Posted on 04 Oct 2017 by Jay Shaw

PlayExpo Manchester Interview

It’s only a little over a week before PlayExpo Manchester happens, we’re going to be there and thought you might enjoy a little insight into the behind the scenes via an interview with event manager and organizer Elliot Scholes of Replay Events, the company that runs PlayExpo and a myriad of other events across the United Kingdom. So we sat down with the very agreeable, humble yet proud Elliot via a Discord chat to have a bit of an informal interview to learn a little about the event and the people behind it.

Disclaimer: Some answers are edited for readability with my own interjections sometimes cut out as they were often jokes. Context is preserved throughout and no presented information has been edited. My speech is in bold. For anyone not familiar with interview formatting, any text in square brackets (e.g. [added]) is text added by myself to aid with context and any text in rounded brackets (e.g. (this)) is additional information added after the fact.

Jay Shaw: I saw your interview with JoshBaked from EGX 2016.

Elliot Scholes: Last year, yeah, at EGX. We had Josh and Luke down and all-sorts, they’re actually coming down this year. They’re in the community zone doing their Streamers Connect stuff… We’ve got quite a big stand and it looks really well done and I’m looking forward to it.

Jay: Awesome, do you know anyone else who’s coming?

Elliot: At the moment I’ve just been talking to Luke and Josh mostly so I’m not sure who they’re bringing along or what they’ve got planned but I’ve seen a little bit of floor plan that they’ve done for the area and it looks big, and nice, and flashy, and it’s going to work really well. So hopefully they bring down a fair few people and it’s going to be quite a good ride.

Jay: I know you’ve got the arcade guys coming from the Manchester arcade as well.

Elliot: Yeah, I do believe we do. With our arcade thing, it’s sort of just get in as many people as you can and want to and then, as long as they’re fun and friendly people and they’re doing the job that they need to then that’s kind of what we’re doing.

Jay: Any plans other than people just having fun or is that the whole point?

Elliot: The whole goal of the show is that it’s a family friendly show. It’s there for people to be entertained, to have a nice day out, to do something different, to show the kids the past and for kids to show their dad the future with stuff like VR. But we have other things, we have the education zone which is always great; we’ve got universities and schools in there showing off things that they do and how they work through situations in the gaming industry. I think really our show is [aiming] to be this family friendly great day out for everybody who can try things that they haven’t tried before or they can relive the past or they can even be educated a little bit. That’s what we’re aiming for.

Jay: That’s very cool. General perception is that shows are more for developers and publishers to show off their stuff rather than for any other purpose.

Elliot: Well, here we’ve got a couple of publishers lined up that will be announced in the next week. I don’t know if you’ve seen our indie initiative where we’ve offered a bunch of free space to indies and we’ve announced 20 already and we have a lot more to announce in the next week. We’re promoting these indie developers as the new big releases because they’re part of the community. You’ve got the bigwigs doing [their own thing] and that’s fantastic, their games are brilliant, I love playing them. But at the same time I spend most of my time playing indie games and that’s what I love about these indie zones; you can find so many little games to play for fun, some of them aren’t even little, some of them are massive games. So, pushing more towards the community stuff is fantastic and that’s what we’re doing with this show.

Jay: We spend a lot of time with indies, they’re so interesting. They do a lot of things that big companies would never do.

Elliot: That’s the great thing about it. I played a couple at EGX this year and I was blown away by them. I was like, “Wow. You never see big developers taking risks like that with their games.” That’s what makes [indies] so fun and fresh.

Jay: I agree. We’re seeing the revival of [classic genres] like the shoot-em-up now. I think you have Hyper Sentinel at the show this year.

Elliot: We’ve had him at a few shows this year. I believe he was at [PlayExpo] Leeds earlier in the year, around April time.

Jay: It’s really cool to see that kind of game coming back.

Elliot: I do enjoy that type of games. As frustrating as they are for me because I’m not very good at them; shooting everything on the screen at the same time while dodging, they’re great fun to watch. They’re flashy and really nice looking games.

