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Focus On: Nordic Game 2009

Event organiser Jacob Riis explains the priorities for this year's conference, and what delegates will be talking about will once again be attending the Nordic Game event, taking place May 19-20, a conference that has become a must-attend stop-off in the past few years on the global industry tour.

Here, communication manager Jacob Riis explains the priorities for this year's event, explains why networking has always been a strong point in Malmo, and offers his thoughts on what people will be talking about in-between the sessions. What are the priorities for this year's event?
Jacob Riis

Compared the last couple of years, we've tried this year to get an even stronger relationship to the Nordic community, meaning that the conference has two sides to it - we wanted first of all to be a conference for the Nordic development community, a place where they send staff to educate themselves and network.

But at the same time we want the conference to be a kind of a window to the outside world, so you're able to come from the global community and pick up what's happening in the Nordic games industry.

For this year we've tried to strengthen the ties even more to the Nordic community, to get all of the interesting stories they have to tell, and at the same time the keynote from, say, Unity is good because it's not just doing something with middleware in the Nordic region - it's because it's interesting for everybody to see what's happening in this field. What percentage of the event is discussion for the Nordic community, and what percentage is aimed at the wider development world?
Jacob Riis

It's a balance - we've tried to create a programme that's 50-50, but as with Unity, some of them are for both. It's not strictly segregated on the programme, for example - it's a mixed bag. In terms of the sessions themselves, there are all kinds - developers, publishers, middleware, and so on?
Jacob Riis

Yes, there are all kinds - because our main goal is to serve the whole games industry, not just developers or publishers. So we try to have something for everyone, but with 40 sessions it's not that easy, because there are a lot of different areas and interests we could put in there. What about networking - how much of a priority is that?
Jacob Riis

It's always been really, really important for us to establish that, it was the main goal for the first conference we created five or six years ago - to create an event at which you can come and network.

Since then it's developed over the years to become more of a conference with educational aspects as well, but the networking part is still really important. This year again we're trying to expand the business area of the conference, to try to make it easier for people to connect.

We're offering meeting rooms, a booking system, the Network scheduling system will be in place as well.

What I think is one of our major strengths is that the whole concept is intimate - it's not like there's a huge difference whether you come as a delegate or as a speaker. Because of the size it's still fairly small compared to, say, GDC.

It's really in the atmosphere of the whole conference - it should push you to network. You sit next to a CEO from one company, or a programmer from another, and it's really easy just start talking. There's a lot of conversation going on which isn't planned beforehand, and that's possible because of the atmosphere we're trying to create where nobody is too important to talk be approached. What sort of numbers are you expecting to attend?
Jacob Riis

Well, it's not small compared to some events, but I was at GDC and when you're there... there's about 15,000 people and it's really easy to get lost in the crowd. If you want to meet someone you have to arrange it in advance, you can't really expect to meet anyone there unless you're really lucky.

In terms of exact numbers, we're striving to do better than last year, when we had 1200 delegates - but it's not like we're aiming to get several thousand, because that would probably ruin that intimate feeling I talked about before.

But of course we want to expand within reason, keeping the conference as it is, it's how we like it. Nordic Game has become one of the key stop-offs on the global conference calendar now - what's it been like watching it change?
Jacob Riis

It's interesting - it's also a journey for us as organisers, because we originally intended it to be for the Nordic region only. But very quickly we started to see there was a larger need within the European games industry to have an event like this, so we started to try to bring in bigger international names to attract more people.

That's one of the things we've been good at, I think - finding the balance between being a huge-name conference, and a small, intimate event. Each year we have to do it better than the last, and as a consequence of that it grows, so it's crucial we keep that balance no matter how we grow. What will people be talking about in the corridors, do you think?
Jacob Riis

Well, I think one of them will be about surviving the next year. I think people really want to listen to the experience of others, how they've come through the past couple of really difficult months, and how they can work together - maybe even if they're competitors - how they can work together to get through this.

At the same time I think there's some kind of optimism - yeah, there are hard times, but then again that makes us think a bit harder on how we go about doing things, what our internal working structure looks like, what games we need to make to survive.

There could be some advantages to it, and I think that a lot of delegates will be talking about how they can make the best out of it. The Nordic Game Program grants for the first half of this year will be announced at the event - we reported recently that once again there was record demand for the money, which is good that there's interest, but tricky in that there's only so much money to go around?
Jacob Riis

Yes, it's a bit of a two-way situation. It's great to see that we've established this programme that, I'm guessing, every single company in the region knows about and thinks it's a great opportunity. That's a success for us, that we've managed to get to the smaller countries too - Greenland and the Faroe Islands are applying for money.

In that respect it's good, but at the same time the programme has been cut, and that's a weird thing to watch when the number of applications keeps on growing. We can't really say anything about that, other than we're amazed that there are so many projects out there - and every application this year looks really interesting, which makes it ever harder for our group of experts to make a final decision on grant awards.

Jacob Riis is communication manager for Nordic Game 2009. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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