Preview: Develop 2010

Tandem Events director Andy Lane gives us a glimpse of what's to come in Brighton this year

Q: Looking back on last year's event, how do you feel it went - both in terms of execution, and what people took away with them?

Andy Lane: I have to say we were really pleased with the way it went last year, certainly in terms of delegate numbers - we achieved just over 1200, which was slightly up on the year before, but if you put that against a backdrop of what happened for conferences generally in 2009, the average was about 12 per cent down.

So for us to maintain that level is testament to the importance of the event within the development community.

Q: That's interesting - why did Develop buck the trend, do you think?

Andy Lane: One of the great things about the conference is that we've got a lot of diversity, in terms of the sessions that we offer. There are upwards of 80 sessions, which allows us to put on some very forward-looking sessions, but also to concentrate on some of the technical focus sessions that drill down into the business of producing games, looking back at case studies, and what's been successful.

But the Evolve conference last year was very well received - we've had great feedback on that, and it was the right event at the right time, in terms of looking at the new market places, new platforms, new technologies. That Tuesday has now become an important part of the whole Develop week.

Q: Moving on to this year - E3 is recovering its key industry status, and with Develop happening the following month, do you think that has any impact?

Andy Lane: Well, E3 has been, for a number of years, the main industry event from a publisher and retailer point of view. From a developer point of view you'd probably look at other events, such as GDC - so it's a slightly different focus.

It's an event that's a million miles away from what it is that we're putting on, both in terms of the content, but also the nature - and of course from a geographical perspective.

So anything that gets the industry together and talking about how to improve the way in which they make games, how to learn from one another and how to make better games in the future - that's got to be a good thing as far as we're concerned. It's certainly something that the Develop Conference plays a part in doing.

Q: So how's the organisation for this year coming along?

Andy Lane: It's coming along very well - we've still got a few weeks to go, but we're really pleased with the programme we've got. It is always an ambitious programme that we want to put together, and we set our sights very high. I think if you look at the calibre of speakers we've got this time around, we've certainly managed to achieve that - 80-plus sessions, with 100 or so speakers are all coming along.

What's interesting is that they're not just UK speakers, either - we're pulling from the US, Canada and Europe as well, so I think that's a measure of the event's success that those people want to come along and talk to the audience we deliver.

Q: What are some of the schedule highlights then?

Andy Lane: It's always difficult to single out people, but if we start with the Evolve programme on the Tuesday, we have Louis Castle from InstantAction, there's David Helgason from Unity, we've got speakers from Google, ngmoco, PopCap, BigPoint... a really broad range of people there.

If we then look at the Wednesday, the first day of the main conference if you will, there's the BioWare founders - Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk - we're delighted they're going to be making the trip over, they don't often make it outside of North America.

We've also got Tim Schafer - another industry legend who's going to be making the trip over to speak in Brighton. And if we start to look at the six individual tracks, there's Mark Gerhard from Jagex who'll be providing the business keynote. He'll be talking about why you should focus on gameplay and enjoyment over profit - a talk from a company that shows the concept works.

There's George Andreas from Rare, the creative director, doing a design talk - plus with the Doctor Who game coming out we've got the key people involved in that. We've got Charles Cecil from Revolution, Simon Nelson from the BBC and Simon Millard from Sumo.

They'll all be looking at how you take a property like Doctor Who, use the BBC scriptwriters and the stories they have, and turn them into an immersive episodic game. There's a lot to be learned from that - but also how the BBC views the future of games and gaming.

So we've really got some heavyweight speakers, as well as all of the other sessions that sit alongside them.

Q: One of the challenges for an event organiser is to try and gauge - when the schedule is first being put together - what the key topics will be as much as six months later. Does that come from experience, and how much of a role does the advisory board play?

Andy Lane: It's a combination of things - experience, being close to the industry and understanding what the trends and developments are, and the way in which the markets are moving. Clearly we need to keep our fingers on the pulse.

But we also work closely with the advisory board - they'll help to shape the event as much as possible too.

Q: So aside from the sessions themselves, what do you think people will be talking about between themselves at the bar or during lunch?

Andy Lane: I think this year more than ever it will be about what the future holds in terms of the games market and how it will develop. How much digital distribution will impact, and what the opportunities that offers, as much as the challenges they'll face.

The last 12 months have been tough times for the industry as a whole, but along with tough times there have also been new technologies coming out and developing which throw up opportunities.

If we're looking at the marketplace now there's a far greater number of micro-studios that are out there now, compared to twelve months ago - some of the topics we've got are actually looking at those newly-formed, smaller independent developers and asking how they can take advantage of the current opportunities to make sure those businesses can flourish in the future.

One of the new things we're introducing this time around is actually some free sessions, which we're looking at targeting specifically at micro-studios - or for people that are thinking of branching down that road.

The Expo has always been free for people to attend, but we also wanted to offer some content so that people could come along to Brighton, take in some of the free sessions, and go away having gotten a sense of where the industry is - and how they can move forward with it.

Q: And as always, there's plenty going on in the evenings as well?

Andy Lane: Absolutely - there's a lot that goes on in Brighton outside of the 9am-6pm of the sessions that we offer. The After Hours activities, from the networking drinks to parties to the awards - and that's a key part of what makes the event such a success. There are elements that people can come along to, make great contacts, and really enjoy.

Andy Lane is director of Tandem Events. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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