Jay: [For that reason] they were a big draw in the arcades in the 80s and 90s. But I haven’t even been in an arcade for a good 15 years.

Elliot: Doing these shows I get to see them all the time and, I think, my dad introduced me to Robotron when I was younger and every time I’m at a show I have to find it and play on it but there’s always somebody on it and it’s so frustrating.

Jay: Have the exhibitors changed at all over the years, or do you have the same thing now as you did several years ago?

Elliot: I’ve only been doing the behind the scenes stuff for just over a year now. I started last July and now I’ve picked up more and more work and I’ve started doing stuff with the exhibitors. With the people who sell merchandise and games. You don’t just get the same all the time. We run the gaming markets in Doncaster and London and I deal with them myself and just the amount of applications [we] get for different things. Obviously you’re going to get your retro sellers, your artists, but there are some nice quirky exhibitors who come out of nowhere and sell some amazing and beautiful little things. I like collecting my PlayStation 2 games at the moment, so I’m all about the retro exhibitors and trying to find the cheapest deals I can get on PS2 games I don’t own yet.

Jay: I do love a good PS2 game.

Elliot: Yeah. I think I’ve gone from about 0 to about a hundred in the past three gaming markets I’ve done. It’s awesome that I get to run these shows but at the same time it takes all the money away from me because I can’t help myself from buying a few games.

Jay: I leave my wallet at home when I go to an expo for that reason.

Elliot: That’s a good idea but at the same time you might see something you’ve been looking for for ages and you’re like, “Oh no! I can’t buy it, I’ve no money on me.” Next thing you know someone else has taken it from straight under your nose.

Jay: I’d end up massively overdrawn.

[Laughing] Spend more money with my exhibitors. Make them happy.

Jay: Is it difficult to coordinate your exhibitors? For example, assigning floor space.

Elliot: No, it’s not. The great thing about PlayExpo Manchester is, all the kit we provide ourselves. We work with the guys who do the pinball [machines] and the arcades and we provide all the retro kit ourselves and all the celebration areas. The fantastic thing about that is we can either grow that in size or shrink it depending on the demand we have from exhibitors. That’s what I think is fantastic about our show; we don’t have a set floor space for a set amount of people. It’s like, “we’ve got less of these, let’s put in more of our own stuff. Or we’ve got tons more exhibitors this year, let’s take a little bit out and move it to one side and get it situated in a different area.”

Good thing about Manchester is that it’s very flexible, and all our PlayExpos, with the way we can get things in and how we can deal with the floor plan.

Jay: Is Event City (the Expo venue) quite large?

Elliot: It is. I’m trying to think about how many halls they have. I think we take two or three halls and I think there’s eight altogether. It’s not as large as the NEC in Birmingham (EGX venue), nowhere near as big as that because that’s just ridiculous in size but it’s still quite large.

Jay: The first time I walked in [to the NEC] I was blown away when I could see 300 meters to the opposite wall.

Elliot: Yeah, it’s insane. When we arrived to set up for EGX last week we arrived at the international train station, and it took us twenty-five minutes to walk from there to the other side of the NEC where we had to unload the wagon. It was like, “what is this, this is amazing.”

Jay: [Not a smooth segue] So, Press.

Elliot: Press are allowed in half an hour early this year.

Jay: Lovely.

Elliot: Yeah. We’re letting press in half an hour earlier so they can get pictures of lines and everything like that. I think it’s great for a lot of publications, and websites, and blogs and whatnot, and YouTube channels to get a view of what it’s like just before the big rush of people come in. So we’re going to let press in half an hour early.

Jay: Will you be having any huge exhibit decorations? For example the huge TIE Fighter from EGX a few years ago or the spider from Total War: Warhammer.

Elliot: From my knowledge, not at the moment. We have a few little things dotted about. We’ve expanded our Minecraft area a bit more and we’ve got we’ve got these characters, props, and building sets. People can get photography opportunities with all the characters from Minecraft in an environment for that.

Jay: That’s very cool. I love those photo opportunity type areas. I saw one of Monster Hunter World from TGS. Please tell me that’s going to be there, I want to play it.

