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Cologne, Germany (Weltexpress). GDC Europe is a well-established feature on the international games world calendar: new concepts are fielded, trends are highlighted and the industry’s young hopefuls flock to rub shoulders with the leviathans. But in this fast-paced industry whose existence is focused on the virtual world, do these conference formats still work, and if so, why?

The program at GDC Europe in Cologne this year included some of the standard topics that upcoming game developers need to discover and internalize if they want to be part of the games industry anywhere in the world. Advice on how to create high-performance games for a wide variety of platforms, how to retain your users once you’ve attracted them, managing user-generated content and monetizing games is given by a range of experts – from first-gen pioneers whose wisdom derives from their early mistakes, to savvy next-gen industry heavyweights with trend-spotting instincts and the drive to create brilliant games. What they have in common is the ability to pass on their knowledge – and that’s worth gold to conference and congress organizers.

One thing GDC knows how to get right is the selection of top-quality speakers, and this year in Cologne was no exception. Ranging from experts on the market in China through top-tier speakers from major developers and publishers such as Rovio and Wargaming to thought-leaders from Amazon and Microsoft, the line-up was quietly confident in its ability to deliver. GDC also has a knack of plugging into what’s trending in the video and computer game world, and incorporating it into the program and organization. This is what its worldwide community has come to expect, and GDC continues to deliver.

A good example of this was the session given on the last day by Karoliina Korppoo, lead designer at Colossal Order Ltd, the Finnish company responsible for developing Cities:Skylines. Korppoo spoke about the design philosophy behind the city-builder game that has been hailed as being even better than the iconic game in the genre, SimCity, first published way back in 1989. In short, she says, you need to teach your players gently how best to play the game, rather than punish them for not being able to play it. A player’s failure to create the kind of city they wish to is punishment enough. As to the reason for choosing PC over mobile for the game, Korppoo pointed out that not only is the kind of city-development play in Skylines not supported adequately by mobile platforms, but also, the studio made a conscious decision to stick to their development strengths. The main takeaway from the session was clearly, make your decisions based on common sense, and don’t always feel you have to run with the pack.

On the industry’s increasingly problematic subject of funding, Jason Della Rocca, affable industry eminence gris and a ubiquitous presence at games events around the world, had some words of advice for indies on the lookout for finance. With hundreds of creative ideas chasing every investment dollar, his tips on how to attract investment and what type of investors they should be looking for were eagerly absorbed by the audience. The chance to get up close to these industry wise men and have them answer specific questions charges the atmosphere in these sessions with energy: there’s something compelling about standing vis á vis someone whose games you’ve admired and played, or whose books and articles have underpinned your knowledge to date, and know that right now, they’re talking to you.

At the trending front and held for the first time this year was an event partnered by GDC, gamescom and the Koelnmesse: Women in Tech Day. The workshop was attended by some of the leading women in the business worldwide. Tanya Woods of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada and Kate Edwards, head of the International Game Developers Association led the day, and their insights from North America were an inspiration for the primarily European-based audience. On the home front, German State Secretary at the Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, Dorothee Bär – herself a keen gamer – made some interesting observations regarding all-female versus mixed working teams. An early failure in team member selection based on gender was greeted with laughs, and during the workshop sessions after the talks, it was generally agreed that teams composed of members with a good mix of diverse skill sets, regardless of their gender, were much more likely to be successful. However, the need for more women to be attracted to STEM studies and careers was also highlighted – a trend worth following up in the future.

Another great GDC feature is its website. A clear, uncluttered layout gives a good overview of the various tracks and formats, as well as the speakers, and the Session Scheduler is a useful tool for visitors to plan their personal schedule in advance. This is something that many other conferences and shows often just can’t seem to get right, but it makes a big difference to those who really want to get their money’s worth from the event from the moment they pass through the turnstile.

So, clearly, there is space in the real word for the exchange of knowledge and discussion fueled by the physical presence of speakers and conference attendees. And as long as each new generation of game developers needs a reliable, top quality source of information about how to make better games and how to make games better, GDC will continue to be the go-to venue. And Cologne is already looking forward to hosting the next GDC Europe in August 2016. See you there.

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