GDC and me: Simon Carless

GDC and me: Simon Carless

By Rob Crossley

February 29th 2012 at 6:30PM

As the timer runs out on registration for this year's GDC, we have one final word with the event's global brand director

Just a few hours remain to book tickets for this year’s Games Developers Conference in San Francisco. Go here to guarantee your space at the biggest games developer event of the year.

As Develop makes final preparations for the conference, we speak to Simon Carless, the executive vice president of event organiser UBM TechWeb. In the Q&A below we look back on GDC 25 and discuss how this year’s event will be different.

Let’s go back to GDC 25. It was a remarkable event. It must have been a proud moment for you.
Yeah but I mean, we’re just the current stewards of the show so we just do the best we can for all the amazing people that organise the event.

It was great for us to have record attendance and have the quality of the classic post mortems and things – we just had a really special show and I credit that to the attendees and our GDC Advisory Board, who are the people who pick the content for the show.

What was your personal highlight?
Hmmn, well I didn’t get to attend all of them myself so I had to see them later on the [online video archive] GDC Vault, but some of the post mortems, like the classic Maniac Mansion post mortem, were awesome.

Maniac Mansion’s a great game, I’m not gigantic fan, but hearing culturally the story behind how these games got created is just awesome. They were a lot more inspirational than we expected.

Usually, as time goes on after a game’s release, the bravado and the business constraints tend to melt away and people are really free to discuss how games were made.
Yeah I think that’s what we saw last year too. We are planning to do just a few every year now; not like the eleven we did last year. This year it will be the teams behind Gauntlet, Harvest Moon, Fallout and Alone in the Dark.

Everyone seems to have a view on Iwata’s GDC 25 speech last year, what’s yours?
It was a very strident speech for a company like Nintendo, but then again I know of people that think it wasn’t a very strident speech.

I felt for Nintendo to really speak up for the craft of making longer, more complex games was quite a strong thing to do. And I mean Nintendo don’t tend to make many declarative statements.

The other interesting thing was that he also listed a number of non-Nintendo games he thought had done well. In most cases you won’t see that from the platform holders.

It was a shame to see Reggie Fils-Aime come on, because it turned what was a very impressive speech into a bit of marketing. I get the impression you want to crack down on that.
Yeah I mean we’re happy to hear announcements happen around the show, I think that’s fine. Certainly, we were very happy with what Nintendo did.

What was the thinking behind your current main conference keynote, which is a round-robin of people advertising their other GDC talks, as opposed to a speech from a senior figure like Iwata?
Well we were looking around and found it increasingly difficult to get one keynote that’s relevant for the breadth of the whole games development industry.

And we have so much content going on at once – we have about 15 talks at the same time – that we thought it might be useful to find something that not everyone in the industry felt they had to attend.

Obviously there has been so much talk about next generation technologies, and I expected the main conference keynote was going to be a big play from a certain platform holder. Do you expect as much interest and as many attendees for your new keynote format?
Well I think people will have to get used to it. I think we are going to get people. The danger of great expectations, of course, is that people can be disappointed. We’d much rather have something that’s useful for everyone.

That’s not to say that in the future we won’t change things again – but right now we think our keynote is the best thing to do for everyone.

What would be your advice for people who are going to GDC for the first time?
Definitely pace yourself! Don’t burn yourself out in the evenings because it’s very easy to get over excited by the sensory wonder of it all.

Also remember that this year, not only do we have the show floor from Wednesday to Friday, we also have this new GDC Play section from Tuesday to Thursday. Effectively it’s a third hall. So we have the career pavilion in one hall, the main hall in another area and GDC play in the third, which covers a lot of emerging market developers.

How freely is GDC able to quickly adapt to the fast-paced changes to the industry? A pressing issue right now, for example, is crowdfunding.
So, the good news is for this particular example, is that we already have lectures set for this. So in the Indie Games Summit, we have a crowdfunding talk from someone who has found success through the initiative, and it’s going to be co-presented by someone from Kickstarter.

When our advisory board is on top of things, they will usually see the emerging trends. We don’t usually add things in at the last minute, so it’s important that we look ahead.

And obviously over the last five years there have been significant changes to the games industry, with development becoming more democratised and triple-A work more marginalised. Have you noticed these changes through the GDC attendee demographic?
It’s subtle, but certainly I see it mapping the changes in the industry. We might have been in trouble had we not covered news on these emerging markets, actually.

If trends continue, the majority of GDC attendees could be self-publishing indies.
Yeah it’s interesting. We always joke that we can tell the direction the industry is going when a bunch of our Advisory Board members end up working for a certain company. First everyone worked for EA, then Zynga. I do wonder who they’ll all work for next!

As well as GDC, you host GDC Online, GDC Chine and GDC Europe. Is there any intention to expand or decrease this offering?
I think we’re actually pretty happy with how things are. We have quietly announced a GDC summit this year in Taiwan, but that’s more local event. That’s the only change to the roster; we have a Europe event, and an Asia event, and two in the US that are about six months apart. We think that’s the right balance.