Looking Ahead: GDC Europe

Conference director Frank Sliwka explains the changes from GCDC and outlines the event's aims

While the summer trip to Leipzig has become standard in the past few years - either for Games Convention, its GCDC conference, or both - this year it's all change. Games Convention Online (Leipzig), gamescom (Cologne) and GDC Europe (Cologne) are the new options for this summer.

Here, Frank Sliwka, VP of European business development at Think Services, explains some of the reasoning behind the changes and looks ahead to the topics that GDC Europe will tackle next month.

Q: Last year's developer event in Germany was GCDC in Leipzig, which you organised - so for anybody that's missed the news, can you run down the changes for this year, and why it's GDC Europe in Cologne?

Frank Sliwka: I think what we've learned from the past is that it's a good thing to have a publishing event together with a developing event. It means that in a short time, you have the chance to meet all of the important people around the games industry - development, publishing and trade - everyone at one time in one place. That's what I learned in my previous years.

What we'd like to have this year is that really both events are on a European level. That's why the publisher association, BIU, made the decision to go to a bigger city which has more international direct flight connections from all over Europe - you can fly from Spain directly to Cologne, for example, and two or three connections per day from London. That's one point - everybody is able to have a one- or two-day visit to Cologne and can meet all of the games industry, to discuss the issues.

So we want to install a brand that stands for international business, that's established for years in the games industry and create a European hub that has a bridge to the US market - not just from the US, but back to it as well.

That means we have one brand that has other conferences on other continents, so we can have a better exchange of meetings, topics, business and so on. This we've already got with GDC - maybe we can expand it in the next few years to Asia, and then we have a model that I would like to see, so that you'd have, in Cologne for Europe, visitors from North America and Asia... but you also have the opportunity to go back to them with other events.

Q: Tell us a bit about the facilities in Cologne?

Frank Sliwka: GDC Europe will be held in the Congress Center East, which is directly in the Cologne convention centre. It also has a direct connection to the business area at gamescom, which starts on the Wednesday. So we're integrated into the whole system.

The Congress Center itself can house thousands of attendees - it's a really big one, and the biggest room has the capacity for 1500-1600 people. And we also have an exhibition area on the second floor which already has around 30 exhibitors - last year [at GCDC] we had eight.

So it's really a much bigger area than we had last year. From the exhibition there are also opportunities to give lectures, discussions, and so on, and the whole place has all the technical equipment that you'd need for a conference.

Q: What's the feedback you've had on the plans so far?

Frank Sliwka: I've always told people that we want to show the European perspective, create a European event, and have the opportunity to generate better connections with other regions. That's one point.

The other is that we want to create a showcase for Europe - it means we can present our best games, our best companies, our best speakers, our best services. To that end I've involved the most important organisations - the EGDF, the Nordic Game Program, the Eurogamer Network.

From this standpoint we have really good backing for everything, and I think it needs time for everybody to trust it. It's a US brand, but everybody will see when we publish our programme that we're creating something that's Europe-focused.

I think we have great support and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone who is important in the European games industry.

Q: Only a few weeks to go now - what sort of topics will GDC Europe be focusing on?

Frank Sliwka: We have four session tracks - business, programming and so on. The main thing is that we want to give the world an overview of what's happening in Europe. That means we have two big keynotes - Remedy, on Xbox 360 development, will be showing a triple-A game, and another one, which is yet to be announced.

Then we have three track keynotes - one is from Crytek's Cevat Yerli, he'll be giving us an overview of the technical standards in Europe. Then we have Hilmar from CCP, who'll be explaining how to create a successful business story in Europe. And finally we've got a keynote from GameForge - he looks at the new development in browser- and client-games. That's a really big topic, especially in Europe.

Q: By the end of the week, what do you feel people will have learned the most from GDC Europe?

Frank Sliwka: That's a good question. We have a lot of topics, but I think digital distribution is one of the big points - we've got some talks about that.

What I think will be interesting is localisation - it's not really featured in other conferences, but there's no other continent that's really fragmented like Europe, so it's a huge topic and we want to bring it to the forefront.

There'll also be three great talks on the iPhone, from different perspectives - I think we have the most important iPhone developers around Europe on one panel, who'll be giving us their view on how to successfully develop games on that platform.

And we'll be looking at the future of the games industry - the change from the old economy to the new economy, what will happen and what the business opportunities are. That's a two-hour panel with business development executives from I think Microsoft, Capcom, Foundation 9, Konami, Paramount, Namco Bandai, Disney... that's another big issue. That's an amazing panel, all the big guys are there.

Frank Sliwka is VP of European business development at Think Services. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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