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Making the Connections

GamesIndustry.biz speaks to Noah Musler, Sega's director of artists and repertoire, about his goals for the upcoming Game Connection

Game Connection began in 2001, as an alternative to the loud and crowded trade shows, where professionals could network with each other to do business. In 2004, Game Connection joined GDC for the first time, and in 2006, the show was established in Tokyo and Shanghai.

This year, Game Connection will be held in Lyon, France during the same week as GDC, on December 3 and 4. GamesIndustry.biz spoke to one of the attendees, Noah Musler, Sega's director of artists and repertoire, about his goals and expectations for the show.

GamesIndustry.biz: How long has Sega been involved with Game Connection?

Musler: I think this will be our fourth year...you know, time kind of flies by.

When Sega made the decision to start doing external development, but before we had announced anything public or signed anything, Game Connection was one of the first events we attended at GDC.

What sort of activities do you participate in at Game Connection?

We generally participate in their main track of what we refer to as "publisher-developer speed dating." That's really what it is. They've attracted quite a large number of developers and there are always new studios out there.

As much as we try to stay on top of everything that is happening in the industry, a lot of times you don't hear about a small startup DS studio that might have an interesting 3D technology... Who knows what the case might be.

A lot of the smaller studios go through Game Connection first to get their name out there and meet with publishers. It's a great way to schedule short meetings and get the gist of what a company is all about as far as what their goals and aspirations are, what platforms they cover, and the schedule longer meetings outside of the Game Connection event to follow up if something fits our needs.

Are you able to discuss any specific titles, projects, or technology you've obtained as a result of these Game Connection meetings?

Sega hasn't signed anything yet as a result of Game Connection. We see hundreds and hundreds of projects a year between Sega America, Sega Europe, and Sega Japan, and we only sign a small fraction of them.

There have been things we've liked that have come out of Game Connection. The one that really stands out for me was the first Game Connection I attended when I saw Dark Messiah from Arcane studios. We really liked it, but Sega wasn't ready at that specific moment to sign next-gen content, not enough people knew about it, we weren't really in the PC market. So, by the time we got our act in gear, Ubisoft had already picked it up and turned it into Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.

But, as a result of that, we've maintained a relationship with Arcade moving forward, at Game Connection and outside of it, and hopefully we'll work on something with them in the future.

So, the right opportunity just hasn't presented itself?


Are there any "holes" in your product line-up, or genres where you feel Sega is a little weak, that would lead you to look for specific types of games at Game Connection?

I don't want to point out any specific holes that Sega is looking for. I don't think I could do that in this forum. I will say that we are always looking for great new, original IP with compelling gameplay hooks. That's the big thing, and sometimes those small, new start-up studios are a great place for that. Creative people come together, whether they're from other companies and have formed a new studio... Which happens a lot, when big studios get bought, some of the talent leaves, eventually... Or it is a new start-up studio, fresh out of the garage and they've got a great idea.

We're always looking for that kind of thing, and that's what I hope to find at Game Connection.

The other aspect is, no matter how many great titles you have, no matter how many Sonic the Hedgehogs, or Mario and Sonics, or Condemned 2's you've got in your line-up, you always need new product, you always need more units, and some times there are great opportunistic acquisitions to be made.

Either a project has been dropped by one of our competitors, or something has been self-funded, and it can plug a hold in our roadmap from a unit perspective, or turns out it jives really well with Sega's internal structure and passions.

If I could say I was looking for anything at Game Connection without being too specific about Sega's roadmap that isn't announced, it would be great, original IP, most likely for PS3, 360 and PC from a multi-platform perspective, and then opportunistic pickups that I can put into our next fiscal year or soon after that.

What are your goals at Game Connection?

For me, particularly more and more so, Game Connection offers the opportunity to meet with new studios, which is fantastic, because, like a said, a lot of them are smaller, just starting up, and they might pass through the sifting of the filter that happens when projects come across your desk and you might ignore it when you don't have a face-to-face meeting.

We always hope there might be a "diamond in the rough" that we see and can sign at Game Connection. Maybe something that a developer has been self-funding for a while and they show it for the first time at Game Connection that might fill a hole in our portfolio... It just becomes a nice opportunistic pick up. That's always a great hope.

But I think it is more about relationships. Establishing contact with people that you didn't know before and seeing all the folks from the industry that you know. It's just too difficult to travel to every single studio out there and have one-on-one face time with them on their home turf, so Game Connection is a nice "hub" for us to do that and meet a lot of people.

Plus, I get to interact with my counterparts at other publishers, which normally we don't... At least from my perspective, we don't talk to each other that much since we are all competing for the same products.

Is this the same sort of activity that used to go on at E3?

It doesn't take the place of what goes on at E3, or GDC, or DICE. All of these events serve their purpose. Game Connection is really focused on bringing buyers and sellers together. It's nice that this is their sole goal, but to be honest, this kind of work happens at every single industry event that we have.

I was just wondering if, with the changes in E3, do you think there are more opportunities for Game Connection to "pick up the slack" in this regard?

Well, I wouldn't want Game Connection to go away. It definitely adds a lot of value just because it is so focused, as I said. At E3, there are always a ton of meetings with developers, and project pitches, even in this most recent past year's version, which was a little weird.

We still had a lot of meetings where developers pitched us products. If they're down there for press reasons, pitching on behalf of a studio, you can bet that they will take the opportunity to get together with acquisitions people from all the major publishers as best they can. They'll take advantage of it, whether it's in a hotel bar or a special meeting room.

Game Connection is very focused. Its sole purpose is to put developers and publishers together, or technology suppliers and developers or publishers together. I think it is a great event. Plus it is very social and casual, which is very nice.

There is a certain formality about E3 in any shape it has taken. [Game Connection] is just a different vibe, particularly the Lyon event. It's a very social event. Everyone's pretty loose. It's a nice way to get together and talk projects.

I always think of the acquisitions business with videogames as heating up in February with DICE, and continuing on through GDC, and then kind of culminating in E3. The Lyon Game Connection event, for me, is starting to become the "kickoff" event to that season.

I'll meet with 40 different developers or more during that three day period in Lyon, and some of those will trickle down into DICE meetings, and there will be other, of course, developers who didn't go to Game Connection who we'll hook up with at DICE and then we'll continue to refine that through GDC, and maybe Game Connection at GDC may bring in other people that we didn't meet with in Lyon, et cetera, et cetera.

Noah Musler is Sega's director of artists and repertoire. Interview by Mark Androvich.