A Tale of Two Conferences
It seems a little unfair to compare the Game Developers Conference with EGX Rezzed.
One is an industry focused behemoth that brought 26,000 attendees together to learn, network and share their experiences. The other is a consumer event with the determined aim of having a good time and giving indies the chance to show off their wares.
Being fortunate enough to attend both I was struck by their differences and similarities.
EGX REZZED - London
The annual EuroGamer Expo (EGX) has seen continual growth. Launched in 2008 the first two events were intimate affairs held at the Truman Brewery and Old Billingsgate Market in London. Since then EGX has continued to expand and is now the UKs biggest games event by some distance. This year it will vacate the tired Earls Court, and relocate to The National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham.
Because of its size EGX is a natural venue for big publishers to promote their autumn line-ups, therefore it’s heartening to see the slightly more homespun Rezzed variant. It’s a welcome attempt to recapture the vibe of those early EuroGamer events and put the focus on local, independent talent.
This year’s EGX Rezzed was held at London’s Tobacco Dock. It’s an old industrial warehouse with plenty of character and heritage but it doesn't have the gloomy charm that made 2009’s Old Billingsgate event such a joy to attend. Tobacco Dock is a windy, chilly venue that lacks a cohesive sense of space. Exhibition areas are distributed across various separated rooms meaning that it’s impossible to take in the event as a whole. It’s not a small venue, but nonetheless feels cramped with exhibitors squeezed into spaces that don't feel fit for purpose.
It’s even worse for merchandise vendors who are relegated to the crowded little alleyways that run between rooms. It’s a cross between Blade Runner's Los Angeles and Albert Square. The overall effect is of a second tier music festival combined with a student union. An atmosphere helped by the haze of beer in the air, the odd puddle and the multitude of discarded pint glasses.
However, when it comes to the important stuff, the games, there is little to moan about. Rezzed featured an excellent roster of titles with independent games firmly in the spotlight
Devolver’s booth impressed the most, capturing a slightly seedy mood and offering the opportunity to play TitanSouls, Salt, Ronin and Hotline Miami 2 among others.
Elsewhere, the airport lounge vibe of ID@Xbox's booth showcased some of Microsoft’s strong independent offerings. And in the indie lounge Volume and Prison Architect were among the few games afforded the luxury of a little space and atmosphere in which to shine.
The best games however were found in the main indie booth. It was jam-packed with attendees but the reward was a number of excellent titles across a range of genres. Personal highlights were action game Beyond the welcome return of music puzzler Chime, the Smash Bros inspired frenzy of De Mambo and the charming Superglad . Elsewhere bigger games including Guild Wars, Total War and Bloodborne represented the mid-tier but they seemed like interlopers, even if they did draw decent crowds.
If EGX Rezzed is a stinky, rambunctious, beer-fueled celebration of the indie spirit, then GDC offers a more considered approach. In daylight hours at least.
GDC 2015 - San Francisco
GDC always begins slowly. Partly attributable to grey clouds that often hang over San Francisco but also due to the fog of travel fatigue suffered by the early arrivals.
Rather than a student union GDC is more of a university campus. Thousands of attendees mill about, some new, others back for another year. Business cards are exchanged, old acquaintances found and new friends made. Each talk or session is like a class that everyone wants to be in.
The scale of the event is impressive. GDC is spread over three huge exhibition halls with attendees constantly threading between them, clogging the intersection of 4th and Howard as they rush between sessions. However, despite its size GDC retains a sense of calm. Cappuccinos rather than pints keep attendees alert and attentive.
GDC hits its stride midweek when the Expos open and the IGF and Game Developers Choice Awards are held. But as the parties take their toll the event just as quickly slows down. It concludes with the same subdued feeling as it started, but for altogether different reasons.
Despite the obvious differences between the two events there are similarities. The lens on independent development being the obvious example. At GDC the focus on accessible tools such as Unity and Unreal was evident at every turn. As were the surfeit of talks on marketing and community management giving developers the chance to empower themselves to market their own games and engage an audience
EGX Rezzed also flew the flag for the indie spirit. Aside from the games there were series of useful career talks and a plethora of educational institutions in attendance. And, as always, the developers at the event were generous with their time, expertise and advice.
Another common theme was Virtual Reality. As with any new technology the software on display was somewhat variable, with game at both ends of the quality spectrum. Titles such as the Silent Running-inspired Pollen promised a contemplative exploration adventure. While at Rezzed, future racing game, Radial-G, offered a super-fast head rush. However it was also a reminder that just sticking a game into VR doesn’t not necessarily make it great. An example being Crystal Rift which seemed little more than an updated version of ‘90s TV show, Knightmare. Nightmare.
In spite of their differences – and where your preference falls on the study hall versus frat house atmosphere – at the heart of both events were the developers, and in their unique way both were a celebration of the enthusiasm, hunger and talent that goes into making great new games. It certainly makes a refreshing change to attend two events in such a short space of time where the games (and the teams behind them) are very much the stars, rather than the franchises, publishers and the marketing machines they trail around behind them.