Wanted! A Game Connection guide

This year I had the great opportunity to attend Game Connection in Paris. Sadly now when I think back at my experience, it is shadowed by the recent tragic events, but still, lessons were learned and I want to share them. This is more of a guide than a report on this event’s edition, because Game Connection is quite a special event in itself, with well thought rules one should keep in mind for maximizing his attendance. And it’s definitely a late post – sorry about that, hope it still helps!

What is Game Connection?

We still live in a golden age for indie game development studios, who are able to self publish and manage every part of their business. But in the context of an overly crowded market, and a challenging process to bring your game in front of your fans, despite the limited capacity of a small, often inexperienced team, one way to game dev success remains finding suitable partners – including, but not exclusive to publishers.

This is what Game Connection is for.

Now, even though this a biannual event taking place since 2001, there is little press and insights related to Game Connection. It makes sense; this trade show is not focused on celebrating games, but instead in fostering business to business relationships within the video games industry, by providing an established and reliable meeting place, mainly alongside GDC San Francisco and Paris Game Week. To its core, Game Connection is speed dating between developers, publishers and service providers, with a seizable match making app included.

How to prepare for Game Connection?

In GC terms, speed dating means a 30 minutes slot in which both you and the one you meet can pitch your business, list your needs and discuss potential next steps. This is primarily an opportunity to exchange business cards, but half an hour allows for a good introduction, too. So one thing you should always have ready, regardless of Game Connection, is a good pitch for your project, a good presentation for your team and company, and a very clear understanding of what you seek, backed up by valid reasons to request it. Factually, this can include a well thought elevator pitch, a well made slide show presentation, a brief trailer and even a playable demo to show. If you seek funding, you should also have a brief, cleanly presented plan and budget. If you seek services, include a concise and clear list of your demands, and even a budget range if you can. If you search for games to publish, its good that you define exactly the genre, type and platform for the games you seek, as well as a compelling list of arguments to be chosen as a business partner.  Bottom line, the clearer you define and understand your requirements, the better the results you can get out of a B2B speed dating meeting within the video games industry.

Who attends Game Connection?

If I calculated correctly, at Game Connection Paris that took place on October 28-30, there were 1274 companies listed in the meeting system. These companies are categorized in five main business segments: Global Game development & services, Global Business, Global Marketing & Communication, Global Distribution/ Retail, Global Media and Other Game Industry activity. The subcategories for these main business segments include everything from content  acquisition to production and QA, to, of course, to retail, publishing, distribution and media. The attendees can also be filtered by the type of their pass, for example into Buyers, Exhibitors or Press.

While the Press presence has been quite low this year, Game Connection was and usually is attended by game developers seeking publishing and distribution deals, by publishers seeking games, and by service providers seeking partners. There were some pretty big names on the list, including Microsoft, Sony, EA, Valve, Bandai Namco, a lot of publishers seeking games for all kinds of platforms and in all kinds of genres, a lot of established developers seeking services, like Rebellion, IO Interactive, NaturalMotion, BioWare, a lot of well known service providers such as Perforce or BugTracker, and also a lot of emerging players, searching for exclusive or special content for their own special networks.

Understanding the Game Connection offer

Even though the actual Game Connection event happens physically over just 3 days, the actual Connection game starts much earlier. Step one is to get a ticket, and the offer is tiered in 5 levels ranging from 295 to 5400 Euros. Understanding the pricing structure is quite important, as it defines whether or not you have a meeting table and also the number of slots you can use to book meetings via the Game Connection app.

This pricing also factors in your status; for example, the cheapest pass is a Buyer pass, available only for publishers, distributors, investors or in general people who are there to buy goods and services. So if you aim to sell your services, you cannot buy that pass.

Game Connection tickets also offer access to the so called Publishing 3.0 and Game Guild sessions, which are panels, lectures and speakers you can attend to. For the Paris event, the tickets grant access to the adjacent consumer show Paris Game Week.