Elliot: [Laughing] Unfortunately I don’t think it will be.

Jay: Do you ever consider yourselves to be competing with other events?

Elliot: Hmm. I don’t think so, no. You look at smaller gaming shows and think they’re doing something cool, doing something awesome. I don’t look at them competitively because we’re all part of the same community. We’re all part of the retro community. People who run shows like that still come to our shows. For example, EGX, we provide the retro area for that. So we don’t look at EGX and think they’re our rivals, we think they’re our partners. We do our work [for them] and that’s fantastic.

Not with the ComiCons either because we work with the show masters who do all the film and comic conventions and they provide a lot of stuff for us and we provide stuff for them and we’re partners. And the same with other conventions. We’re something different, we’re a retro gaming show, we’re not [trying] to get all these TV and film stars in, it’d be cool if we did have things like that in but at the same time it’s not what our audience go to the show for.

Jay: I heard there’s going to be a few guests this year at PlayExpo Manchester.

Elliot: Yes. We have the guys from Rare who did the initial Goldeneye 64 stuff. They’re doing a panel on the Saturday I believe. We have a Psygnosis guest panel and Q&A which is going to be pretty cool.

Jay: I’d love to shake their hand for Obitus on the Amiga.

Elliot: You should get the chance to. We [also] have the ZX Spectrum panel talk which is going to be pretty cool as well. There’s the Spectrum NEXT kickstarted this year. Our guests aren’t these giant famous people, they’re people who the retro community and even just people who used to play Goldeneye 64 or play on the Spectrum will see and say “this is pretty cool, I’m interested in it.” That’s what I really like about our guests.

Jay: [We talk a little about our love for some Rare games and the N64] We’re in that era where that generation is a lot of people’s starting reference for gaming.

Elliot: It’s fantastic to see the older consoles getting this revival and resurgence in the modern day.

Jay: [Getting back on track] VR. Will you have VR at the expo?

Elliot: We do. We have a few of our own VR kits. We’ve got PSVR, Oculus, HTC Vive. I believe a few indies are showing their VR games off. I find VR really fascinating because it’s the complete opposite of the retro stuff that we do. It always draws people in because it costs a lot of money to get a VR kit set up.

Jay: I’m one of about six people who have never even touched VR.

Elliot: I’ve played a fair bit on each headset and I really do enjoy the PSVR. I think what Sony did with that is fantastic, sort-of making it cost effective, I think altogether it’s about four hundred quid (£400) if you already have the console because I think you have to buy the camera separately and then the motion controllers are separate but a lot of games use the standard controller as well.

Then you’ve got the Vive which is just incredibly expensive. But at the same time incredibly good. There’s no blur, it doesn’t feel like you’re looking into a [screen] it feels like you’re looking out into whatever game you’re playing. That’s what VR really should be.

Jay: Do you give preference to any one VR over the others? For example because of space requirements like the Vive needing its lighthouses set up.

Elliot: No. We don’t ever really give preference to any headset. We create an area for VR and then we’ll just put the VR out. We don’t say you’ve got to have a ticket to go play [a VR game], if you see a headset that’s free you go over, a staff member will help you and show you what you need to do. Obviously there might be a little bit of queueing for some of the newer VR stuff but we don’t give any preference to any headset. We put them out for people to play and that’s [it].

Jay: It’s always nice to be able to try something like VR without any outlay for the user.

Elliot: Exactly. We’ve got the Virtual Boy in the retro section so if you don’t feel like trying the PSVR you can go down and try the old classic.

Jay: I’m sure I’ll need a headache sometime in the day.

Elliot: [Laughing]

Jay: I’m more of a SNES and Master System person when it comes to the classic stuff.

Elliot: See, the SNES was fantastic but I can only ever remember playing Mario on it and I am absolutely shocking at Mario games. Even the newer ones like New Super Mario Bros U and Mario Galaxy. I am just bad at them. I think the only one I’ve ever managed to finish is Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube. All the others I just struggle with, I don’t know why, I shouldn’t struggle with Mario, it should be a nice, simple, straightforward game to enjoy, but nope. I can’t seem to do a single thing on it.

