[Photo Credit: Widerfocus Photography]

Changing the FORMAT: Simran Whitham on Manchester’s premier night out for developers

FORMAT is the UK’s biggest games industry nightlife event, and brings together game developers, content creators, industry press and the public together for a night of networking, celebration and video games in Manchester multiple times a year. It was created by Simran Whitham, a game developer, marketing professional and business builder from the area, and he’s taken the time to tell us all about the path his passion project has been on, and how it has grown.

How did the idea for FORMAT come about?

Like many great businesses and ideas, FORMAT started off as a one off I hosted in the summer during my first year of study at Futureworks. I originally just wanted to host a gamer meetup in a bar, but it saw over 100 attendees. From there it became a monthly event called Manchester Gamers Unite.

One of the key issues I’ve always had with mainstream industry events from a young age is you tend to discover a lack of unification and community. There’s no real event that aims to put gamers, game developers and content creators on the same level. At FORMAT’s second event I saw a group of gamers talking to developers from Cloud Imperium as equals and it made me realise that we had created the truly special environment that I’d wanted from more mainstream events.

I also noticed at the time that there wasn’t a dedicated industry event involving a nightlife element for developers, which I always felt was a huge missed opportunity given the versatile nature of video games and gaming culture. So, from our small meetup hosted at Dive NQ in Manchester, we started growing. FORMAT is now much bigger, and is based at the iconic Manchester venue Impossible MCR, where we will now have three whole floors of game studio headliners at each event.

[Photo Credit: Widerfocus Photography]
What challenges did creating FORMAT present, and how did you address them?

Building a games industry event and cultural movement like FORMAT has come with a lot of practical and societal challenges. Starting out, like with many building their business, we faced challenges of building cash flow to help us grow the brand and expand our capabilities. For the first two years, we didn’t charge for tickets or charge exhibitors for their places at the event, as we understood we needed to earn the trust of the gaming and development community.

After two years we started to attract leading game studios, brands and community leaders, which proved to me that now was the time to start to grow out our business capabilities and start earning enough financial income to grow our events even further. The other big challenge we faced was overcoming a lot of traditional views our industry peers had about events. We were seen as completely unorthodox, mixing one of the most extroverted activities i.e. nightlife culture events with video game culture and we had a lot of pushback from more traditionalist voices within the industry.

However, FORMAT pushed through and has shown that we are a platform for all within the industry. We are community builders that enable developers to have a voice and are bringing a real sense of grassroots community back to industry events.

The pandemic must have been difficult, but how was it coming out of that?

The pandemic, to put it simply, was devastating for the games industry events sector. A lot of events are still feeling the effects from it, however the isolation created a massive hunger for events again and FORMAT saw its biggest number of ticket sales in 2022, with more attendees than all the pre-pandemic year combined.

We are feeling a strong appetite for the return of our events, which is truly phenomenal to see as it’s enabled us to grow even bigger and give more back to the games industry community.

[Photo Credit: Widerfocus Photography]
What can we expect at the next FORMAT event that makes it different to previous ones?

I’ve been eagerly awaiting a chance to spill the tea on this! With our enormous success in 2022, been enabled to expand our events and incorporate two brand new game-changing features to our event as a I can happily confirm that FORMAT will now take place over two evenings, with the launch and introduction of our brand new event RE: FORMAT – a VIP industry party that will take place the night before our main FORMAT: The Ultimate Gaming Social event. It’ll be exclusively for our exhibitors, event sponsors and partners to get together, network and have fun.

Imagine a Develop:Brighton style party, but with the FORMAT magic applied. Live music, good food and drink, and bringing the gamedev community together. I’m exceptionally proud to finally see FORMAT have an industry-focused evening become a permanent feature of our events and enable us to do more for the game development community to thank them for participating in and supporting our events.

How did the FORMAT apparel collab with Hundred Tag Studios happen?

Fashion culture and lifestyle choices play a huge part in the visual style and brand of FORMAT. Clothing helps define an image and I’ve always pushed for FORMAT to collaborate with fashion brands and host fashion pop-up shops at our events.

For our 2023 launch party we’ve partnered with the Manchester born clothing brand Hundred Tag Studios to launch an exclusive line-up of FORMAT and gaming themed custom jackets created in their signature style. We’ve been working on this behind the scenes with Hundred Tag for a long time to make this a reality and can’t wait to see what attendees think of FORMAT’s first ever fashion pop-up shop.

Who are the most exciting new partners at the next FORMAT?

We have so many amazing partners joining us for this next event, such as Merge Games who are an event partner and sponsor, and the leading games industry production house Liquid Crimson. We’re being joined by the games industry recruitment agency Studiotypes, and we’re working with the amazing mental health charity Safe in our World to help raise funds for their mission. We also have the VR sports development studio Rezzil and our biggest number of game studio headliners, with three floors of game studios, including big names like Ubisoft, PQube, Flix Interactive, Arcade Club UK, Lowtek Games, and many more.

Will Manchester always be the focus of your calendar?

Manchester is the nightlife capital, and, in my opinion the most creative city in the UK too. Manchester has a special atmosphere that no other city has and I’m proud to be a Mancunian. Manchester was our birthplace and will always be a key focus despite plans to expand outside its borders.

[Photo Credit: Widerfocus Photography]
You recently partnered with the Guildford Games Festival. Apart from the location, how different (and difficult) was that compared to your usual events?

It was a fantastic experience. What the Guildford Games committee is building over there is fantastic, and I’m a huge advocate for events collaborating for the betterment of the industry and everyone in it.

The event was much different from FORMAT’s events in the sense that it was more business orientated, with the event focusing a lot on careers, talks and lectures by industry professionals and giving game studios the chance to exhibit their current career opportunities within the Guildford region.

From a difficulty standpoint the event was actually from our side a nice walk in the park, it was weird to be on the exhibitor side of things rather than the organisation side as outside of sourcing the developers needed for the Northern Developers Indie Zone, things were very simple.

Do you hope to support more regional events going forward? Where might you look to go next?

FORMAT is always open to collaborating with more regional events and so long as we feel there’s a mutually beneficial partnership to be had we are always open to working with more exciting brands and industry people.

We’re in talks with a lot of other big industry events at the moment, to explore collaboration options, and hope to be able to share more news in the future.

What’s next for FORMAT?

Where do I even begin? We’re in the start of our 2023 event season and this year will see some amazing feats from us, including some as of yet unannounced product collaborations. That’s as well as holding bigger events in terms of scale and content, and, most importantly, a small hint of our future outside of Manchester.

The whole FORMAT team is ecstatic to reveal what lies on the horizon. We think the UK games industry events scene will be happy with what’s to come.

If you’d like to learn more about the upcoming FORMAT event discussed in this feature, you can find it on FORMAT 2023’s official Fatsoma event page.

If you do decide to go, then don’t forget to use the checkout code FRM_MCR25 for a 25% discount on your tickets as one of our readers.

About Vince Pavey

Vince is a writer from the North-East of England who has worked on comics for The Beano and Doctor Who. He likes to play video games and eat good food. Sometimes he does both at the same time, but he probably shouldn’t.

Check Also

The finalists have been announced for Develop:Brighton 2023’s Indie Showcase Competition

Tandem Events has announced the shortlist of finalists for the Develop:Brighton 2023 Indie Showcase competition