Personally, I think the most important thing Game Connection has to offer are the meeting slots, and the second most important thing is booking a table. There are many important companies attending Game Connection, but a high percentage of them do not have a table – they just come to meet interesting business partners who do have a table. Of course, there are many ways to meet people at GC without a table and the maximum amount of meeting slots, since the show has a central space where free refreshing drinks and coffee are offered, so that spots gathers a lot of people. There is also an official Game Connection party. But the overall show strives to ensure the best quality for what its core offer, which is suitable meeting tables, a fairly calm and quiet environment and a good meeting system via their website.

Before Game Connection 

Once you got your ticket, you will receive a username and a password that grants you access to the Game Connection match making service.  Here, you can create your own Game Connection online presence, and also search and request meetings with the many other companies attending GC. Arranging meetings at Game Connection takes quite some time, so the earlier you can start using the system, the better it is for you.

The Game Connection system allows you to create a profile for your company, yourself and your project(s). Each of these is quite extensive, but very few of the fields are mandatory. However it does act like a virtual presentation so the more complete your Game Connection profile is, the better your chances to book the most valuable meetings, through your initiative or simply by appealing to the other Game Connection attendees who will send you meeting requests. You can even include a presentation video or trailer, and you can also create personal profiles for all the members of your team that will attend GC and are available for meetings.

Once you are done with your profile, you can proceed to find and request meetings, by browsing Companies, Projects or People and requesting meetings.  You can also browse show events, and lock the time slots for the speakers you want to go and listen to (locking a slot means you get market in the app as unavailable to meet for the time the speaker session takes place). Of course, you can also reserve your own personal time slots.

Based on the ticket that you have bought, you have a certain amount of meeting slots you may book. A meeting slot is precisely half an hour of reserved time from both parties involved in the meeting. Game Connection takes place over three days, starting at 9 AM and ending at 7 PM – except the last day when the event ends at 6 PM. The Game Connection system locks two slots (1 hour) per day for lunch, but you can make yourself available during that time as well. So you have a maximum of 20 meeting slots you can book per the first two days, and 18 slots for the third day, if you don’t plan to have lunch or any breaks. The grand total is 58 slots – 58 potential meetings with key people and companies in the industry.

One very important thing to remember is that the Game Connection meeting system is locked for a brief time a few days before the show starts, in order to generate your agenda. This means that you can decide who you want to meet, but not exactly when. Before the GC system generates your agenda, you can only decide what time slots to reserve for your self – this includes your breaks as well as the panels you want to attend.  This is why it’s quite important to be early when requesting meetings with the companies that interest you the most. The GC system generates your agenda based only on the meeting requests that are accepted.

Once your agenda has been generated, the meeting system is reopened and you can still proceed to book meetings or request for time slot changes. This is a great system feature, but there will be little time or flexibility during the event – by now, everyone’s agenda is almost full.

During Game Connection

When the Game Connection show starts, you already have most of your agenda set up. Game Connection is quite an elegant show, as you get your own personal printed agenda together with your badge, as well as maps to help you navigate both Game Connection and an, in the case of Paris, the Paris Game Week show (which is pretty big). You also get your updated daily agenda every morning via e-mail, and can access the system anytime. Rely on your mail and online agenda more than on the printed one, since they are the only ones that include last minute changes.

Now it is time for meetings! Your agenda includes a table number for each meeting that you have scheduled, but keep in mind there are hundreds of tables and sometimes it is difficult to find your date. Most table numbers are grouped, but the most expensive exhibitor ticket includes a personalized booth, and those are the hardest to spot sometimes. So it’s a good idea to allow some time to familiarize yourself with the place.

Even though a meeting slot is 30 minutes, count on less than that. Sometimes you or the person you are supposed to meet are late – everyone needs a few minutes to run from table to table. During the meeting, keep your eyes on the time: both you and your date have other meetings lined up, and no one wants to make a bad impression by being late. In few occasions, your meeting partner might not show up, or you might be caught in another meeting that keeps you way over the schedule. That’s OK – most Game Connection attendees know to expect a few mishaps. But there are ways you can use to prevent this… and that is the art of booking meetings at Game Connection, one that I did not master at my first GC show.

58 potential meetings with some of the world’s best known actors in the industry may sound very alluring, but no one can realistically spend 10 hours a day with no break, for three days, at a meeting table or running from meeting to meeting. Most Game Connection n00bs such as myself make the mistake to overbook, in an attempt to maximize their time. But this means ending up not eating during the day, not having a moment for a personal break, and all this results in a less than positive attitude which is felt by everyone you meet.

