Where to travel and what to do there.
There are quite a number of game conferences available. Why are they so popular, and should go to any of them?
At a short glance, it almost seems odd that the games industry is so keen on sharing their insights. After all, at these conferences, we are really telling our competitors how to build better products and business models. In most industries, that is not thought of as prudent business behaviour.
So why do companies do it? And why am I wasting your time with this blog, which is really about the same thing?
Most of all, it is about attracting great partners, by signalling competence. It’s really sort of the same thing as the peacock’s tail – it’s expensive for the peacock dudes to grow, and makes them easier prey for predators – hence only a really strong peacock can do that. And the peacock girls love such macho show offs.
By spilling the beans on all your business secrets at a conference (or a blog), a company can signal to investors, potential employees, publishers, etc. that they know what they are doing. They are even cocky enough about their competence that mere imitators, who only follow the advice given, will never be able to catch up with them. Therefore, they can afford to tell competitors their secrets – in exchange for a more respected position in the industry.
From my, admittedly short, experience with this blog, it seems to be working! We’re getting better people to ask for jobs at the company, and better companies to ask for potential partnerships.
Now that I’m done comparing myself to a peacock, which conferences should you go to? There’s a great list of most of them, here:
If you look at visitor numbers, the really huge ones are the ones aimed at consumers. There’s E3 in the US, Gamescom in Europe, China Joy in China, etc. There’s also Spiel in Essen in Germany that is about board games – the non-digital stuff.
These events have hundreds of thousands of people attending, but most of the attendees are players rather than game developers. Attached to them will, of course, also be business meetings for companies.
Among the developer events, the largest is GDC that is held every spring in San Francisco. Actually, it’s this week, and I’m here in San Francisco right now. Other, slightly smaller ones, are the Pocket Gamer Connects events (in London, Helsinki, Bangalore, Vancouver…), the Casual Connect events (Tel Aviv, Amsterdam, Singapore), Develop in Brighton, Nordic Game in Malmö, White Nights (St. Petersburg, Helsinki), Mobile Games Forum (London, and Hong Kong) and many more. GDC itself also has smaller versions in China and Europe. With all of these, how do you pick which ones to attend, and what should you do at them?
There are mainly three things one can do to keep busy at a games conference. You can
- listen to the talks to learn new things
- meet other companies to scheme about world domination
- get drunk at somebody’s party or dinner in the evening
Most likely, you will pick two of these. Doing all three is likely to fail – so plan ahead which is most important to you.
Let’s start with the talks: if you are entering a new part of the business (like moving from console to mobile, from premium to F2P, becoming a VR pioneer, etc.) this is a great way to learn from other people’s mistakes and can save you a lot of money. Every year, I seem to get at least a few epiphanies by listening to some of these talks. All in all, this is pretty straightforward: figure out what is most important to you (tech talks, art talks, business models, game design, etc.) and just go listen to them.
Even more important than the talks, are usually the meetings. It is way more efficient to meet a whole series of companies at one of these events that ‘everyone’ is attending, compared to flying out for one-on-one meetings at each other’s offices around the globe. You can find potential ad networks, publishers, sub contractors, ad networks, localization agencies, investors, at networks, etc. – all in one place. Did I mention that there are likely a few ad networks there too, willing to meet with you?
Try to figure out before hand what is important for you – meet with those people – and make sure you have at least some time to catch your breath in between. I actually find it good to also meet with a few of the companies that you will likely not partner up with in the end. You get to hear more views on where this business is headed, and might find some ideas that you did not know existed.
Last, the dinners and parties. These are great for networking, and a way to get you more contacts that can help you out at some point. A lot of times, I have been at some event that I did not think was super useful, but it lead to another not-that-useful contact that led to a third – that in the end saved our asses when we really, really needed it.
These events are a sort of numbers game – every year you will get a few more contacts and get invited to a few more dinners. Slowly you become one of the insiders that everyone knows, and get invited to even more of the “exclusive” events. People you meet at these events can help out a lot. Without those contacts it’s just quite a bit harder to succeed in this business (just like in all other businesses).
One last word of advice:
When you’re choosing what conference to attend, pay attention to the signal to noise ratio. The larger ones are not always better – it also gets harder to find the relevant people you want to talk to at those huge events. Conferences with a few hundred people can be excellent, if everyone there is worth having a discussion with. Of course, getting on the invite list for one of the dinners attached to the larger events can also get you to a place with amazing signal to noise ratio. If you’re not already getting those invites, try holding a talk at the event – or writing a blog. I hear that can work.