Develop kicks off its Games Developers Conference coverage by speaking with the event's global brand director

Simon Carless: GDC and me

As doors swing open on the 25th Game Developers Conference, Develop caught up with Simon Carless, the executive vice president of event organiser UBM TechWeb. We discuss his ambitions for the event going forward, as well his own GDC highlights, and discuss whether E3’s organisers should have anything to worry about.

GDC continues to expand in both its global presence and ticket sales. As an event that aims to remain focused on the developer, do you still want it to grow?
I think we’d like GDC to continue growing, but we have to make sure the event has a place for all its constituents. GDC needs to be something developers can call home, whether you’re an iPhone developer, or a console developer or a Facebook games developer.

What we’ve tried to do – and, I think, with some degree of success – is find places for everyone to come together and be part of this shared community. So, as long as we can continue to do that, then we’re quite happy to continue expanding.

GDC is billed as a church of learning, not a pulpit of self-promotion like other trade events. How do you feel about publishers using your event to announce product?
We’re happy to have announcements around the show, and this year I’m sure there will be some.

These days, publishers tend to have press showcases off-site to make announcements, and that’s fine with us, but GDC is about developers coming together and learning new things. That’s what we concentrate on.

Having said that, we are actually very happy to have a big expo floor where announcements are made, and we still have our large keynote addresses which are sometimes announcement-led. This year we have keynotes from companies like Nintendo, who are in a position to announce things if they wish to.

Big publisher bosses, announcements, a big expo floor and thousands through the door; do you want GDC to be a competitor to E3?
No I don’t think so. I think we understand where are place in the ecosystem is. Obviously E3 had got a lot smaller over the last couple of years, through the organiser’s own wishes, and I think if we wanted to be a competitor to E3 we could have started some kind of games showcase.

But we chose not to because we really don’t think that’s our calling. Obviously there are some games showcased at GDC, especially at the Independent Games Festival Pavilion, but overall I think we’re happy where we are.

The 25th annual GDC. Congratulations.
Thanks! You know it started in 1988, and we had two GDCs that year, so it has been going for 24 years but we’re now on our twenty-fifth show. So it’s not our twenty-fifth year but it is our twenty-fifth show.

Perhaps GDC’s biggest success is remaining relevant for so long in an industry fraught by change.
I think that’s because every year we’re still very careful about who we pick to talk. We don’t just go ahead and pick names. We have advisory boards for each summit, and all the lectures are decided by those people. We call for open submissions for the lectures, and we really get those submissions picked and agreed on by the advisory board members.

So the power is really in the hands of the community there. They’re the ones who define what the event is. That’s how we stay relevant.

How many people are scheduled to attend this year?
I actually don’t even know because a lot of people turn up on the week of the show. Our official figure last year was 18,250, and we’re hoping to get more than that this time, but I really don’t know any more.

This year of course we’re expanding within the Moscone Center, because we now have the north and south halls, like last year, but also the west as well now.

Across all the GDCs you’ve been part of, which talk or lecture stands out as your personal highlight?
Er, I think my personal highlight is perhaps a little counter-intuitive, because you didn’t learn anything from it!

It was at the Independent Games Festival a couple of years ago, at one of those ‘rant’ sessions with Petri Purho, the guy who did Crayon Physics. He said he was going to do a five minute lecture and within that time create a new game, from scratch. We thought, okay, that’s kind of awesome, so we gave him the chance.

So, he’s doing this five-minute creation session, and he’s taking suggestions from the audience – everyone had to write their game idea down on paper and he’d pick two pieces at random. And so, right before our eyes, he was making this ragdoll game, with barrels or something like that, and he’s going faster and faster and faster, coding on stage. I mean it was amazing.

And then, he began to code so fast, that it became obvious that he wasn’t actually coding, he’d pre-recorded the whole thing! [Laughs] And those two bits of paper he picked up from the audience? All a hoax!

[Laughs] That session was so cool, some guys from Germany even asked him to repeat it over there – which I thought was kinda funny, it’s a bit of a one-off. And the reason why I really liked it was it was a bit of performance art more than anything else.

That’s what GDC is all about; everyone there is so passionate about games, and everyone at GDC wants everyone else to feel good about making games.

And of all this year’s sessions, which ones are you most delighted about getting booked?
I think the classic post-mortems, which we did a lot of work on internally, are just completely awesome. We have Ron Gilbert talking about Maniac Mansion, Mark Cerny talking about Marble Madness – this is all awesome.

Also I was very exited to get Yu Suzuki, because he’s not been as prominent in the west, and we worked very closely with Sega to make sure he came over. As well as accepting his award [Suzuki-san is scheduled to receive the Pioneer Award at the Games Developers Choice Awards] he’s also going to be on stage at GDC doing a Q&A.

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