The tips I got from Game Connection veterans are these: always reserve time for lunch; never book more than 3 meetings in a row without a break slot in between; try to keep your morning slots free, since many attendees might be late; reserve some time to grab coffee, snacks and refreshments; remember that the open bar starts at 5 PM and everybody  wants to be around the bar when this happens.

Bonus tips learned the hard way are: the Publishing 3.0 and Game Guild sessions are quite interesting, so attend at least a few. And one thing that completely changed my life starting this show is: use a card scanning app for your smart phone and scan all business cards asap. This practice saves you from a lot of manual work to add your contacts in your digital database when you are back home, and simplifies your job to add notes on the spot, so you remember your meetings better.

Post Game Connection

Contact the people you met as soon as you can, and fulfill the promises you have made. What you paid for at Game Connection is for your business partners to associate a face to an impersonal business card or digital information exchange, and this is really very precious. This goes the same for you; your future publisher, service provider or game developer now knows you personally, so follow up in a manner that ensures they do not forget you.

If you used slides during your Game Connection meetings, it is a good practice to e-mail them to the people you met and/or share them online. I personally use SlideShare for that.

If you gathered notes and feedback, look over it while your memory is still fresh, and explain to your team the reasoning behind that feedback. Take decisions regarding what feedback to act upon and what not to act upon. React fast, especially if you made promises to polish a certain feature in your demo, to add extra information in your presentation or to send a well prepared budget request backed up by a sensible plan.

…and gather your thoughts. Write about your experience. If you are passionate about game development, you should understand how exciting it is for others to read about your experience meeting someone super important in the industry, for example. This is why I am writing this.

Game Connection Europe 2015 

I hope this guide helps – I wrote it because my first Game Connection took me by surprise, even though I did my best to prepare a long time before the actual show. I had far too many meetings, and sometimes I was not at my social best since I did not really eat much. I skipped all panels except one. I had some troubles finding the precise tables for some of my meetings. I did not experience Paris Games Week at all. But overall, it was quite an amazing experience where I met a lot of interesting people and I learned a lot. Even after six years in the industry, I still get super hyped when I meet new game folks, especially those whose work I enjoyed a lot, and Game Connection does a lot to ensure the perfect environment for good business meetings.

Since this was my first Game Connection, I cannot compare to past editions, so don’t take my observations as trends. However, I noticed a focus on curation, exclusivity and precise genre demands.

By curation, I mean that a lot of distribution and publishing representatives are aware of the discoverability issues the industry faces right now. So the most agile of them invest their strengths into building their own customized and curated spaces where they can control the visibility of the game they choose to sell. To top this effort, some also invest time in building their own player communities, offering a guaranteed traffic but also additional services such as a large pool of beta testers. It was nice to notice the efforts to build solutions for the toughest problems developers face today.

By precise demands, I mean publishers seeking highly specific, niche genres and developers’ struggles in meeting those demands, despite substantial available funding. There really are quite a lot of publishers nowadays, but I think the good ones are those who know exactly what they search for and can express that clearly and beforehand. For example, I met with publishers who were just fishing for something to catch their eye, and they told me that out of a hundred games they see, they might sign five. Some even interpreted their job as saying no, which is a hard thing to do and gamedevs sorely need proper No’s – but the fact is, an unclear set of expectations minimizes the value of a meeting. On the other hand, I met publishers seeking specific games, and being very up front about it, which made the meeting easy and fast. Surprisingly, the games most sought for are not being developed much – like adventure games for mobile platforms, hidden object games, or the fantastic combination of those two genres, which it seems captivates a lot of people.

By exclusivity, I mean companies seeking to nurture and grow their own network to sell games on. This means everything from their own store fronts to unique content distributed on their own established channel, which can be a non traditional game channel. An example in this regard is Orange, a large mobile network operator with a serious presence in countries like France, Spain or Poland, who also sells IPTV with set top boxes included. Since they are already distributing hardware, they also want to sell games – so here you go, a place that does not yet suffer from discoverability issues.

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Hope this helps someone 🙂