Was it an attempt to legitimise games as a cultural form? Well as part of the wider Edinburgh cultural festival this month you could head to the Royal Museum for the public exhibition ‘Go Play Games’ and attend a one day conference called ‘The Future of Entertainment is Interactive. Celebrating the creativity and growing cultural impact of videogames.’

I was in Edinburgh for a bit of culture so I though I would attend the games conference to try and make some contacts with companies in the UK and see what delegates had to say about the ‘cultural impact’ of videogames. I failed on both counts.

Firstly, the day was so packed with sessions that the only time one had to meet and greet was over lunch, a difficult time to talk it has to be said. Having said that the sound of an Irish accent was enough to attract a group of Irish people, some working in the UK and some from Ireland – including Torc Interactive and the North Western Institute in Derry – who are soon launching a games course (see the forums for info.). Also met a representative from Meeja in Dundalk who are working on a game but the guy disappeared from the dinner Q so quickly I couldn’t get any more info. So it is not true to say I didn’t make contacts – but interestingly many of them were Irish. Oh, and all knew of gamedevelopers.ie and had visited the forums so word is getting around.

Secondly, there was little new said about the cultural impact of games although many of the speakers were more realistic about the impact of games than is usually the case at such conferences. For example, the usual stats were trotted out about the games industry being bigger than film but in the afternoon Seamus Blackley, did a great job in debunking these statistics and pointing to the problems facing the industry, including sequelitis and the lack of professionalism. (I wonder did anyone suggest he might enter the Edinburgh Fringe festival as a stand up – I see a budding Perrier award winner there!)

The importance of developing original IP was raised in the first session by Rod Cousens of Acclaim who argued that contrary to popular belief there has been a greater number of original IP and franchises developed by the industry in the past three years than film/TV franchises. The session went on to discuss if the industry was mass market yet and if not how they might get there. Is it an issue of price or of quality? Is it advertising that puts women off or are they just a more demanding and discerning market? It would appear that while the battle for the legitimacy of games has been won inside major corporations like Microsoft and Sony, much has yet to be done out in the marketplace itself.

Indeed things need to change within the industry itself too. Call me paranoid but did anyone else notice the almost complete lack of women on the various panels during the day? The only female panellist was Aleksandra Krotoski, former presenter of Thumb Bandits, and she got a pretty small slot to air her views on women in games, even too short for me to jump in with findings from my research – guys try better to get a balance next time please!

The session on ‘Hollywood or Bust’ told us things we knew – that the process of creating a game and a film are different and the two processes have much to learn from each other. It didn’t go much further although it was nice to see previews of the new Bond and Alias games. And the participants seemed to think that bettering scripting would add more emotion to games, although TV scripting might be a better model to follow than film scripting.

Defining innovation is a tricky task – but the three examples offered in the innovation session did enough to whet appetites and lure us into a false sense that anything is possible in this industry. From Fightbox, the TV programme which will merge virtual and studio technology this Autumn to Peter Molyneux’s new game Fable we saw some great visuals without gaining much insight into the practical problems encountered when one tries to get an innovative idea made.

For me the Music Master Class was a disappointment, not for the fact that the speakers did not know their stuff, but rather for the fact that the only person who was working fulltime on sound in games failed to get his ideas across. It was a problem of chairing, an eloquent speaker from the film industry and an academic who all had interesting things to say in their own right, but who drowned out the only person actually involved in designing sound for games on a fulltime basis.

And then we ended up the day with an audience participation exercise. Even Clive Tyldesley, the host for the day, got into it ‘crawling’ over the audience to distribute a microphone to eager participants.

During this session what was left of the audience were invited to tease, heckle and cheer for the best of four soccer games – none of which I was in a position to judge it has to be said. But I was sitting beside a guy from EA whose FIFA soccer game was the most derided game – if the most successful in sales terms – and he took it all in good spirit. I am also proud to report that the ‘Irish row’ of attendees – yes there were that many – were successful in answering a number of the general knowledge soccer questions. I even managed to answer a few myself. And the winner? Pro Evolution Soccer from Konami. The chair of the session, Danny Kelly, was another possible entrant into the Perrier award as he delicately tread the line between questioning and insulting his panellists.

As for the evening’s entertainment. Well I remember that Metroid Prime won the nVidia award for excellence and innovation, although the place was so packed it was almost impossible to see the screen or hear what was going on. The rest is somewhat hazy.