Can a Hamburg music festival become the SXSW of Europe?

Why the Reeperbahn embraced games

Keen to hear about how Hamburg’s Reeperbahn Festival is introducing a gaming track and evolving into the model made famous by the SXSW event, Develop caught up with Reeperbahn’s own Detlef Schwarte (pictured, right) and Fishlabs CEO Michael Schade (left), who helped curate Reeperban’s game-focused track.

Before we get onto the games-focused track, could you give us a brief overview of the history of the Reeperbahn Festival?
Detlef Schwarte, Reeperbahn Festival:
Today, Reeperbahn Festival is the largest urban festival for new international music in Germany, presenting around 350 solo artists and bands from all over the world. And at the same time Reeperbahn Festival is one of the three most important meeting points for the international music industry in Europe. This year we will still expand the festival’s horizon and include panels and performances which deal with other digital creative industry fields like mobile, games, maker-scene and media. We expect nearly 3,000 delegates from 35 nations to come to Hamburg for the eighth instalment of the Reeperbahn Festival. Besides this, we will also offer a massive arts program including readings, exhibitions, guided tours and film screenings as well as the eighth edition of Flatstock Europe, the largest rock poster convention on the continent. All this will make Reeperbahn Festival the most central and pulsating hotspot for international talents, trends and trade in Europe.

To be honest, however, this was not what we had in mind when we started the festival back in 2000. After visiting the SXSW Festival in Austin, we came back with the idea that this kind of festival – and at that time it was only the music part we were talking about – could work perfectly in our hometown Hamburg, too. Because there is no other place in Germany like Hamburg, St. Pauli and the world-famous Reeperbahn – the central strip of this part of town. Two handfuls of music halls and theatres, dozens of clubs, hundreds of bars – a 24/7 entertainment playground right at our doorstep. It took some years to convince the city, the club owners and the media of the idea. But in 2006 we booked the clubs, invited bands and started Reeperbahn Festival which was at this time half invention and half adventure. And it’s still like this, believe me.

And how did games become part of the festival?
Michael Schade, Fishlabs:
We got the ball rolling back in 2012, when Hamburg’s mayor Olaf Scholz invited the representatives of the city’s leading gaming studios to a joint industry breakfast in the town hall. While discussing red-hot topics such as the booming mobile market and the flourishing free-2-play model, one thing lead to the other and before we knew it, we had formed a concrete plan of launching a distinct mobile games and free-2-play conference in Hamburg. It just made perfect sense. On the one hand, there is currently no comparable event in Germany other than the GDC Europe in Cologne. And on the other hand, mobile’s a topic that pretty much every gaming studio in Germany and the rest of the world’s paying a lot of attention to these days.

With its progressive cross-media approach and close eye on upcoming trends, the distinguished Reeperbahn Festival seemed like an ideal setting for such an event. And with more than nine years of industry-experience under our belt and close contacts to a broad variety of international top speakers, Fishlabs appeared to be a perfect partner. So the two of us teamed up and launched the first iteration of the ‘Games Track @ Reeperbahn Festival’, taking place at the Salon Schmidt on September 27th and featuring renowned speakers and panelists such as Richard Firminger of Flurry, Nicholas Lovell of Gamesbrief, Oscar Clark from Applifier and Kristina Rothe of Microsoft, just to name a few.

Why is it important that it is not just a games event, but a place where games share space with music and so many other mediums?
Following the example of the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, the Reeperbahn Festival offers its visitors a wide-ranging program, covering a broad variety of entertainment-related fields from music, film and literature to infotainment, urban art and games. The way we see it, this is a perfect environment for a fruitful and sustainable exchange between inquiring industry professionals beyond the restrictions of their respective fields of expertise. After all, there are still a lot of things that the gaming industry can learn from other branches and vice versa. Consequently, the visitors of Reeperbahn Festival can make the most of their stay in Hamburg and not only make get valuable insights into the current status of the gaming industry, but also take away a lot of learnings from other fields and sectors of the entertainment industry. It’s a win-win situation and a unique cross-pollination opportunity for all attendees and participants looking for the bigger picture of today’s creative media landscape.

In the scope of the conference we will cover a much wider selection of topics than ever before. Dave Stewart will hold one of our keynotes. He is not only a super star of the music business but also a successful multimedia entrepreneur and he will let his audience know where the business money can still be found. Nobody should miss that. Another keynote comes from Cornelia Funke, one of the world’s most widely read authors who sold more than 40 million books. She won’t talk about traditional writing or publishing, but how she transfers her literary ideas into the digital world by means of a revolutionary application that uses elements of game, film, music and literature. So at Reeperbahn Festival, music crosses media crosses games, with the aim to get a better understanding of how ideas – or call it content – get alive and visible in the digital world. And how to exchange it successfully.

