Game Connection, the professional, paid networking event that is again part of the Game Developers Conference this year, is a self-emphasized business convention produced by Lyon Game, a not-for-profit organization that helps French game developers in areas such as financial advice, technology swapping, and in-house training.
The concept behind Game Connection is really quite simple: give developers some quiet meeting-room space, give publishers easy access to schedule discussions with them, and then, with the exception of cocktails and lunch, leave them the hell alone for two days.
This year's Game Connection, held at an upmarket 5th Street hotel called Hotel Nikko, is the second in a row to be officially associated with Game Developers Conference. Spirits were high among the attendees, who all seemed to appreciate the quiet, direct approach of the event.
"It's a lot better than E3," said Nicolas Magnier, CEO of French developer Gaming Side. "E3's really loud, there are people everywhere...Game Connection is pure business. We can present ideas directly to publishers under great conditions."
"We still go to E3 to say that we still, you know, exist, but I don't bother trying to show off games there. That's what Game Connection is for."
Bill McIntosh, Managing Director of Australia-based Torus Games, agreed. "The people here are focused on meeting you, rather than seeing if you, I don't know, fit in. I'm not sure if we fit in at E3."
"Game Connection is a lot like speed dating, except they look at your checkbooks and technology instead of your jewels and curves," commented Bill Swartz, Head Woof of game publisher Mastiff. "We're looking more for long-term relationships, and trying to build a rolodex of people to go to when we need something special. This is a really great place for that sort of thing."
This sort of let's-keep-in-touch approach seemed to be the general strategy of all of the publishers.
"We're not looking for anything in particular here from the show, we're just here to keep in touch, basically," said Jon Virtes, Studio Coordinator for Activision. "It's a great opportunity to meet the kind of developers we don't normally have a chance to talk to; developers out in left field, stuff like that. It's a really great idea."
"Something here usually catches my eye," said Larry Galka, Business Development Manager for Microsoft Game Studios. "Even if the games aren't necessarily approved to be published by Microsoft, the developers still remain on my watch list."
A common source of excitement amongst both the developers and the publishers was the ability to speak with potential partners from countries other than their own."It's become international," said Magnier, "a lot of publishers come to this event. Nintendo, for instance, actually makes an appearance, so it's definitely a major thing."
When asked how his meeting with Nintendo went, Magnier smiled sweetly. "They like the project I'm working on, but it's too early in development to say anything for certain."
"We don't have much contact with developers outside of Japan , so this is a good opportunity for us," agreed Tomoyuki Matsumoto, Executive Director of America for publisher GaiaX Co., Ltd., whose recent credits include "Project Egg" (http://www.soft-city.com/egg/) and an attempt to trademark the word "blog."
"Japan has a problem, in that publishers have a lot of power, and developers, well, don't. We're going for a new approach, in that we want to create content together and actually share the financial risks equally. So we're here looking for developers that might be interested in starting that kind of relationship with us, particularly American games we can export back to Japan."
"The range of developers here is really interesting," commented Kurt Busch, Vice President of Product Development for Konami Digital Entertainment. "On the one hand you've got new developers with very little experience, and on the other you've got developers who have been around for a long time. They both have their different strengths and weaknesses, so it's great to have them all together in one place like this." Kurt went on to emphasize the point that Game Connection is fruitful for the attendees, using his own experience.
"We met several developers last time we were here, whom we've continued a relationship with. We almost never sign any of the projects shown at Game Connection, but it's pretty typical for us to continue a relationship with a developer into the future."
The two day convention ended with an assortment of French wines and foods served for all of the attendees who, despite having been in constant meetings for most of the day, remained chatty and in good spirits.
"The way [Game Connection] is organized is great," said Galka. "It's easy, I don't end up wasting hours contacting all these developers via email...if I were to schedule this many meetings on my own, it would easily take two days just to organize everything. This is a great event, and I hope it continues to thrive."