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NLGD's Seth van der Meer

The Dutch Festival of Games founder talks about this year's line-up and how the event has evolved over five years

Now in its fifth year, NLGD's Festival of Games, which takes place in the Dutch city of Utrecht, bills itself as Europe's most effective business event for anyone wanting to make a profit from digital games.

This year the event will be bigger than ever, with an audience of thousands expected from Europe and beyond and a line up of speakers that include Dave Perry and Ian Livingstone. GamesIndustry.biz spoke to the event's founder Seth van der Meer to find out more ahead of the doors opening on June 3.

GamesIndustry.biz The Festival of Games is now in its fifth year - how has the event evolved since it began?
Seth van der Meer

Initially it started as a very national focused festival. When we started in 2005 the games industry in the Netherlands was just emerging and the companies were scattered around, there wasn't too much of a networking event. So we thought it would be a good idea to have a yearly event for Dutch companies to meet each other and to strengthen our network.

So that was really the start of what was then called the Dutch Game Days - a very national focused event. And then what happened was that both the national and local governments noticed this event and they valued it. The Dutch government really focuses on what they call the knowledge economy - the creative economy - and they see the games industry as the poster children for that economy. So they wanted to subsidise it to make sure that it would grow, not only on a national level but also to get international attention for the Dutch industry.

So that was sort of the second stage of its development. We got government support in 2006 and onwards. In 2006 it was one year's support then later on we got enrolled in a programme to get a four year subsidy and we expanded the festival out of the Dutch boundaries and created a more European focused event.

GamesIndustry.biz So it's become a much larger event and one with a more international focus over the past few years?
Seth van der Meer

Yes. In terms of size, when we started, it was just 200-300 people getting together, exchanging ideas and doing a little bit of business. And what changed was the focus and the size. And this year we expect up to 3000 people of which about 40 per cent will not be Dutch, but coming from Germany, France, the UK, Denmark, the US and even Japan.

GamesIndustry.biz What sort of feedback did you receive from attendees last year, and how have you used that feedback to improve the event this year?
Seth van der Meer

Well, if you look at last year's event there were a couple of activities which received different feedback. So one of our biggest events is, of course, the conference and at last year's event the conference was focused a lot on alternative reality games, augmented reality, so using other means of gaming, not just video gaming but also using the environment as a game platform. And although the sessions were rated pretty highly, some of the feedback that we got from developers was that they were expecting more business knowledge.

While they really liked the topics - they were the same things they're doing right now - they wanted to hear from people who had already made it in the industry or who had business knowledge about how to monetise your game or how to choose the right engine or how to find sweet spots in the market that you can develop your company in. They were really looking for that kind of business-orientated knowledge. Very focused on "okay, I have a game company and I want to have a game company next year and I want to have one in five years that's even bigger." So that was the most important feedback we got I think on the conference side.

The other was that, we started a matchmaking event last year called Pitch and Match which is a three minute meeting between a buyer and a seller and that received very good feedback and they wanted more of that. So most people who went to a Pitch and Match last year - there were about 50-55 companies - most of them returned this year and now we're looking at almost 100 companies taking part at this year's festival. So again, the focus is on doing business rather than contemplating visions on game design or art.

GamesIndustry.biz So a lot more of the sessions and the focus are aimed at executives and people running businesses, both big or small?
Seth van der Meer

Yes, I think that, in our opinion and also in the feedback that we receive, it also has something to do with the economy right now so people are looking for a quick return on investment. They're basing their decision to go to our festival, or to any conference, on what it brings to their company right now or tomorrow rather than longer term investments in developing a vision or a game or gaining inspiration.

Today it's about how to get money as quickly as possible or how to sell your game as quickly as possible or how to monetise your game. I think that's one reason. The other one is that, if you look at the events in Europe, a lot of them have sprung up over the last couple of years so it's also a matter of having a unique profile - not being the next European GDC or something but trying to find an angle that's different.

GamesIndustry.biz A lot of the conferences this year seem to be focusing on digital distribution. So have you tried to do something different or do you really need to cover it since it's such an important issue?
Seth van der Meer

Well we chose our theme a little under a year ago as being everything online. Not just the business model but also taking into account the online part of gaming - so playing together, getting user feedback through forums and stuff like that.

It's becoming such an important role also for the development of your game, not just on how you monetise it but also on how you create and play games. That will be the focus of our conference this year, so yes distribution and monetisation through online models is definitely a part of it but also on how this creates new opportunities of developing games. For instance, incorporating user feedback into your game designs.

Also one of the things that we see, especially here in Holland, is the crashing boundaries between, for instance, television and games. We see here a lot of interest from the television industry to learn how game makers can attract so many players, and that's something that the television industry is looking at. We have a couple of topics on that as well.