Devcom set to thrive in close alliance with Gamescom
Nico Balletta on what being backed by the organiser of Gamescom means for the future of Devcom
For many years, Gamescom week was kicked off by GDC Europe. The German consumer show was making its ascent to become the biggest of its type anywhere in the world, so it made a lot of sense to precede it with an event for developers.
However, while it carried the brand of San Francisco conference that remains the most important event in the industry calendar, GDC Europe was a very different beast. It was much smaller, and it stayed that way; the programme was less studded by the stars of development, and that, too, didn't change as the years went by.
GDC Europe finished in 2016, having never quite taken advantage of its close proximity to Gamescom. The conference that replaced it, Devcom, suggested it would not pass up that same opportunity in its very name.
The first edition in 2017, however, was not the very best of starts. Both Devcom and indie-focused partner event Respawn: Gathering of Game Developers were held in close proximity at Koelnmesse, but tickets for each were sold separately. It was, Devcom's head of program Nico Balletta admits, "a bit confusing for a lot of people."
"It has a positive effect on our cooperation with Gamescom, because we are a part of it now. That makes a huge difference"
"A lot of people didn't really get that," he says. "When I came onboard for the second year, Devcom had almost a completely new team -- that was one of the major changes... They didn't really cancel [Respawn], but they wanted to include Respawn in Devcom, so you didn't have a two event model any more."
The second edition was more focused and a better execution overall, but last year everything changed again. Devcom was operated by Aruba Events, which was owned by Computec Media, but in November 2018 the German developer association, Game, announced that it would take over the event through a new subsidiary.
For its third year onward, Devcom would be run by one of the key organisers of Gamescom. The bridge that GDC Europe never quite established between itself and the world's biggest consumer games show was suddenly built.
"It is an absolutely proper move," Balletta says. "You can have a plan for the next several years. You know what your goals are. It has a positive effect on our cooperation with Gamescom, because we are a part of it now. That makes a huge difference.
"There's a lot of stuff that we did right last year, that we really want to continue to do... Having just one floor, keeping it all focused, with the indies as the heart of the expo floor."
In a sense then, Devcom 2019 is actually year one; a point from which the event can grow and expand in a way that wasn't possible before. According to Balletta, being able to collaborate with the team organising and booking Gamescom is a unique strength that other conferences simply cannot replicate -- even if it doesn't manifest in the most obvious ways.
A decent chunk of the entire global industry descends upon Cologne for that week in August, but tempting industry luminaries to extend their stay and deliver a talk remains a challenge.
"From an attendance perspective, yes," he says. "People are coming to Gamescom anyway, and for most of them it would make sense to join Devcom on Sunday or Monday. From a programme perspective it's not as easy.
"We all know how we all look after one week of Gamescom. So telling people, 'Hey, you can be there three days earlier and have to prepare a session.' People aren't always fighting for that, because they are already in hell for five days.
"You have studios who attend Gamescom with a game they are not about to launch, so most of them can't really talk about that stuff [in detail] yet. But if you have a studio that will release two weeks after Gamescom, that's a different story... It's super fresh. That was how it was with Cory [Barlog] last year, with God of War coming out in April.
"There are a lot of advantages this combination gives you. It just might not be the ones you first think about."
The question is where Devcom will go from here. In terms of pure potential, there is scope for that week in Cologne to be GDC and E3 in a single week, but it will require true cooperation between Gamescom and Devcom to even come close to realising that ambition. This new structure, Balletta says, gives it a fighting chance.
"I'm absolutely convinced," he says. "No successful event was super successful from the first or the second edition... A lot of people have asked what our goal is, and we of course have high goals. But if you don't have that goal, that motivation, why even try?"
GamesIndustry.biz is a media partner of Devcom 2019. We attended the event with assistance from the organiser.