a huge deal.  Last year the Origins convention in Columbus Ohio reached 15,938 unique attendees with a turnstile attendance of 43,791 over 5 days (versus an estimated 25,000 over 3 days at UKGExpo).  This isn't to be sniffed at as Origins is a flagship event for the hobby.
  • Food trucks were fantastic serving some fantastic food at great prices.  I can't compliment them enough.
  • General ambiance of “comfortable happy” with added sprinkles of fun. It was a more relaxed experience compared to last year where the whole con felt rushed and compressed.  There was room to breathe this year.


  • Split site…  Ok so I always knew that this was going to be a grumble topic. 2 perspectives of the split site arrangement between the NEC and the Hilton.
    • The NEC set up - Hall 1 is pretty big. What that meant was that on the Friday the hall felt bigger than the con needed, on the Saturday that was less the case though as the masses turned up. Is that emptiness a bad thing?  Well no but it sends a signal (to me at least) that the event wasn’t necessarily getting the industry support that it requires.
      Now to be fair(er) the leap in space from single site is significant but at the same time there were areas of non-use in the hall and areas of “poor” use in the hall.  By non-use I mean there were cordoned off areas that were actually empty.  Devoid of content.  Not small areas either. Unsure if this was a necessary evil or something else was at play...
      Poor use elements would include the seminars being in a cordoned off area that struggled to cope with the background noise of the wider hall - or at least they did in the case of the 1 seminar I attended.  Not exactly a representative sample I know.  I would have thought that seminars would have been better served in the Hilton OR if they'd used / created an actual room in the NEC for them...
    • The dual site nature - It’s a short walk which is absolutely fine. I’d almost go so far as to say it was a good thing to encourage attendees to take in some fresh air and move (other than round the trade hall) as the temptation is to sit and play games all day.  The kicker is though that by having the con split it breaks the ambiance and atmosphere a little. It also breaks the attendees into 2 distinct groups.  Those who are there “just to shop” and those who are there to game throughout the con.  If I’d been playing in RPGs all weekend or even the Heroclix events I wouldn’t have done as much browsing in the trade hall never mind any actual shopping.  Plus given that 99% of all the ticketed events were at the Hilton I don't really understand why the ticketing was at the NEC...

      Obviously this is all a learning curve for the organisers as the inclusion of the NEC has added some extra funkiness.
  • Bring Buy - I think this has become too big to be something that can be adequately managed. It's almost become one of those "big cons don't do it" things.  To give it the space that it would need to make it work better & smoother and avoid it being disruptive to surrounding traders I think the con would reach or breach that point where it made sense financially.  Yeah it raises a fantastic amount of money for charity, truly a fantastic amount but there must be a tipping point where the square feet it would need would cost more than the money involved.
    Or an alternative is found... 

So there are more bullets under Highlights than Lowlights and in reality the Lowlights are more about the challenges that scale brings to any event.

There are other things I still want the con to do that it isn't and other things that I'd change / seek to improve on but those aren't Lowlights per se...  I may re-visit my evolutionary steps post from last year to look at what I’d change for future years but in reality there's very little wrong with UK Games Expo and that is something to celebrate.