Video games are a part of our lives. Your grandma plays them, your kids play them, you play them — hell, there are even video games for your dogs. It is a combination of every media humans have ever created: music, video, writing, acting and reading — and it’s all bundled in the unique package of “playing.” No other form of art, puts up a wall or an obstacle that you must overcome to experience the rest of the art. It is what makes video games special (at least in my eyes.)
In the last few years — game developers have seen an industry rise from a vacuum. Where there were once medium-sized teams building games for $10M a piece, now only big developers are making AAA games, once a year or twice a year — ad infinitum. But thanks to new developments in the last five to seven years of technology and distribution, throngs of small teams, ranging in size from 1 to 3 people are building games for the same AAA audience, and even more — they’re blowing up and becoming successful. Imagine if arthouse films had the same distribution model as The Avengers, that’s what’s happening in the gaming industry right now.
I talked to Chris Volpe, CEO of Multivarious Games here in Columbus — and the brainchild behind Game Developers Expo (GDEX), Midwest’s premiere gaming expo, GDEX 2016 will be at COSI this weekend Oct 28th – 30th. The annual expo brings smaller developers from across the nation to showcase their games and projects, many of which have never been seen before. On top of over 30,000 square feet of exhibitors, GDEX also brings in industry professionals, who have worked on projects such as Saints Row, BioShock 2, and IGN, to give workshops and presentations to help you learn about the Game Industry.
How did GDEX get started and what makes it special?
GDEX started 4 years ago when a group of us were talking about having some sort of showcase for all the projects our community group was working on. After talking about it, I said, “Fuck it let’s stop talking about it and do it!”
Initially we had some small spaces in the OSU Union, but about 2 weeks before the show we got blown up with requests to exhibit, speak, and sponsor. We decided to push it back to December, from September, and ended up going up to over 750 attendees, 33 exhibitors, and a full day of speaking sessions. GDEX began, and continues to grow as a community event that brings in people from all over the country.
What’s the most difficult aspect of starting a convention and how does one stand out in a sea of giants like Wizard World, e3, C2E2, DragonCon, and others?
The most difficult part by far is getting your name out there, and realizing that the VAST majority of your ticket sales are going to occur in the last two weeks before the expo. That makes it incredibly difficult to predict and plan for what your attendance is going to be, and how you’ll be able to pay for everything. We literally have to BUILD IT and HOPE THEY COME.
As to the getting your name out there, that’s very challenging. We are competing against a huge number of conventions and expos lately. So many so, that I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a convention bubble set to burst in the next few years. But that being said, we take great pride in creating an experience over the weekend, not just a place for an expo. And we’ve continued to meet great people and make great relationships that have resulted in seeing all these great people year over year. And ultimately, as GDEX as grown, and we start to reach out further into the industry, we’ve had the opportunity to make contacts from people all over the industry, which has been incredibly exciting.
Seeing so many walks of life developing and creating games (Even I’ve done it) what’s the most exciting thing coming into this every year? What are you looking forward to most this year?
For me personally, it boils down to seeing people have a great time. People come to video games for a variety of reasons, and if I can create an experience that positively impacts, and perhaps changes people’s lives, then I feel like we did something amazing.
What can a person with a casual interest in video games or game design get from this convention (other than it being a super awesome fun time?)
We have activities for everyone. If you’re interested in game design, we have a lot of sessions/workshops as well as networking opportunities. But if you’re just a gamer, or even just a lover of videogames but not really a player, we have lots of events, raffles, prizes, learning sessions, and even a dance party on Saturday night!
We are also heavily supported by Ohio’s colleges and universities, so we encourage younger students to come and check it out as it might give them a good idea of what areas they may want to explore for a career.
Do you think there’s more room at the table (so to say) for smaller developers and one-to-three man teams developing games that can compete with AAA titles? We saw success with Spelunky, Five Nights at Freddy’s and Undertale, and this year we’ve seen Enter the Gungeon — what does this do to gaming as a whole?
Without a doubt. The barrier for entry to the game industry has never been lower. There are a number of high powered tools to help people turn their visions into reality. In fact, indie development is becoming one of the most lucrative parts of the industry, and we’re seeing more and more smaller games up for Game of The Year awards, beating out many of the AAA titans of the past.
Indie development is we’re you’re seeing a lot of the new ideas and interesting concepts lately. With a AAA title costing 50 million and up, with some games costing half a billion if you include marketing and promotion, AAA developers have to be very careful about what they’re making and appeal to the broadest audience possible. Smaller titles however don’t have that consideration. They can focus on an idea or story that they find compelling, and if done well can attract an audience that resonates with the game.
What’s your game of the year so far and is there anything you’re looking forward to in the next few months?
There’s been a fair number of really strong games this year, and we still have the holiday season to come, but I would say my current game of the year is between The Witness or Uncharted 4. I’ve heard great things about INSIDE, but haven’t had a chance to play it. And I really liked Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, but I don’t think that’s probably Game of The Year worthy.