Sarah Fairhurst is the Collections Manager at the Guildford Heritage Service.
When I started as Collections Manager for the Guildford Heritage Service just over 18 months ago, I had no idea that Guildford was home to such a famous videogame sector. Guildford to me was the centre of rural Surrey life, surrounded by rolling hills with its famous castle and sett-laid high street.
However, I soon learnt that Guildford was actually nicknamed the ‘The Hollywood of gaming’.
This name was ‘coined’ by Guardian journalist Stuart Heritage in an article in 2014, as Guildford has been home to a large number of successful gaming studios since the 1980s. Not being a ‘gamer’ myself, it was unsurprising that I didn’t know about this digital side of Guildford’s Economy. What is perhaps more surprising, is that many people living in Guildford and the Borough are also unaware of its existence.
From the founding of Bullfrog Productions by Peter Molyneux in 1987, over 70 studios have emerged in Guildford – making over 200 games and releasing over 4000, and employing over 1800 people, making up over 10% of the UK game industry workforce. The video games industry is worth almost $90 billion globally. The UK videogames market reached a record £7bn in 2020.
With this history in mind, the importance of collecting objects to reflect the thriving videogame sector in Guildford soon became obvious to me. Although the museum had previously made a great start by collecting four games from the Fable series (Lionhead Studios) and carrying out an interview with Peter Molyneux, it was also clear that this was only the tip of the collecting iceberg!
As well as creating a permanent videogame collection, Guildford Heritage Service has scheduled a videogame exhibition at Guildford Museum for next summer, to coincide with the 2022 annual Guildford Games Festival, for which Guildford Borough Council has been one of the headline sponsors since its first year.
Before I started this collecting project, I had so many questions.
What should we collect? Do we only collect videogames or other material? Should we collect physical games or digital versions? How do we collect these? Did it matter that I wasn’t a ‘gamer’?
Luckily, I was put in touch with Sam Read who runs the fantastic Guildford.Games website and is part of the Guildford Gaming Festival team.
We created a list of the 229 games made in Guildford by each studio – highlighting which games we could potentially buy on eBay with our small acquisition budget.
To date we have purchased 14 games by Bullfrog.
I met with Iain Simons, Claire Mead and Claire Boissiere (Jumpship), of the National Videogame Museum, who kindly supported us in best practices in videogame collecting.
With their expertise we were able to firm up our collecting policy. Guildford Heritage Service will only collect physical versions of games – to collect digital versions and code is still an unknown and complicated area. We will focus on collecting games and material from studios with a GU postcode. This will enable us to collect from studios slightly outside Guildford, such as Godalming, as these are still viewed as part of the Guildford gaming scene. We also want to collect any associated gaming material such as artwork, merchandise, audio files and photographs, and to carry out interviews with different people within the sector, to capture first-hand experiences.
Over the last few months, I have been contacting each games studio still in operation on our list via email, explaining the collecting project and what we are hoping to achieve.
We also have a blog post on the Guildford.Games website about the exhibition which led to the donation of ‘The Movies’, by John Silke, previously of Lionhead Studios.
Many individuals and games studios have since been in contact offering to donate material to our collection, or to loan to the exhibition. However, we know there is still a long way to go and many more studios and collectors to contact.
Although we have the 2022 summer exhibition to aim for, this will be a long-term project. We hope to build long term relationships within the Guildford games sector that will enable us to continue to collect new games when they are released in the future.
If you have any games or materials produced by Guildford studios that you may like to donate or loan to Guildford Heritage Service please get in touch at: HeritageServices@guildford.gov.uk