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We find out more about the incredible amount of work that goes into organising games shows like EGX and PAX.

When you’re at a big video game event, it can seem like chaos ­– and not the kind of environment you’d want to work in. But behind the ear-bursting stands and enormous queues are a range of challenging and rewarding jobs that combine to make an event come together on the day.

Everything from selling show space to coming up with the content itself is the responsibility of a small army of event management staff who work all year round to ensure video game events are fun to attend and run as smoothly as possible.

To find out more about what a job in video game event management really entails, and how best to land a role in the industry, we spoke to David Lilley, head of events at ReedPop UK.

Tell me a bit about your role and what is involved in being head of events at ReedPop UK?

At this moment, I have P&L responsibility for the MCM Comic-Cons, the EGX gaming brand and EGX Berlin. To those who don't know what P&L responsibility means, it means I'm responsible for how much money it makes. So in the end that includes every function of events.
 

What does your day-to-day look like under normal circumstances?

I have forgotten what normal circumstances looks like! It very much depends where we are in the cycle, but most of the time it is just talking to the team who put the event together. It's making sure everything is in hand and we are doing as much forward planning as possible, because the worst thing you can do is get to an event and not be prepared. Anything you can do in advance, then you're much better off. It's making sure we're planned and ready as much as we can be. But not being 100 per cent planned is also a bit important. You've got to be able to deliver things on the fly. You've got to be tactical while you're on-site.

Let's talk a bit about your career. How did you get into event management?

I started at a fledgling video games magazine publisher called Future Publishing in 1988 ­– a very long time ago! And I was in media pretty much all the way through until I started working at Gamer Network. And then we just focused on producing games events where people were engaging with the games ­– actually getting games in hand, playing games, talking to developers, getting under the bonnet of video games, rather than just looking at big flashy stands where you could see a trailer and there wasn't actually that much to do.

We came at it from [the angle of] ‘Well, how about we just try and get as many games in people's hands as possible?’ There was no modelling behind how we did it, which you would get with a giant events company – they would have a model of how you put an event together. We came at it from a slightly different angle. Not being event people worked out well for producing strong events people actually really enjoyed going to.

And also not overloading. We've limited the number of people that come into the event, so you don't get into that Gamescom situation where you can stand in a line for eight hours to play a 20-minute demo, and then do the same thing the following day. And then by the end of the event, you probably played three or four games.

What are the various roles available in event management that people who are looking to get into the industry should be looking out for?

They can have relatively traditional lines. There's sales, production and content. I'm a salesman. I was trained in sales in the ‘80s. From a careers perspective I would recommend going to a place that will offer you some training. No sales people are natural. Some people have natural skills – you can train those skills. Training from a sales perspective is really key. The bigger event companies, like the company we work for, is a good proving ground for those skills. You will receive a training package the moment you arrive. That's always a good thing.

Then there's content. How to get into producing content for events is quite difficult. It just comes from working in games and knowing games and having a feel for what people like.

And then there's the production element where, again, there's training about what you can and can't do within the production. There are lots of rules and regulations around how you build events. Events are now treated as building sites when they're being put together, and there are some strict rules and regulations on that. So anything that provides training for that, or you can get a qualification for, would be useful.

And you need to be spectacularly organised. You need to be able to do more or less project management to run spreadsheets to make sure things happen in staged times. It's complicated, but it's only complicated when you don't know how to do it.

How do you measure the success of an event?

I usually measure it by how many people are smiling. If you walk around and you see people really enjoying themselves, that's a great boon to the feeling of success, because that's the whole point of it.

There are other ways we now measure success. The KPIs for a video games event are things like a Net Promoter Score (NPS). When we send out a survey at the end of the show and we ask people for their feedback, they will rank the event out of ten based on various different criteria. If it's over 30, then they enjoyed it. If it's under 30, they didn't enjoy it. And then we have to dig into that to try and figure out what it is we didn't do people really wanted. In short, what they want is lots of playable games, to hang out with their friends, and for us to provide a framework for them to meet other gamers.

What are the essential qualifications needed in event management for the various roles you've talked about? Are there any?

Not really. The thing with events is you've got to be tenacious, because nothing ever happens the way that you want it to happen. It doesn't matter how much you plan an event, there will always be things that surprise you. If you sell something and it turns out you can't provide it in the way you've sold it, you've then got to provide a solution. Or perhaps a timing doesn't work. It's all about being tenacious. There's no hiding place in events, either. You've got to have the will to make them happen. That's the most important thing.

Any qualifications you can get from a health and safety point of view are really useful. Any qualifications you can get from a project management point of view are really useful. Any kind of college certification about events are always useful. But it's not necessary. Like in many fields, just having the will to want to be involved in something and an enthusiasm to make those things happen, that's the important factor.
 

When you're interviewing people, are you looking to see if they've got that about them?

Always. With interviews, having skills are really important, but also having that character to deliver on those skills is always valuable.

What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the event industry?

Go to things and do stuff. I know that's probably not very helpful but go to things like EGX. Go to a career fair. Talk to people who are involved in the industry. Make use of the UKIE program. If it's games you're interested in, just get involved. Figure out a way of engaging with people who are already involved in games. There are opportunities.

I hate to use the word networking, but just keep the conversation going. Turn up to things. Meet people. Learn a way to talk about yourself that is engaging. Just get involved is the piece of advice I would give, because a lot of it comes down to being in the right place at the right time. There's always a lot of luck involved.

You've just got to make sure you're involved in it. Just standing on the sidelines and throwing CDs at people is not necessarily the way to do it. It's finding a way of becoming involved in the business you want to be involved in. It isn't easy. It is hard, and you've got to put yourself out there. But that's definitely the road to success.

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