The Cannes International Games Festival, the IFJ, has established itself over the years as a highlight of the gaming world and even beyond. Cynthia Reberac, the festival’s general commissioner, discusses the organization of the second largest exhibition dedicated to board games in Europe, and the medium-term prospects.

Since its creation in 1986, the Cannes International Games Festival (IFJ for short) has continued to progress both in terms of popularity and notoriety as well as in terms of organization. Cynthia Reberac, the festival’s General Commissioner since 2020, explains to the Internet user how this festival has become not only the second biggest show in Cannes, but has also established itself as an essential reference in Europe in the world of entertainment. On the occasion of the 2024 edition (February 23 to 25, 2024 for the general public), she shares with the perspectives and aspirations of the festival for the years to come. Today, what is the place of the IFJ in the “play” ecosystem?

Cynthia Reberac: The Cannes International Games Festival is the second largest festival in Europe, behind Essen in Germany, and the first in France.

How did this festival gain traction?

We have to go back in time a little. The first stone was the question of organizing an event in February in Cannes which arrived in 1985. It was a somewhat gloomy period in terms of tourism and commercial benefits. We had to find an idea to boost the local economy and attract visitors to our beautiful city of Cannes.

It was the stone age of board gaming in 1985, we were light years away from the popularity the medium enjoys today. We then started with Olympics of mind games: chess, scrabble, etc. And over the years, we have been able to follow trends and meet the expectations of visitors and society.

We even tried for a while to open up to video games and even manga, but it’s not at all the same profession. We were able to come back and focus on this base that makes us unique: board games.

Who is coming to this festival?

Everyone comes to this festival. And I don’t say that as an exaggeration, we have visitors of all ages, well beyond the famous spectrum of 7 to 77 years popularized by board games. Depending on the year we have between 300 and 500 game authors, who are officially registered as creators. Moreover, the reference site board game geek recognized us as the largest gathering of board game authors in the world.

It was by seeing this impressive number of registered creators that we made the decision to support them with the off nights but also beyond.

In 2017 we created the protolab, in 2022 we improved it with the establishment of masterclasses dedicated to game authors, a half-day plenary with the greatest game designers, illustrators, publishers and also members of the As d’Or jury.

Of course, we also have almost all the game publishers present. Moreover, for the 2024 edition, for the first time since the creation of the festival we have refused exhibitors, all the spaces are full.

How did you discover and support the arrival of the authors?

We realized around 2015 that authors were coming to proactively approach publishers and that contracts could be signed on the corner of a table. Since 2016, we have offered professional days to facilitate these exchanges. Today there are more than 2,500 accredited professionals. Specialist store managers, supermarket buyers, professional or aspiring authors, illustrators, all types of professionals.

In France there are more than 900 specialized stores, not all of them have the opportunity to see all the publishers. For example, we have brand teams like Cultura or Fnac who come with board game area sellers in order to be trained in the use of one game or another by the publishers’ teams during the pro days.

Today the IFJ is the leading professional gaming festival, and the second in terms of general public visitors. The popularity of the IFJ can only grow, after all, there is a gamer in all of us.

How do you attract these unaware players?

That’s the question we asked ourselves (laughs). This year we are trying to open up the field of possibilities by offering activities outside the Palais des Festivals. It can be intimidating to think “if I go to a gaming show, there will only be seasoned gamers, I don’t belong there”. We want to erase this preconceived idea, to show that games, in all their forms, are unifying cultural objects. So, this year we will have concerts in town, singing, dancing, all sprinkled with games of course. The idea is to show that players are open to many artistic trends and to unite everyone around them.

Today, how is the IFJ team organized all year round?

I am the only permanent year-round employee. For six months I was joined by six colleagues: two project managers, two managers and two salespeople. And in the months preceding the event we have more substantial reinforcements.

That doesn’t seem like a lot of people for such a big show. Besides, what does the show look like in a few figures?

The numbers can indeed be dizzying. We can start from the smallest, namely 150 security guards/firefighters. In 2023 there will be more than 73,000 visitors. For 2024 we have 300 stands (exhibitor, entertainment, tournaments), over an area of ​​45,000 m2, the equivalent of seven football fields.

This year we have ten conferences and several exhibitions too.

The gaming market has been restructured with many mergers and takeovers in recent years, how does this impact the management of the show?

