A few years ago, everyone in the game industry looked forward to May. That was when the E3 Expo took place, and everyone even remotely involved in the industry crowded the Los Angeles Convention Center for a look at the latest, greatest innovations and to rub elbows with the best and brightest. But that was then.
Last year a dozen or more pretenders to the throne emerged from the ashes of the E3, but none so convincingly as CMP’s little conference that could, the GDC. From its roots as a modest gathering of developers deep in Silicon Valley, GDC has evolved into one of the biggest events of the gaming year. Drop a bus on San Francisco’s Moscone Center next week, and you’ll probably do more damage to the game industry than Uwe Boll.
Now, February is the month to look forward to, and GDC the place to be. The Escapist will be there, and we recently spoke with Jamil Moledina, the Executive Director of GDC. In part one of our interview, he tells us what’s new, what’s not, what you can expect to see coming out of San Francisco next week and why you should care.
The Escapist: What’s new this year, now that GDC has emerged as the industry’s frontrunner event?
Jamil Moledina: So E3 … went back to its core values of being a media and retail showcase of fall games, and we kind of adapted from being just the muse of the game industry to becoming the central gravity point for everyone to come together if you need to get anything done in making games. So it’s a wonderful thing. It’s kind of a responsibility … an enhanced responsibility for us to continue to deliver for our core values, which is presenting a lot of breakthrough information to developers.
TE: Do you think that’s kind of put some pressure on you guys; whereas before GDC was the show if you were a developer or wanted to talk to developers about developing, now it’s become so much more. Has that put some stress on you guys?
JM: I can’t say that it really has, because everyone on the team who is working on GDC is extremely passionate to the industry. In fact, I’d say we’re more loyal to the game industry than we are to our own corporation, which is a bizarre thing to say. So we’ve always felt an incredibly high degree of responsibility to deliver for the developers. And since we’ve maintained that as our core principal, we’re still functioning in that regard.
So we’re not necessarily the most press-friendly event in the world, or really a showcase friendly show. I mean, a lot of the information you’re seeing about certain games being revealed at GDC … it’s not officially part of GDC. It’s all happening in the halo around our show. So the games that are officially being revealed at GDC are all related to some incredibly breakthrough in game design or programming.
But honestly, we’re building and treating the GDC in much the same way that we always have, with an eye to the individual developer and not the large company.
TE: Having been there and to a number of events, I can get my head around that kind of divide between what happens officially at GDC and what happens in the auxiliary tents. But do you think the average Joe who’s maybe catching conference coverage from The Escapist is really going to grasp that difference? I mean, isn’t to them anything that happens in San Francisco during the week of GDC sort of part of GDC? And do you guys benefit from that, or does it detract from the show?
JM: I think we benefit from it, and it’s not something that we necessarily care to make that dramatic a distinction to the consumer audience about. The main reason I bring it up is because we’re focused on our core audience, so when it comes to individual developers we want to make sure they understand that the conference schedule is still kind of sacrosanct. It’s still developed with a high sense of editorial integrity, that we run it like a magazine. Every article has to be journalistically sound, if you will.
So for our buying customers, for our attendees that are spending $1500 on a pass, we want to make sure that they get the value that they expect. And the fact that all of this other stuff is going on at the show certainly amplifies the business deal-making side of the story as well. So you get the content you need, and also everyone you need to talk to in order to do the year’s worth of business is down the hall, in the same hotel, or in the bar, or attending the same session. You might want to just exchange business cards on the way out.
So it’s the best of both worlds really, because you have the highly attractive element of having developers from Nintendo come and speak at the show. It’s the kind of thing where you get things at GDC that you would not get at any other event or any other venue in the world. So it becomes the place to be, and then once you have everyone there, it’s your job to close the deal.
TE: What can you tell us about maybe the most new and exciting things you’re going to be having this year? What’s the “feature article,” if you will?
JM: Sure … nice way of putting it. We’ve always had a vision track, with the idea of bring in people from parallel industries, people to challenge and inspire the game developer audience. One of those people that really exemplifies that is Ray Kurzweil, who is one of our keynotes for GDC this year. He’s an inventor, he’s someone that has a lot of patents in creating new ways for people to interface with technology. And interfacing with technology has become something of a gold mine for the game industry, or at least a creative wellspring, so that you can bring in a whole bunch of other people who have never played games before.
For example, I’m thinking primarily of the Wii and of Guitar Hero. There’s a number of other elements developing in the game industry, for example, there’s this brain control technology from Emotive, there’s a depth-sensing camera from 3DV, and Ray Kurzweil is going to be talking about a new human-computer interface technology, as well as broader ideas of what culture and technology are going to look like in 20 years. See, our show is mostly about the game you’re working on now, and the next game you’re working on. So to be able project into the future is a fascinating, amazing thing for us.
