Talkin' GDC with Jamil Moledina

The Game Developers Conference director discusses what the event has in store, including sought-after new info on PlayStation 3

GameDaily BIZ: So this year's theme or catchphrase, if you will, is "What's Next." What exactly does that mean? What should attendees take away from GDC:06?

Jamil Moledina: This refers to several elements. First is the obvious reference to next generation consoles, and that at its core, GDC covers from art to programming to production what you need to know to make next generation games. But beyond that, what's next refers to broadening the market, collaboration with film, and new ways of developing revenue and distribution, as well as distributed development.

The hallmark attendee takeaway from GDC is a concrete list of ideas to implement on your current game, your next game, and your dream game.

BIZ: What can you tell us about Phil Harrison's keynote? Will we finally get some new information on the PlayStation 3?

JM: The answer is yes. In general, platform providers have a unique opportunity at the GDC to share knowledge with and inspire the people who will make or break their consoles, namely the game developers themselves. With that in mind, this GDC keynote, along with the Nintendo keynote by Satoru Iwata, have both been in development for several months, and contain significant editorial value and developer takeaway. I strongly encourage you to attend both platform keynotes.

BIZ: Why do you think Microsoft isn't giving a keynote this year, or is it just that they haven't announced one yet?

JM: Microsoft is not giving a keynote at GDC this year, but that makes sense since they've already had their huge debut with the Xbox 360 last fall. Keep in mind though, that GDC is more than just keynotes. Microsoft continues to play a leadership role at GDC, with a giant booth and equally large expo suite, and several Xbox 360 sessions, including postmortems of Project Gotham Racing 3, Ninety-Nine Nights, and the UI of the console itself. Plus, developers like EA and Ubisoft will be previewing certain Xbox 360 titles at the show.

BIZ: This is now your second GDC as director. What lessons have you learned from last year and in what ways do you think you may have improved GDC:06 as a result?

JM: The biggest lesson was time management. I started on GDC in August of 2004, for a show in March 2005. That was pure crunch. This show requires a 16-month production cycle, and I only had 7 months to gather the work done, and take it from there. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so I hated to cut elements from the show. This time, I actually had some time, and the result is an extremely strong show. The obvious metric is what's new, and for that I'd point to our new art competition in conjunction with CG Society, the addition of a Modding Competition to the Independent Games Festival, and a new press preview for journalists.

BIZ: What are your own personal guidelines for directing a successful GDC?

JM: Great question! Officially, it's about bringing the GDC in on time and on budget. Personally, it's much more intangible; it's about hearing what developers are saying in the hallways, and how much value they get from the learning, inspiration, and networking of the GDC.

BIZ: How do you feel about GDC being back in San Jose? Some people liked it in San Francisco last year, while others didn't like the change.

JM: I love San Jose, there's a lot of history with the GDC there. We really take over the city, and the Fairmont Bar is practically an institution of the GDC. San Francisco was a great experiment for us, to see how the show would do in a larger city. As you may have noticed, the GDC is growing considerably, with over 12,000 attendees in SF. We are currently experiencing a hotel space shortage in San Jose, for GDC 06, and the convention center is maxed out. For those reasons, we're going back to San Francisco in 2007, with the dates of March 5-9 in Moscone West and North. Realistically though, you can't go wrong in the San Francisco Bay Area, considering how many developers are based here.

BIZ: If you had to recommend just a few sessions to attend at GDC:06 which would they be?

JM: Besides the keynotes from Phil Harrison, Satoru Iwata, Will Wright, and Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica creator), there's a few sessions I'd strongly recommend. First, the What's Next Panel features several leaders in our industry talking about what they see coming. Also, the Game Design Challenge this year is to create a game that would win the Nobel Peace Prize, and features Keita Takahashi, CliffyB, and Harvey Smith. The Experimental Gameplay Workshop is where EyeToy, Katamari Damacy, and Ragdoll Kung-Fu were first shown, so that's always a good bet.

BIZ: Are there any speakers you really wanted to give presentations this year that you just couldn't persuade to come?

JM: There were a couple of developers who are working on next-gen games who just couldn't make it, but they're on tap for GDC 07. I can't talk about them just yet, but they're huge.

BIZ: When does preparation for GDC end? Are you still working on it this close to the actual event?

JM: Absolutely. We're working on the beast right up until the end of the show. There's always something that needs to be adjusted one way or another, and several elements of the event are in still in production. For example, the IGDA is currently collecting votes for the Game Developers Choice Awards.

BIZ: How would you compare the Game Developers Choice Awards to the Interactive Achievement Awards at DICE? AIAS president Joseph Olin told us he views the awards at DICE as the Oscars of the industry...

JM: The Game Developers Choice Awards are a developer-focused process and event. Nominations are free and voting is conducted and tabulated by an independent body, the International Game Developers Association. They're our Price Waterhouse Coopers, if you're using the Oscars analogy. Then we produce and host the ceremony with the names of the developers called out, as opposed to just game titles. The resulting Game Developers Choice Awards are then a powerful and objective peer-based validation of the blood, sweat, and tears of the rarely-named developers who make everything we do worthwhile.

In talking about DICE, I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for what Joseph as well as Ted Price and Lorne Lanning have done for the game industry. The result is that both awards shows are strong examples of how the game industry is on par with other entertainment industries that have a couple of respected awards shows each. For example, the film industry has its Golden Globes and its Oscars, as well as a handful of more commercial awards shows. All serve their purpose. Of course, in mapping our industry to that analogy, you really should ask the developers themselves what they think.

BIZ: DICE recently secured a TV deal for the Interactive Achievement Awards. Is that something you're shooting for with the Choice Awards as well?

JM: We are open to that possibility, although our priority is producing a high-integrity, high-quality event.

BIZ: We understand that during DICE you won a bid for a piece of game art called "Yellow Room." We're curious... what sparked your interest in this art and what have you done with it since?

JM: That's very perceptive of you! "Yellow Room" is just a beautiful image from Uru: The Path of the Shell; I was mesmerized by it when I saw it. The artist, Stephan Martiniere, is an absolute genius at capturing mood and emotion. The picture has yet to arrive, but it's going on my wall at home when it does.

BIZ: Lastly, is there anything about GDC that you'd like to add that we perhaps overlooked?

JM: Our closing night event is really cool this year, in that we're presenting Video Games Live, a concert dedicated to video game music. It's a great way for developers and games to rub elbows in mutual appreciation of the game themes that we've all enjoyed over the years. Definitely check that out.

BIZ: Thanks for your time.

JM: It's been a pleasure James.

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