There and Back Again

Jason Della Rocca | 27 Nov 2007 13:48
Conventioneering - RSS 2.0

Festival: A bit of a catch-all format for activities like the Independent Game Festival, the GameCity festival that takes over in Nottingham for a week or the touring Video Game Live! concert. Often, festivals have a more independent or artistic flair to them.


Often, an event will incorporate more than one format under the same roof. In Leipzig, for example, the emphasis is on the game expo. However, they also have a trade-only section specifically for companies to do business development, and they host a mid-sized developer conference in parallel. Mixing different sub-formats is a way to draw more attention. The old E3 was really the master of convergence like this; given its sheer size and momentum there were always countless sub-events and side activities going on in Los Angeles during the week of the show.

Interestingly, the range of entities that organize and run all these events is just as diverse as the events themselves.

Some events, particularly the enormous logistical nightmares, are put on by media companies in the actual business of running events. The Game Developers Conference is owned and operated by CMP, a massive media conglomerate with global reach. Leipziger Messe, an event management company, runs the Leipzig Game Convention.

Conversely, many events are hosted by non-profit industry associations and trade bodies. Famously, the Entertainment Software Association (which primarily represents American game publishers) organizes E3. Alliance NumeriQC, a trade association for Quebec-based digital media companies, runs the Montreal International Game Summit. Similarly, educational societies or specific universities organize most of the academic events.

In some cases, governmental agencies step in to get things started and serve as the primary sponsors for an event. This is usually done in the hopes of stimulating new business and/or improving the skills of existing workforce.

In other instances, there's no formal organizing entity at all. At the festival style events and jam-type gatherings, the approach is very informal. On the other end of the spectrum, game companies themselves are often the ones behind the major "con" events (like Blizzard and id Software).

So, who the heck goes to all of these events?

In the case of the expos and the tournaments, clearly a lot of gamers and fans show up to participate. On the game industry professional side, the vast majority of workers are fortunate if they get to go to a single event in any given year. Often, it is a select few (e.g., the director of business development or product marketing manager) that takes on an inordinate amount of travel. Often, the goal is to get on a continuous global circuit to stay front-of-mind with potential business partners or the press in the various regions/markets.

In fact, for rank-and-file developers, lobbying to go to GDC or other learning oriented conferences often becomes an internal battle as people politick their way to be the sole team member to make the trek. It's an even harder sell if the given event is in a particularly remote or exotic location, or raises immediate boondoggle alerts (e.g., the event is in Las Vegas or on a cruise ship).

Once again, governments and support agencies will often step in and provide assistance for local studios and staff to travel to some of the major events. Though, these "trade missions" are usually focused on the business development aspect.

Amazingly, for an industry that is based on creating digital/virtual worlds we still heavily rely on the value of meeting face to face. Whether it's to close that juicy development deal, or be inspired by today's most brilliant designers, or just to frag a competitor next to 1,000 of your best friends, it's more fun to do it together.

Jason Della Rocca is the executive director of the International Game Developers Association. (Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the IGDA.) He posts notes and photos of all the events he goes to at

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