The interviews for this article took place before new EGX Rezzed 2020 dates were announced. The event is currently scheduled to take place in early July, and tickets remain on-sale, but given recent events in the UK this seems extraordinarily unlikely.
With GDC postponed and E3 shuttered entirely, it seemed just a matter of time until EGX Rezzed, the UK’s biggest festival of indie games, was forced to bow to the pressures posed by the Covid-19 outbreak. Two weeks before the show was due to take place, organisers announced that it would be postponed until new dates could be secured, removing yet another significant event from the calendars from developers from across the UK and Europe.
EGX Rezzed is not as well-attended as Gamescom, nor as important for industry-wide networking as GDC, but for many of its attendees, it offers a unique opportunity. While shows like E3 and even the mainline EGX events tend to force indie titles into the shadow of major upcoming releases, Rezzed is different: indies are its bread and butter. Laura Millar, whose three-person studio is currently working up to the release of its first game, party brawler Cake Bash, says that the show is “a fantastic event for indies. At larger shows, indie titles can often get missed in the shadows of the AAA blockbusters, but Rezzed feels much more personal. It’s probably the most important UK event in the year for a team of our size.”
Getting eyes on your game is an important part of any trade show, but what Rezzed also offers is an audience that’s passionate about the games that might otherwise be pushed to the sidelines. Haley Uyrus, marketing and communications manager at Mediatonic, tells me that “what’s magical about Rezzed is that the people who go are so excited to play indie games. They’re always very chatty, very keen to hear about what development’s like - they don’t just casually slide up and play, and then walk away again two seconds later. ”
The result is a show pervaded by a strong sense of community, which has an array of impacts across the industry. Chief among those is playtesting - an army of passionate fans who Uyrus says are prepared to “sit down and play for hours” offers an unparalleled opportunity to see your game in the hands of someone new. For Alan Hazelden, developer of puzzle games including A Good Snowman is Hard to Build and the upcoming A Monster's Expedition, Rezzed is “a great opportunity to [...] see an actual human playing your game with no context or priming. Just seeing how they react is so, so helpful.” For Hazelden, shows like Rezzed offer a chance to improve upon the early stages of a game and, while he has alternative forms of testing in mind, “there’ll probably be some stuff that we’ll have to patch in the first week of release that we could have caught if we’d done a few shows.”
Elsewhere the opportunity Rezzed provides can offer a major morale boost. According to Uyrus, “one of the best bits about bringing developers to events is to remind them that real people end up playing their games,” thanks in no small part to "the calibre of the players that come." Ryan Brown, from indie publisher Numskull Games, said that “Rezzed is such a huge motivational boost. Unlike most other games events in the UK, chances are a game booth is going to be manned by the actual developer, and them seeing folk enjoy their game for the first time is so, so special.”
Hazelden reckons without attending his first EGX nearly ten years ago “there’s a strong possibility” that he wouldn’t be making games now: “the energy I got from getting selected and getting to go to the show and watching people play my real-life game at a real-life event was amazing. I do think there’s a clear through-line from that experience to having the motivation to quit my job and decide to make games full time. I think there will be people who had planned to show at these events who won’t have the same motivation, or the same ability to follow-through with their plans, and that’s a real shame.”
Obviously there are more important things at the moment but, given the importance of Rezzed as an event on the indie calendar, postponing has taken the wind out of the sails of many of the companies planning to attend. Millar and her team had spent nearly two years on Cake Bash, and were preparing a demo build specially for the show as they neared completion on the game as a whole. “It’s disheartening. By the time we heard about the postponement we’d already finished the work on the demo. Now we’re finding ways to make sure that time wasn’t wasted.” Brown says that Numskull was planning to reveal six new titles at the show, and that although larger and more established teams like his will “be totally fine, smaller developers really depend on this and have put a lot of resources into it, so it’s going to be quite a blow for them.”
A third, and easily-overlooked aspect of losing a show like this is the knock-on effect to the wider community. Florian Veltman, developer of Lieve Oma and formerly of Ustwo Games, says that for him, the show is all about “getting to interact with the game developer community. As a lot of people might discover now, it’s really tough to be isolated from other people. It’s very important to build a support network of people. Smaller events are really invaluable to develop these kinds of friendships.” Hazelden says the impact on the community is “massive,” and he says that the only reason he’s making games is because of the people around him; “Certainly for me, the community has been really motivational, and I don’t know if I would have been able to do what I do without that.”
It’s hard to measure the impact of an event like Rezzed not happening. GDC, a business-focused event that takes place on the other side of the world, has obvious costs in terms of both money and opportunity lost, but the majority of Rezzed’s attendees are consumers, and the developers exhibiting are decidedly more UK and Euro-centric than at larger-scale shows. Hazelden says Rezzed and in particular The Leftfield Collection (a curated selection of titles which has played host to the likes of Reigns and Her Story) is “really special. Everything there is interesting [...] it’s stuff that will fly under the radar in a lot of places, and it’s great to have that focus on stuff that you’re just not going to see anywhere else.”
If Rezzed doesn’t go ahead, and that looks certain, it won't be financially damaging on the same scale as GDC, but it will leave a hole in the UK independent scene that will be difficult to fill.