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Focus: GDCE 2005 gets underway in London

Today (Tuesday) is the GDCE Mobile day and also sees the Tutorial tracks in audio, game design and Microsoft game development running, with the conference proper kicking off tomorrow. You can find a full schedule on the GDCE website. Looking at the schedule for this year's GDCE, what would you pick out as being your highlights? What are the really big things that people should be coming to see?

Susan Marshall: Well, there are the obvious keynotes that are really spectacular, like Phil Harrison, Keita Takahashi and Chris Satchell from Microsoft, which are really great. I probably shouldn't even need to mention them, because they're so obvious.

In terms of the others... I'm really excited about all the next-gen lectures we have, because this will be really the precursor to GDC. There are so many people now that are able to talk about things involving next-generation. A lot of the Sony guys are doing really great stuff - there's a session on developing for the PS3, there's an overview for PSP, and there are some really great case studies that we have from people like the 24 team, the Singstar people, Guerrilla - who made Killzone, Wipeout Pure - another PSP title...

I think we have some really amazing stuff that hasn't been done anywhere else this year, because we're coming in at a really great time in the cycle, right at the beginning. I can't really pick one session out, per se, but I think the breadth of things we're presenting is really great this year. We've got a really good line-up of new technology and old technology we're representing, as well as new situations within the industry - we have a talk on serious games, one on funding, one on publishing and royalties. These are topics that are continually hot topics, especially with developers' role changing - it's important to keep that topic up to date, to keep them informed on how best to get a good deal or keep their deal afloat.

So you're trying to strike a balance between practical, technical sessions and more business focused, overview style sessions?

Yeah, I think so. We've tried to do inspirational, business and technical. It's very hard here because we have such a small conference right now - and I don't mean small in a bad way, it's just that we're building our event, so we can't offer exactly the same sessions that we would at GDC. So we want to give everybody something - if a programmer comes, he's going to get something out of it, as much as an artist or a biz dev guy, who can come and be inspired as well as learning something.

Is there going to be a lot at GDCE for someone who's been to GDC already this year?

Definitely! I don't think that, this year especially, it's a rehash of GDC at all. I think we have maybe two talks that we did at GDC - and even those have been updated. In the past we've probably used more old GDC topics to bring people over, but this year I feel like it's really fresh because again, we're at that point where people really want to talk about next-gen and they couldn't at GDC. We've been able to get some really new content.

This will be the last GDC event before the next-gen actually hits the market...

Yeah. We've really looked at our timeslot in the cycle, and I think it's really exciting. We actually had more next-gen talks than we could take! Everybody really wants to talk about it and learn. It's an important point in the cycle.

What are the key ways in which your approach to GDCE this year differs from previous shows? It's being run by a somewhat different team, but are there any really big changes to how you look at the conference overall?

Well, my goal this year is really to make it into a complementary event to GDC, but also to make it into its own event - so that people might even want to come over from the States to see what's going on. We want to make it stand alone as a place for developers to come and learn, and not just make it like GDC's secondary conference. We want it to address issues that European developers are interested in.

We plan the conferences in basically the same way, as regards the angle, but I think that inspirationally we have to look at what's more important - for example, things like outsourcing might be more important to a European developer than an American developer, and there are other similar issues, like Asia and things like that.

I think that we're trying, with the help of our advisory board, to really take that tack and really find out what they feel is important to a European developer to present at the conference.

Have you been pleased with the level of support you've received from European developers for the conference?

So far, I think it's been great - I've been really really happy with the feedback I've got from our board, and just from people wanting to speak. We did a call for papers, like we would for GDC, and we got a really great response and a really wide variety of people wanting to speak. Not just vendors and top-tier developers, but independents and people like that as well.

The feedback that I've got is that there really is a need for a developer type week or set of events, and how that moves forward we'll have to see.

Previously, GDCE has always been attached to the ECTS trade show, which no longer exists - do you see that as a challenge, or maybe even as an advantage?

Hmm - the eternal question!

A challenge, no. I don't think it's a challenge at all. ECTS and GDCE were run together, but were very separate in terms of the way the mentality worked, as far as what they set out to accomplish. Our main goal with GDCE is to be an educational conference.

I don't know that we miss the trade part of it. I think it's important, but I think that we can find it in different ways. I think the other stuff that's going on in London is a good complementary thing to what we're doing, and I think they have their own niche in what's happening. I'm glad that they're there.

You don't think that GME running on the same dates is going to pull people away from GDCE, or vice versa?

Well, I would hope that we can complement each other - because it's so much closer than, say, ExCeL and Earls Court. You can pop in a cab and be there in ten minutes from the other venue - you could spend your morning at GME and your afternoon at GDCE, or vice versa.

That was a big concern of ours - we wanted to make sure we didn't fracture the audience. We wanted to make sure that both events are successful for the benefit of the industry. That's really our goal, is to benefit the industry, not to fracture it.

You describe GDCE as an educational conference, but do you also see it as somewhere for business to get done?

Yeah, I mean, the TIGA Content Market is going on for example... I think that GDCE will always primarily be a great networking event, whether it's formal meetings or just running into people in the hallway and saying "oh, wow, you're here, we must catch up, here's my business card".

I think at GDC in California, that's one of the things that everyone says is a big thing - having lunch at a table where your peers or your mentors are, when you wouldn't have that chance otherwise. I think that's what we want to bring to GDCE as well, is that ability to come in and network as well as learn.

So yeah, I think it will provide those things - maybe not in a formal way, as GME does, but whenever you get a bunch of developers together, it's a great place to network.

GDCE has always been in London, but it's targeted at all of Europe; what initiatives have you been using to bring in people from around the continent, not just the UK?

Well, usually our attendance is about fifty-fifty - fifty per cent UK, fifty per cent from the continent. Our advisory board has several mainland Europeans on it and I think we've tried to really source them for their peers and colleagues that they can get the word out to that GDCE is here, that we'd like you to attend and that we think it'd be beneficial.

I think we've done a pretty good job of applying what's important to Europe as well as the UK. It's very easy sometimes to get caught in the UK mindset, because you're in London, but we've tried to be conscientious of that. We have people from Ubisoft, and Guerrilla and Crytek on our board, so that kind of balances out the tendancy to be a little more UK centric.

I think we've done a pretty good job, but I think we could do better. I'd like to do better.

Would you consider perhaps moving GDCE around different European cities?

Potentially, but I can't really say. In my personal opinion, I'd like to keep it in London for the time being, but I wouldn't be opposed to possibly considering other options. Like you said, it's a European conference, so it'd be interesting to see if we could do that moving forward.

Finally, you probably won't get a chance yourself to sit in on many sessions - but are there any you're absolutely determined, personally, to go and see?

One thing I have to see... Well, I would like to see Keita's talk, because I think he's always charming and interesting and inspirational. Also... I probably would like to go see the Singstar talk because I really love that game, and I think Pauline is a really great speaker and a really good personality.

I'd like to see those - they apply more to my kind of gaming, casual, fun gaming. We don't have those games in America, so I'd like to see what their inspiration was for that.

Susan Marshall is the associate director of the European Game Developers Conference, which takes place this week. Interview by Rob Fahey.

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Rob Fahey

Contributing Editor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.