Jay: I grew up with Spectrum and Atari 2600 platformers so Mario still feels weird to me too even after all these years. I’m terrible with an analogue stick in platformers.

Elliot: I just can’t use it. I’m alright at Sonic, I’m pretty good at Sonic.

Jay: Don’t put a Sonic Chaos cart in the retro section. You won’t get me away from it.

Elliot: Oh, I think we do [have one].

Jay: You’ll know where to find me then.

Elliot: [Laughing]

Jay: [Brief conversation where I say 3D Sonic games are crap]

Elliot: One thing I love about Sonic is, whoever runs that social media platform on Twitter, whoever runs Sonic’s Twitter is a genius. I don’t know where they come up with some of that stuff but it’s fantastic.

Jay: I love that Twitter, one of the very few corporate accounts I personally follow. Moving on though, we have e-sports. There were a few tournaments at EGX this year, anything lined up for Play?

Elliot: We have the fighting stage. That’s more our e-sports look this year. Last year we had the Red Bull guys in doing the 5G [Tournament]. I can’t remember off the top of my head what we do have [this year] but I definitely know that the guys are running some fighting game tournaments on the fighting stage. It’s MBA (Manchester Battle Arena, a fighting game enthusiast group) so they’re always serious about it and they always get a big crowd in and they always have really intense fighters on the stages. People who I’d never want to play against casually because I just button mash.

I just recently played the new Dragon Ball game (Dragon Ball FighterZ) as well and it’s fantastic. It’s 3v3 and me and my friend had no idea how to do it so we just button mashed. Next thing I know I’ve got all three characters doing super moves on screen and I’m like, “how did that happen? I don’t understand!” Then you look at some people who just pull some magnificent combos off where they hit you up in the air and you just stay in the air, when you come back down again they hit you down so you bounce and you’re back up in the air. I’m just like, “how do you do that? How do your fingers move so fast?”

Jay: I’ve seen that kind of thing in Street Fighter 2. Seen some insane combos I didn’t even know were possible.

Elliot: We do a few retro tournaments and Street Fighter 2 is always a popular one. You just watch what people can do in that game and you’re like, “did the game have that many moves programmed into it? I guess it did, this guy just did every single one in a row!”

Jay: I’m more of a BlazBlue player personally.

Elliot: I played the most recent BlazBlue (Centralfiction) I believe, we got sent a few copies so I had a go at that. I enjoy it, it’s not a bad game but I think I’m more into it for the story to be honest. Which is a weird thing to say, I’m into a fighting game for the story.

Jay: I used to love seeing how it all came together in the story mode for Tekken.

Elliot: That’s why I really love the new Injustice games or Mortal Kombat games. They’ve got this intertwining story inbetween the fights. It’s not just going from fight to fight to fight, there’s kind of a back-story between each battle.

Jay: I’m one of those people who, if the story doesn’t grip me in the first few minutes I’ll start mashing the skip button.

Elliot: [Laughing] Well…

Jay: Will there be any other e-sports, shooters or anything like that?

Elliot: No, I don’t think there will be. We’re not a massive e-sports show, we had it last year and it was a bit popular and this year we have a little bit again but we really want to focus on “everyone can play this, everyone can do this” sort of idea.

Jay: You’ve also got tabletop gaming at the show.

Elliot: We do yes. I do enjoy my board games. Don’t really own any because a friend of mine buys every single one so I used to go over and play whatever he’d just bought. We have Esdevium (UK based distributor of board games and collectibles), they’ll be found in our tabletop area, everyone knows who Esdevium are, they supply a lot of games to stores and they demo basically every single show in the country. They’re a fantastic group of people who are incredible professionals and just know what they need to do for the job. At the same time we have FanBoy3 there, they are a store in Manchester.

Jay: I visited them a couple of months ago.

Elliot: Yeah, they’ll be there and possibly running some tournaments. They’ll be selling a bunch of stuff as well.