John Schappert is doing our Microsoft keynote, and he’s going to be talking about all the things that we haven’t heard from Microsoft over the last couple years, because they haven’t keynoted the GDC in a while. So … I can’t really speak too much about the content of what he’s saying, but I can say that GDC keynotes are mutually developed editorial sessions, so we kind of work together on what it’s going to be, and I am directing a lot of people to just make sure they’re there.
In terms of mechanically what’s new at GDC, we have a Worlds in Motion summit, which is … on Monday and Tuesday of GDC we have a lot of specialized content, because it’s really the essential thing to do when the game industry is growing so much that we can’t necessarily populate everything in the main conference, but we need to make sure that we provide drill-down attention to emerging areas. And Worlds in Motion refers to virtual worlds, to different ways that online portals are being used for fun.
So we have some Facebook content in there, we have different start-ups that are in and out of the game space. But basically, the game industry has this idea that it’s just the core publishers and a handful chosen developers. But the whole breadth of the game industry has been dramatically expanding in the last couple of years, with the advent of independent games – we have an independent games summit – and casual games becoming much more cool to the core of the game industry. And now seeing that Web 2.0 and … film interests are coming in on the virtual worlds side of things. So, our parameters are getting much larger, and so we’re glad to be able to have content that attracts that interest as well.
TE: It’s interesting you bring that up, because … as soon as I get back from GDC, I’m going to turn right around and head to SXSW, and that’s another conference that has sort of morphed over the years from its humble music beginnings … now they have interactive and film and all these things. And just hearing you talk, it sounds like GDC may be headed in a similar direction.
Can you imagine a future in which you have a film track, or an interactive film track, or all these kinds of other things that maybe now are smaller parts of GDC, maybe their own sessions but could later become like the Worlds in Motion Summit?
JM: It’s definitely possible, if the game industry itself moves in that direction. The interesting thing to note here is that all of these new trends that we’re observing are happening in addition to the inherent expansion of the core game industry itself. So GDC still needs to have its main conference, with over 300 sessions in it, dedicated to programming, art, design, production, and 2007 was a banner year, with games like BioShock, Halo 3, and amazing new games on the horizon like Super Smash Brothers Brawl, and Final Fantasy XIII, so there’s a lot of amazing content for us to cover in terms of what went right and what went wrong in creating these games. And that’s really where most of our demand comes from.
So these summits are then a way for us to make sure we’re not missing anything, by dedicating individual content streams to it. Having said that, GDC does adapt over time. Like a couple years ago, we introduced the Business and Management track, and shortly after that, we introduced the Vision track. So it’s very likely that we could be seeing additional tracks depending on where the game industry heads.
TE: That also reminds me … we’re not seeing as much involvement with the IDGA (the International Game Developer Association) this year. Is that by design, or have GDC and the IDGA just sort of gone off in different directions at this point?
JM: Well, we have a really strong relationship with the IDGA; they have the largest booth of a non-profit at the GDC. They’re a very strong partner of ours. The reason why we went with Gamasutra and Game Developer in administering the Choice Awards is because we wanted to make sure that we captured the full breadth of game creators. So there’s a lot more people that are in the Gamasutra membership database.
So we wanted to make sure that we captured them, and that we had a very efficient system for tabulating votes. It really speaks to what we want to spend time on as organizations, and the IDGA is primarily about advocacy. This was something that we simply had a better ability to handle in terms of the mechanics of executing.
TE: Do you sit back with a cocktail glass and a cigar, just kind of pleased that the GDC has become the new destination convention for gaming? I mean, it’s obviously the one everyone is going to … does that make you a little anxious about the future maybe?
JM: At the GDC I will enjoy a drink … that’s true. Implied in there is the sense that we have now accomplished something and it’s a chance to just kind of sit back and relax, which I’m afraid is not the case. We’ve worked very hard to develop the GDC to the point that it’s at. Certainly, the show has a momentum, and it has a word-of-mouth. And it has a point of respect for decades in the industry. So it’s incumbent on us to ensure that we keep that level of editorial integrity, that we always make it clear to the community that we are beholden to them first, and never lose sight of that, never do anything that comes off as slightly … that shows a tin ear, that seems out of touch in some regard. That is one of the things that guides us in how we develop each show.
So every year it’s a challenge to create a better GDC. I don’t see us kind of shirking off that responsibility, nor do I think it’s an impossible goal for us, because the industry is continually expanding and getting into new areas, and it opens up new possibilities for the GDC itself, which is a reflection of that industry.
GDC begins today and will run through Friday, February 22nd. The Escapist will be there providing exclusive coverage of panels, events and parties. Part Two of this interview will appear in this space tomorrow.