Two new major video game-themed events kick-off in New York this year with plans to become annual festivals that celebrate and discuss games and the people who make them.
This weekend, the Tribeca Film Festival holds its first Tribeca Games event and this summer, Play NYC will open its doors for a weekend of gaming and game development training. The two join the annual New York Comic Con, more than a fifth of which is focused on gaming, as part of New York City’s growing love of celebrating game culture.
Film producer Jane Rosenthal founded the Tribeca Film Festival with Robert De Niro and Craig Hatkoff in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. She recently told me she’s had a long interest in video games, in particular in the non-linear way many video games approach storytelling. And while this is the first year that Tribeca has expanded its footprint to include video games as a weekend-long event, the film fest has a relatively long history of exploring the medium.
In 2011, Rockstar games showed off game-noir title L.A. Noire to a festival crowd, with the some of those involved in the creation of the game then taking questions from the audience.
“What Rockstar and Team Bondi have accomplished with L.A. Noire is nothing less than groundbreaking,” Geoff Gilmore, chief creative officer of Tribeca Enterprises said in a prepared statement at the time. “It’s an invention of a new realm of storytelling that is part cinema, part gaming, and a whole new realm of narrative expression, interactivity, and immersion. We are poised on the edge of a new frontier.”
Rosenthal said that Tribeca’s growing interest in gaming is tied to what she sees as the changing business of films, one that is fueled by technological and generational shifts.
Ultimately, though, it’s all still about telling great stories, she said.
Two years ago, Tribeca even explored competitive esports, first bringing a League of Legends tournament to Madison Square Garden and later that year hosting an event to explore the art of the game.
This year, Tribeca decided top host two days of panels, bringing game developers in to discuss their creations with moderators, including both game journalists and movie makers. The results include some interesting pairings, like Max Payne creator Sam Lake talking with Limitless director Neil Burger or BioShock creator Ken Levine chatting with Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman.
“This is the first of something I really hope we will be doing in the future,” Rosenthal said. “Not necessarily as part of the film festival but perhaps as its own event.”
Years ago, when the Penny Arcade Expo was looking to expand east, organizers looked at bringing it to New York City, but ultimately settled on Boston. That’s because in part Boston seemed to want it more, said Lance Fensterman, senior global vice president of ReedPop, which hosts the show.
He said the reason Boston got the show and not New York was because Boston was more interested. New York didn’t have the space, and New York Comic Con, which ReedPop also runs, has its own video game audience.
Video games make up about 20 percent of New York Comic Con each year, said ReedPop vice president Mike Kisken, and the show continues to grow. About three years ago, it outgrew the Javits Center and started expanding to other venues around the city, including Madison Square Garden. Kisken said NYCC is continuing to look for new venues for the fall event.
“We know we’re going to have to grow city-wide eventually,” he said.
Play NYC is the newcomer to what will become a trifecta of New York City gaming events.
The first Play NYC will run this August over one weekend, with hopes to bring in 5,000 people to check out games and attend classes centered on the improvement of game development.
“Basically, what we are doing is putting together New York’s version of PAX meets GDC,” said even organizer Dan Butchko. “We’re going to finally give New York the dedicated games convention it deserves.
“There are a lot of other related events that happen in the city, but we feel like there isn’t one in place that is a New York signature event or highlights the games coming out of New York.”
The upcoming summer event, which will run on Aug. 19 and Aug. 20 at the Terminal 5 concert venue, will strive to embody what Butchko sees as the core values of Playcrafting, which hosts events in four cities, including New York, to “empower the game development community through events and education.”
Playcrafting offers classes on a variety of topics that touch on video games and game development. In fact, I teach one such course on games journalism through Playcrafting. The group also hosts semi-regular meet-ups which include both video game demos and talks on gaming.
Playcrafting’s spring event, which happened this month in New York, drew in about 900 people and 114 games, Butchko said. That’s one of the reasons he decided it was time to expand the concept to something aiming to be much larger.
“We’ve been doing Playcrafting expos for about four years now,” he said. “What started as originally ten developers sitting in a room and showing their games to each other has exploded.
“That’s a huge indicator that this is the kind of event the New York community needs.”
Tribeca’s Rosenthal sees that need too.
“New York has three of the best gaming schools and it’s an under-served population,” she said. “We are 100 percent committed to continuing to do this event.”
Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding editor and executive editor of Polygon.