Jay: [Topic shifts to pen and paper, Dungeons & Dragons in particular]

Elliot: I’ve only ever played D&D once and I ripped up my character sheet and left the house. I had the worst dungeon master in the world and I was like, “I just can’t do this.”

Jay: It can be off-putting if you have a bad first experience with that kind of thing.

Elliot: I think I was a support sort-of class. And I was just doing support magic, and then we were in this dark alley and I used a light spell to light up our way and then [the DM] went “no, there’s fire everywhere so you don’t need light.” I was like, “What? You just said it was dark, man.”

Jay: [Laughing] I’ve done some terrible stuff as a new DM too. [I relate a story of my first ever time as DM, it ends with half the Forgotten Realms burned down] Do you know what other games will be there? Board games, tabletop games, war games?

Elliot: They haven’t sent over a list but the moment they send something over we’ll be announcing it on our Facebook page and social media and on the website.

Jay: We mainly cover PC games but there’s a lot of overlap with digital conversions of board games like Talisman and BattleTech.

Elliot: I think I’ve got Tabletop Simulator.

Jay: I’m sure the BattleTech community will crucify me for saying BattleTech is a board game.

Elliot: [Laughing]

Jay: We’ve talked about the retro zone, arcade, VR… Anything else?

Elliot: Pinball [tables] are going to be there. We’ve got the community zone too. What we do with the community zone is; we’ve got this big area where we offer free space to communities to get together and run little things and have their own ideas of what they do in the gaming community. We have streamers connect there, and we have tons of people there who are literally communities in the community. We’ve just offered them free space to promote themselves and to show people different sides of gaming in reality.

Jay: Is that just for streamers and YouTubers or is it for gaming clans, that kind of thing?

Elliot: Not at all. We’ve got people there who go around and do little retro shows and things and running retro tournaments in there. And we have Videogame Carnival which is absolutely wacky and fantastic, like a giant GameBoy that you can play on. And a motion control projection on the wall, lots of things like that. The community zone is a bundle of everything, really.

Jay: You said a motion controlled projection on the wall. How does that work?

Elliot: I can’t remember exactly how it works. I remember he puts something up onto the big wall for the projection and you can mess around and do things with [the projection]. I only saw it briefly last year because when I’m at the show I’m running around and making sure that everything’s working and that nothing has exploded.

Jay: It’s unfortunate you can’t relax on the day and enjoy something you’ve worked so hard on.

Elliot: I think the enjoyment is in everyone else enjoying it. Getting everything running and then hearing all the feedback and all the praise and just seeing everyone have fun. That’s where it all fits in for me.

Jay: I’ve been to other shows and usually everyone looks happy all the time.

Elliot: When you see something like that you know the other shows are being run properly. You see someone who looks miserable, they might be having a bad day, but sometimes you might question yourself like, “is something at this show not happy for them?” or something like that… But it’s always great to see people enjoying themselves, with a big smile on their face after bashing their dad on Mario Kart 64 or something like that.

Jay: [We share our love, and occasional frustration, of Mario Kart]

Elliot: We have Sammy Ketting at the show. I think he is the world record holder for speed running on Super Mario Kart. He should be in the community zone I believe, he’ll be running tournaments on Mario Kart for the weekend.

Jay: We’ll pop in and say hi to him, we love speed runs.

Elliot: I love watching speed runs. Just seeing how people find accidental skips that cuts half an hour of the game out and you’re like, “how did you know to look for that?” But at the same time I’ve never been able to speed run anything so I’m amazed at it.

Jay: Anything at this year’s show you’re looking forward to personally?

Elliot: It’s the first time I’m going to be managing all the staff and volunteers. At a show this big, with the amount of staff we have, I’m looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to the show succeeding and everyone having a great time. But for my personal goals, this past year I’ve been managing staff at shows and whatnot but this is going to be the big test for me. I’ve got a lot more staff than I usually do and I’ve got a lot of staff who I’ve never met before. I’m excited but also scared for it. I think that’s one thing I’m really really am looking forward to.