Besides this, Reeperbahn Festival Campus offers a number of matchmaking sessions where international delegates can meet with the German industry. We have around 20 international showcases from countries such as Canada, Switzerland, Israel or the Netherlands as well as from companies like Warner Music, Believe Digital or Audiolith. Dozens of parties, internal meetings or shows such as the legendary ‘Ray´s Reeperbahn Revue’ with Ray Cokes complete the Campus program 2013.

What can a games industry visitor expect to get from a visit to the Games Track, and the wider festival?
For the Games Track @ Reeperbahn Festival, we’ve assembled a very high-ranking selection of international speakers and panelists, all of whom are eager to share their own views and takes on where the gaming industry will be heading in the not-too-distant future, as well as valuable insights into current projects and data. Among others, our visitors will learn quite a bit about the capabilities and complexities of the free-2-play business model, the right approach to the mobile platform, the latest developments on the hardware front and the biggest challenges in the conception and realisation of truly outstanding and engrossing gaming experiences – both, on the indie sector and beyond. And besides that, their delegates’ passes will also grant them access to hundreds of conferences, concerts, showcases, networking events, meetings and parties in some of the most exciting locations that Hamburg has to offer.

Schwarte: Reeperbahn Festival is a unique event in Europe in regard to its setting, program and atmosphere. This is what we hear from our guests and this mix is probably the reason why more and more people – fans and professionals – attend every year. From our perspective, another advantage is that Reeperbahn Festival is big enough to give its visitors the opportunity to meet a lot of people from both the German and the international side of the industry. And it is still small enough to make sure that you can meet them a second or third time during the days of the festival. And ultimately, this is what counts – good and interesting new contacts beyond your own nose.

Could you name one or two highlight sessions from the Games Track?
That’s a tough question, as we’ve got so many fantastic tracks and speeches scheduled. However, I’m personally really looking forward to the keynote by Nicholas Lovell, in the course of which he will show how the tried-and-tested free-2-play model can be successfully applied to brands and enterprises outside of the gaming industry as well, basically postulating that free-2-play will ultimately change the way we all do business. And I also would not want to miss the two expert panels hosted by mobile mavens Chris James of Pocket Gamer and Oscar Clark of Applifier.

How is Fishlabs involved in the Games Track @ Reeperbahn Festival?
This year, we’ve cooperated very closely with the organisers of Reeperbahn Festival and been deeply involved in all gaming-related matters. Besides various consulting, advising and organisational issues, our main task has been the contacting and bonding of the speakers and panelists. And we’ve also assumed a couple of PR- and marketing-related tasks.

How do you see the Reeperbahn Festival growing and changing in the coming years, and what role will the Games Track play in that change?
We are convinced that we are already offering a modern type of meeting platform for the music industry and the digital industry alike. Nowadays, their deals are no longer made along big booths under the neon-lights in large exhibition halls.

We have the plan to spread the brand year round and through different channels. Regarding the games track, the goal is to establish the track as a regular part of the festival and, by doing so, to strengthen the exchange of the music, games and neighboring industries. And so much is certain: the first Games Track @ Reeperbahn Festival will only be the start of what we – music and games – can do jointly here in Hamburg.

Schade: Reeperbahn Festival has been going strong for more than half a decade now. We’re very happy, that video games in general and mobile games in particular have been added to the festival’s roster this year, and we’re looking forward to further establish and expand the Games Track @ Reeperbahn Festival in the years to come.

Was there anything else you wanted to say about the Reeperbahn Festival?
Yes, to wit: that Reeperbahn Festival is a network event that lives and develops so successfully because of great partners like Fishlabs. They bring in expertise, new ideas and new people. So I´d like to take the chance to thank Michael Schade and his team for the work they did for the Games Track and the advice they gave regarding the entire festival. We will learn a lot from this year´s start and I am already looking forward to setting up the Games Track @ Reeperbahn Festival 2014 in cooperation with Fishlabs.

Schade: The Reeperbahn Festival marks a unique opportunity for us to create an event that will make a difference in the somewhat repetitive circus of today’s media conferences, which rarely manage to gaze beyond the confinements of their specific agendas. We really dig the festival’s cross-media approach and we are more than happy with the top-notch selection of speakers and highly interesting choice of speeches we’ve been able to assemble for this year’s debut of the Games Track @ Reeperbahn Festival. We’re looking forward to welcome many guests from all over the world here in Hamburg and wish you all an exciting, fulfilling and unforgettable stay in a truly outstanding city that’s always worth a visit.

Reeperbahn Festival takes place in Hamburg, Germany, from September 25th to 28th. Visit the event’s official site for more information.

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