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Q&A: IGC's Stephen Farrer and Mark Chuberka

After a debut last year under the Texas Independent Game Conference name, the Austin, Texas-based Independent Game Conference is held on the 29th and 30th of this month - we talk to Stephen Farrer and Mark Chuberka about the genesis and prospects for the
After a its start last year under the Texas Independent Game Conference name, the Austin, Texas-based Independent Game Conference is about to move into its second year, on the 29th and 30th of this month. This year’s event features keynotes from Gamecock Media’s Mike Wilson and Harry Miller, as well as NCSoft’s Richard Garriott. The conference is divided into two tracks – business and technical – and tackles topics such as IP protection, publisher presentation, and tips on networking, with support from local companies like Gamecock, Critical Mass Interactive and BioWare. Additionally, a demo presentation night is slated for the 29th. We spoke recently with Executive Director Stephen Farrer and Conference Director Mark Chuberka about what they learnt from last year’s conference, and what they’re excited about for this year’s event. Gamasutra: What was the motivation behind starting the IGC? Stephen Farrer: The IGC was created as a result of conversations with independent game studios who felt that there was a need for a different type of conference; one that explored business and technical issues from their point of view, one that was peer driven, was more cost effective, and had a more intimate overall environment. GS: Aside from Stephen being based in Austin, were there other reasons for choosing the city to host the event? Mark Chuberka: Aside from Austin being one of the centers of the game industry, there is a lot going on in Texas right now that the industry can look at for ideas and guidance. There is a swell of support for the games industry in the state that encompasses all aspects of the business. GS: What kind of support are you receiving from the local industry? MC: We have many local companies that are involved in the show this year that represent companies from several areas of the industry. Companies such as NCsoft, Gamecock Media, Critical Mass Interactive, Amaze! Entertainment, BioWare, and more are all getting involved to share their knowledge and expertise with the attendees. GS: How successful was last year's conference? SF: We used several criteria to measure the success of last year’s inaugural event – attendance matched our expectations at about 130 people, the “buzz” at the conference was tangible evidence that some great conversations were taking place and of course overall reaction that the conference met a real demand in the market. GS: What kind of feedback did you get from the previous event? SF: Feedback from all of the stakeholders was very positive both in terms of the caliber of the presentations and the quality of the attendees. Press reaction was very favorable, too. GS: Are there things that you've changed or are doing differently based on this feedback? MC: The positive feedback we received from the show contained a lot of “wouldn’t it be cool if you could also…” suggestions for this year. We took a look at that, and then went to the developers to see what ideas they had to make the show even better. They brought us some great ideas, including more sessions on how developers can manage the business end of their craft as well as the technical side. There are some great game makers here, and many of them are seeing the edge of success that means they’ll need to take the next step in growing the IP they’ve created. GS: Were there any specific deals or signings that came out of last year? MC: Last year’s show was the initiation of an idea that really over-exceeded the expectations of those involved. One comment we got was that it reminded them of the first GDC - not a bad thing to be compared to. So when we developed this year’s conference, we really took the attitude of creating something new that developers could attend and then have instant use for. Rather than focus on specific deals, we wanted to build a format that didn’t have a 10,000-foot view of technologies or concepts that were “coming”, but to give a practical developer’s show that was accessible and immediately relevant. As we continue to build the conference up, we’re hoping that more developers from all companies see this as a beneficial event that really meets their needs. GS: Why are you featuring different tracks for business and technology? MC: We wanted companies to be able to bring their entire team and find it useful. When talking to the developers there was a definite need to see more all-around topics for development studios. It really became an easy decision to add the business track. We worked hard to find specific topics that would really appeal to them and provide instant usefulness for the team. We talked to teams of different sizes and different backgrounds to see what they would be interested in. GS: How have you chosen the subjects to be covered at this year's event? MC: We went to the developers for topics like intellectual property rights and pitching a game to a publisher. There was also a desire to focus on different areas of business that can be targeted, like casual or mobile games. We also were extremely fortunate to be able to connect with groups like Project Horseshoe, George “The Fat Man” Sanger’s annual think tank, and utilize their resources. They’ll be announcing their 2007 findings at IGC Austin, and we’re sure that our attendees will get a lot of insight. GS: Are there any that you feel will be highlights? MC: All of them are highlights! [Laughs] Seriously, we’re very excited about the show. We believe that we’ve got an A+ lineup of topics and speakers, and we’re thrilled to bring them all together for a show that anyone can attend and get something out of that they can use right away. There are a few items that have recently been added to the schedule that we feel are tremendous additions. Zach Bishop, who works for the law firm Hunton & Williams is Epic’s licensing attorney for the Unreal Engine, will be giving a talk on how to protect Intellectual Property. He’s got some great experience around the world that will provide developers with a wealth of knowledge. We’ve also got experts in various fields such as 3D engines, sound development, networking and well as quality assurance, as well as two fantastic keynotes. GS: What do the keynote speakers bring to the conference? MC: Well, in the case of Gamecock’s Mike Wilson and Harry Miller, probably capes and masks! They’re a couple of unique individuals who’ve done a lot to show what independent companies can and do succeed. Their drive and attitude are something that really exemplifies what many see as the core of creation in the game industry. I think they’ll be a real inspiration to the attendees, and not just in fashion sense. Of course, there are a billion things I can say about Richard Garriott and his keynote. Richard’s one of the most influential people in the industry - a real rock star, to use the expression. But he’s also experienced a career that truly exemplifies the way independent thinking is the cornerstone of every development effort. He’s started two game companies, and worked his way from plastic baggies with disks all the way to creating massive worlds that everyone wants to see. GS: What titles do you have lined up for the game demo night, and are there any that you're particularly looking forward to? MC: We aren’t announcing any titles yet, but there’s going to be news on the website very soon with details and ways that we’re working with our partners to make the event one of the most fun ways to interact, socialize, get feedback, and show off the talents of the participants. We really want it to be a fun, informal experience that hopefully leads to big things for the developers. GS: Do you think there are more opportunities for independent developers at this current point in time? MC: I do. There’s a real interest in the industry’s - as well as the gamers’ - minds for new and fresh content. We’ve seen some great examples of it over the past few years: a game comes out with a fresh take or unique way of playing, and the next thing you know, the developer is bought up or other companies try to duplicate that success by bringing out a similar product. It’s almost like the independent film community. There are great ideas out there and more often then not, it takes an independent team to bring those ideas to life. It’s rare now for larger companies to take risks on new, unproven techniques.

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