Jay: What’s the scale of staff and volunteers, are we talking dozens or hundreds?

Elliot: There’s a lot of people. Not hundreds. I don’t think I could deal with hundreds at this moment in time. I’d say we’ve got about 70 staff working throughout the show on the weekend. We’ve got different staff doing different things, running different areas. There are other people behind the scenes who aren’t staff who are running areas. It’s a big management [job] just to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Jay: Do you get a lot of volunteers?

Elliot: Yeah we do. We’ve got quite a few applicants at the moment and I’m hopefully getting back to them all today (we recorded Friday 29 September). I’ve got to read through all the applications and hope we haven’t got any really silly applications this year.

Jay: Is that something that happens regularly?

Elliot: [Laughing] You do get some silly things but I’ll be very diplomatic and I won’t go into that in an interview. I’ll save that for when we meet on the day.

Jay: So you’ve got loads of staff, loads of volunteers. Are the amounts about equal?

Elliot: I think we’ve got more staff than volunteers. I don’t want to outnumber our own staff with volunteers to be honest.

Jay: Does the location (Event City) provide any staff?

Elliot: The venue itself provides the security. They provide some of the electricians and behind the scenes [people]. They have their own security on staff in there which is a great help, their security are fantastic. You’ve always got to be careful with big events and big venues but Event City are absolutely brilliant, they have so many security [officers] there and they’re all helpful.

Jay: I used to be a security officer myself. Are they helpful?

Elliot: They all know what they need to do. They do ask questions, you’ve got some that just stand there and check wrist bands but with Event City we’ve had a few who have asked questions about the show and want to know more so they can actually answer [customer’s] questions.

Jay: That’s awesome. Would you like to close out by telling us a little about Replay Events?

Elliot: Yeah, I can do. Manchester is our biggest PlayExpo, I’ll start with that, we have our smaller regional ones like Blackpool, Glasgow, and Leeds. They’re nothing in size compared to this but they’re still fantastic little events with a lot of retro, a lot of arcades, a lot of features.

Replay Events itself; obviously we run the PlayExpo shows, and as I mentioned earlier we run the gaming markets in London and the ones in Doncaster. Next year they’re three times a year each show. Great little shows, only a couple of quid (slang for the pound, UK currency) for entry and there are about a hundred retailers there selling gaming merchandise, retro games, everything of the sort.

We also hire out our equipment. We don’t just stick to these big shows. Recently we’ve done a few gigs for insurance companies and we do weddings and all sorts of stuff. So if anyone wants gaming features at their event they can contact us and we can provide that for them. We’re at a show in Derby this weekend, providing the gaming equipment. We do it for show masters, provide stuff for the comic cons.

Jay: Do you do a lot of PC-centric shows?

Elliot: Yes. We did the PC Gamer show this year. We provided 10 PCs for that to showcase the classic indie PC games from earlier 2000’s, things like Cave Story and Spelunky.

Jay: PC gaming can be difficult to showcase because there’s a lot that can go wrong.

Elliot: I’m really impressed with the guys who run our PC section. There are a lot of machines out there in the PC section and there are only two of them who do it and monitor it. This year I’ve had to get more staff in because it’s unfair to tell two guys to do one hundred and fifty machines on their own in two days.

Jay: That’s 150 PCs at PlayExpo?

Elliot: There should be. We’ve got the LAN section, last year we had the 32 player Doom area as well, on LAN. It was fantastic. We’ve got over 100 machines for the PC section.

Jay: Wow, I wasn’t expecting that number. I’ve never been before and my preconception was wildly wrong.

Elliot: You’re going to be in for a good surprise then.

PlayExpo Manchester will be running 14-15 October 2017 at Event City in Manchester, UK. Check out their official site for more information and to book tickets to the event. We’ll be there, working and playing everything we can get our hands on so watch out for the two bearded guys geeking out – I’m sure that’ll make us stand out from the crowd of other geeky bearded guys doing the same thing – so stay tuned for our coverage in the days following the event itself.

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