One of the familiar faces at Leipzig's GCDC in the past few years has been Streamline Studios CEO Alexander Fernandez - but this year he's serving on the advisory board for GDC Europe.
Here he explains why he's supporting the Cologne event, what he hopes to see from it and offers his assessment of the direction of the videogames business in 2009.
Q: You're on the advisory board for GDC Europe this year - and for GCDC last year - so what made you decide to join Frank Sliwka for the new event?
Alexander Fernandez: I think you're asking a question that a lot of people are asking - why did all this happen? I think that's really what you're trying to get at. Unfortunately in this industry it comes down to commercial decisions, and those commercial decision are made by people in greater positions that you're in.
Obviously for GCDC in the past couple of years, I served on the advisory board and was a part of it, and along with Frank and the advisory board worked very hard to build a great conference.
What we'd done is created a conference that had become quite successful throughout Europe and the rest of the world, and it got the attention of the industry. What that ended up doing was creating a situation in which our success unfortunately became our undoing because it got too big, from the standpoint that not only did you have what was going on at Game Convention, but with the conference as well Leipzig just couldn't hold everything at the same time.
I think it's really important to note this - the decision to go from Leipzig to Cologne was a very difficult one, and one which was in the end a commercial decision that was out of our hands. It found us going in this direction.
But you can't have a conference without the consumer event. You couldn't just do it by itself in Leipzig, and have the developers and business conference half-way across the country from the consumer event. That's the moment in time - commercial reality.
It was hard - we spent a good year... and I've been going to that conference since 2003, I've spent a good part of my career in this conference putting it together. A lot of us are very passionate about the city, so it's a very sad day.
But at the same time, things change. It's like graduating from school and going to college - we kind of graduated all together. The cool part about it is that being able to do this, working with Frank, and ultimately being able to be part of the larger play here - GDC - really helps the industry in Europe position itself globally.
Because, whether you like it or not, GDC is a large brand that's known worldwide. Whether you agree with its politics or not, being able to be on the advisory board is to work with people who have put their heart and soul into it in the appropriate manner, and I think really puts us in a position where we can really have influence.
Plus it ensures that from Europe's perspective - and also Asia's - that there's a group that's really interested in advancing developers' causes. And if you look at the conference this year, and you look at who's speaking, it's just a reflection of the same spirit as before. And I think what's better is that the brand is able to attract even more quality people, which is something that, as a conference person, you're always wanting to do.
Of course, there are still going to be people who are mad - there are still those who are angry about the Leipzig thing, people that are pissed off that it's GDC. But what I say to those people is that this is going to be good - I'm sure it's going to be good. And if it's not good, then we'll raise Hell. Let your voice be heard.
Q: Whatever people's point of view, it's moved on now - looking ahead to Cologne, what are you most looking forward to?
Alexander Fernandez: To be honest with you I think what I'm looking forward to the most is just a pass at the overall situation in the industry right now. I'm looking forward to seeing the industry breathe again, specifically with publishers as the realisation that they have big holes in their 2010-11 release schedules hits so hard that they're like "Crap, where are we going to get product?"
So then the flood gates open for developers who are out there staying lean and trim, trying to survive, have an opportunity to rush in. One thing I've found extremely positive is that everyone I've spoken to has already pre-booked 10-15 meetings, which by industry standards, for people to have booked meetings more than a month in advance... that's a like a miracle.
And the fact that so many have done it just tells me that this show is important - and for multiple reasons. Not just the European context, but also the global context in that developers coming to this show are looking to place product. For some it's their Hail Marys, for others they want to get a good idea off the ground - but for publishers it's "Sh*t, we need to buy something".
This is the one thing that I think it great, and I'm looking forward to seeing that. I can't wait to see a few of the transactions.
Q: Talking about the business of games, it's been a tough six months this year - how is business for Streamline? If studios are being hit now, does that mean their outsourcing budgets are also being hit?
Alexander Fernandez: It's been an interesting six months. Ultimately, if you look at your macro- and micro-economics we always new the bubble would pop - in December, when it started going to Hell, we started to make our preparations.
Now, ever-optimistic, and a little bit of the realist I am, we started to prepare for what we thought would be a potential letting of the blood. So what we found was that it was a mixed bag - what ended up happening was that publishers stopped commissioning projects that was the hardest part.
Because essentially what you then see is a lack of commissioned projects trickle to the developers, which then trickled to the outsourcers, so it forced us to reassess and reconfigure ourselves.
What ended up happening was one side of positive, one side of negative. We started to look at different opportunities to continue our line of business and get into other sectors. Effectively what happened with Streamline is that we started pushing on things that we never thought would be in our domain.
It doesn't mean that it's been easy, because I don't think that anyone can say it's been an easy six months, and this whole thing will start to lead into the Fall, but what it's done in our case is push the entire concept of co-production to the forefront. We've been very fortunate in that our co-productions have kept going - we're coming to a situation where the sacrifices of the past six months are leading to rewards.
I can't give you all the details on that, but what I can say is that there isn't an industry that hasn't been hit by this, and more importantly there isn't a sector within our industry that hasn't felt it. I think the most important thing now is that we re-evaluate the fact that some of the things the industry was doing was unsustainable. If you look at it, there have to be better ways to finance games, there have to be better ways to put productions together, and there has to be something smarter.
Ultimately I think that's what this has exposed, and we're going to see change. Some of the publishers are now looking towards things like completion bonding and informal investors - gone are the days of the credit card piggy bank, where financial stability would sometimes lead to the ability to finance projects with absolute impunity.
You'll see productions happen in a different way - which is also positive for developers, because there will be more situations where they'll, if not demand more, be in a position from the get-go where they're seen more as partners that are here to help make a product.
Q: We've seen a number of big titles pushed back to 2010 to avoid the crush of pre-Christmas, which could end up being a good thing for year-on-year comps next year?
Alexander Fernandez: If we're talking about what's going on in 2010, what we're going to see is because we've staggered development out the way we have in the next year, I think we'll end up creating a new trend in the industry that's a realisation it's not all about Christmas, it's about titles throughout the year.
That's not a bad thing - if you think about it, being able to sell commercial product throughout the year and still be successful is a lot better than being on Murderer's Row, or whatever the Hell you call it.
Alexander Fernandez is CEO of Streamline Studios and on the advisory board for GDC Europe. Interview by Phil Elliott.