It’s pretty marginal and it depends. For example, when Média Participations bought Iello, it was a new entrant in the entertainment sector. So new people to meet, appointments, explanations to give. It was a bit the same when Hachette Livre bought Gigamic, the masked scorpion, etc. There are additional logistical issues in the first years, but really no substantive complications.

Is the market still vibrant?

Absolutely, if we look at the NPD Group study, the worldwide turnover of Board Games increased to 588 million in 2023, a 2% loss compared to 2022. But it is a landing that was planned after the leap of the covid and post-covid years. Not to mention the economic crisis which is causing an increase in costs and reducing purchasing power. If we compare with 2019, we are at a 7% increase in turnover. In 2023, 87,000 game boxes were sold daily.

If we look at crowdfunding for example, it has not decreased, on the contrary. We are even seeing that big players in the world of board games are taking advantage of the IFJ craze to launch their crowdfunding campaigns.

Trends evolve over the years. Puzzle fashion, games for two, games with giant boards… How do these developments impact the show?

We are trying to improve the organization to make visitor movements more fluid. We realized that splitting the adult and children’s offerings was not the best choice. And this is a corollary of the evolution of games. Before, children played children’s games alone. Today there are games for children, from 3 years old, in which adults can take part. There was a huge amount of work from the publishers, both on the adaptation of game mechanics and on the illustration work. I’m thinking of Super Miaou, nominated for the 2024 Children’s Golden Aces.

We try to make all these games which have different approaches coexist. From miniature games where games last for hours, to aperitif games that last 15 minutes, to card games like Lorcana. All this attracts a different audience who do not have the same pace of wandering around the festival.

We decided to reorganize the spaces. 2024 is the year when we can finally announce a complete overhaul of the organization of traffic flows. This is long-term work… I needed the support of Asmodée, the largest publisher on the market, to be able to launch this redesign. Ask them to leave their historic spaces to go to a new hall and manage visitor flows differently. It took three years of negotiation. I hope that this new area will please all visitors.

For a salon to work, we cannot impose changes, we are not in a dictatorship.

Do you always work for such long periods of time?

It depends on the subjects. For example, the Golden Ace juries are chosen with the principle of tacit renewal. We see if the collegial atmosphere works, if they have time to test all the games. It happens that some are at one point hired by a publisher, they then withdraw from the jury.

For the presentation we called on Es tu game, but it is a multi-year contract, and the contract is coming to an end. We have already received numerous requests for 2025.

What is your biggest challenge for the next few years?

The biggest challenge is to continue to maintain the leading position in France, to continue to listen to stakeholders, both visitors and professionals. We have to remain a vector of innovation in terms of festivals, and I’m speaking in the broad sense, we want to stay ahead of the more than 1,000 festivals that exist in France.

Even if we only compare ourselves in detail with the fairs dedicated to games, we still look at the other cultural festivals which take place during the same period. To prevent some of the visitors from being swallowed up by another cultural event. If we have no doubt that board game fans have marked the date of the IFJ in their calendar, fans can switch to another cultural festival which would be in temporal “competition”. This is why we must stand out, and offer an offer beyond purely fun content.

What is your best memory of the IJF?

I have many, but the first one that comes to mind and still makes me smile just thinking about it is my meeting with Antonin Boccara. He’s a game creator that I had the chance to meet one evening at the off nights, he presented a game prototype. The following year I found him on a publisher’s stand to present his published game, and the following year he obtained the Golden Ace. It’s a perfect example of the emotions that one can feel while working for this very special festival.

And your greatest satisfaction?

Personally, my greatest pride is a project around the game Dixit. It’s a game created by Jean-Louis Roubira, a child psychiatrist who works with Régis Bonnessée, the publisher of Libellud. Today, the game, which won the 2019 As d’Or award, has sold more than 12 million copies. For two years, I have been working with the publisher Libellud and other publishers to produce a special FIJ edition of the Dixit game. It is an edition which brings together all the games awarded the Golden Aces since 2008, more than 50 different publishers, 76 illustrators. Everyone agreed to work together on this great project. It is a real pride to have carried out this project.

Practical information: the 2024 Cannes International Games Festival, from Friday February 23 to Sunday February 25, 2024 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (entrance closes at 6 p.m.). Price: from €6 per half day.