I will not deny that I was a little nervous for my first trip to the Middle East… When I first got the invite to keynote the MENA Games Conference in Beirut, I was honored but also a bit trepidatious. All was for not, as the trip was wonderful with nary a scare.

Several hundred game industry types descended upon Beirut, Lebanon for the first ever developer focused conference in the region. The event started to great fanfare, with the Minister of Telecom opening the conference and announcing the government’s support for the game industry.

MENA Games was well organized, especially for a first time event, and collected developers and industry folks from across the entire region. The Arab Game Jam had teams from Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Bahrain, etc. It was a great introduction to a high potential region.

Downtown Beirut.

Lots of cool graffiti and street art in the city.

Developers working during the Arab Game Jam.

Welcome! First time a conference venue has had barbed wire to protect!

Conference was on historical train station grounds. This building was part of the Orient Express.

One of the old train engines.

Lebanon’s Minister of Telecom opening the conference and pronouncing support for games.

Panel on publishing into the MENA region.

Winners/participants of the Arab Game Jam.

Church and mosque side-by-side in downtown Beirut.

The mosque lit up at night.

Lovely Place d’Etoiles in downtown.

Inside the Natural History Museum (happened to be free access “night at the museum” week).

The Rouche rocks off the coast. Reminded me of the Apostles in Australia.

Up the cable car in the Harissa area…

Old churches in Byblos.

Byblos was an early Phoenician settlement… origins of the alphabet come from here.

This was my 19th straight GDC! And, it was so intense, I wondered if I’d survive to make it to the 20th. It is hard to believe that each year seems more crazy and productive than the last. Maybe it is just a GDC warp effect….

Though, I’m pretty sure the warp was due to the growth of the Execution Labs family. With a handful of alumni teams to support, along with the current accelerator and finishing fund teams, there was an exponential number of publisher, platform, and partner meetings to orchestrate. Plus some intense scouting for teams to invest in as we move forward.

My sessions on startup funding and accelerator/mentor programs went well, with deep discussions on a wide range of topics. Always nice to see new programs popping up all over the world.

Sadly, I was too deep in meetings to catch many sessions or see much of the expo. And, I will admit, it did feel a bit odd to now be running a rant session with Eric…


Guiz de Pessemier (Outerminds) enjoying some Japanese whiskey at the Sega party.


Chris Baine (BioWare) discussing the merits of making games in Canada.


Nate Barker (Chartboost) in the best conference uniform ever!


Lil’ Strid (Astrid Rosemarin, Execution Labs) and Big Ber (Andraz Bole, PouPou Interactive) dropping beats at the Google Play party.


Good insights from the indie publishing panel.


Mia famiglia! First time I see an Italian pavilion at GDC. Didn’t even know there were that many studios in Italy!


Rather odds controls at the Alt.Ctrl.GDC exhibit.


The annual post GDC meat festival at Keith’s place.


Chinese New Year parade action.

 

I vaguely recall a conversation Eric Zimmerman and I had with Stephanie Barish (the queen of IndieCade) years ago about her crazy idea to start an indie focused festival. The event started in California and only recently has added an East Coast edition in NYC.

As this was my first time at the East version, was super happy to see that it encapsulates the same level of indie awesomeness and variety. Lots of cool games, and deep thoughts on independent creation. That said, was cool that some of the big corps (eg, Sony, Nintendo, Facebook), were on hand to support and participate.


NY, NY!


Execution Labs’ cofounder Keith Katz with pitch advice during the PlayCrafting event.


The design debate. Was intense!


Devs discuss Kickstarter strategies.


Keith reaching for the stars…


Interesting game experiments as part of the exhibition.


The Sony+indies+love panel.


The ever luscious Lovers in a Dangerous Space Time on display.


The event was hosted at the Museum of the Moving Image, which meant you could check out the permanent exhibits.


Post event fun in the big city… Secret entrance to Please Don’t Tell. Shhhh….

 

This was my first time over for a European edition of Casual Connect, which mostly ran the same as the American version. Amsterdam played host to a bustling event, with a massive 120+ game indie showcase. I was one of the IndiePrize jury members, making for a nice excuse to “force” myself to play many of the games.

The Netherlands in particular, has a rich pedigree of indie development, not least of which is due to the success of small shops like Vlambeer, and the efforts of the Dutch Game Garden.  But interestingly, given how siloed the education system is, you tend to get startups comprised of a single discipline: a bunch of engineering school buddies start a team, a bunch of art school buddies start a team, and so on. Not surprisingly, there are no business school buddy teams!


Lovely view from my AirBnB along the Singel canal.


Inspiring art-in-progress at the amazing THISISAROBOT imagination studio.


Mega organ at the opening reception.


The bustling indie showcase area… hmm, arena?


An actually good/fun industry party.


The IndiePrize jury in heated debate.


Blindflug Studios wins Best Mobile Game for First Strike HD.


Yes yes, we stumbled upon the red light district… meh…

My first visit to Romania was an intense one. Flight delays meant that I barely had three days in Bucharest. I was invited to speak at the annual tech/startup summit, How To Web. But really, I was there to scout for awesome indie game studios.

Interestingly, Romania has a similar game industry ecosystem as Montreal. There are several very large publisher-owned studios (like Ubisoft, Gameloft, EA, King, etc) that dominate the landscape and hold most of the headcount. Then there are small studios and indies popping up in the cracks. More interesting still, is the post-communist culture that is wrestling within a new-world entrepreneurial/meritocracy context — rather than just keeping your head down and staying in line.

Aside from the fact that everyone smokes and there are no anti-smoking laws (my luggage smelled like cigar trunk when I got home), it was warm and interesting introduction to Romania.


The welcoming nightlife in the historic section of Bucharest.


Canadian trade commissioner Neil Swain delivers a diplomatic introduction.


How To Web main track in session.


How To Web game track action with Unity’s Mathieu Muller discussing buttons.


Sand Sailor’s Cristian Diaconescu presents their amazing indie project, Black The Fall.


Mingling with indies at the Nexus Gaming Pub.


At the historic Caru’ Cu Bere restaurant for an epic dinner.


Andrei Istrate (RGDA) is not impressed by the half-pig on my plate!

Another year, another awesome Montreal Game Summit. The 11th edition of MIGS did not disappoint! With a stellar line up of speakers, over 2000 attendees, and great meetings/activities/etc… it was an intense couple of days in Montreal for the game industry.

Brandon Beck’s opening keynote about his talent first strategy at Riot was quite inspiring. Sadly, I only got to see a few sessions as I was stuck in meetings most of the show. My guess is that timing the Execution Labs $6million funding announcement with the start of the conference didn’t help ;)

We celebrated with another unofficial afterparty at XL (now an official tradition). Sadly, we got a lot of hate mail the next morning, cursing us for many a hangover.


Is it coincidence that all the women huddled together during the Epic pre-dinner?: Leah Hoyer (ArenaNet), Marguerite Dibble (Game Theory), Jenna Hoffstein (Little Worlds), Tanya Short (Kitfox).


Brandon Beck discusses Riot’s secret sauce: people.


Winning art work from the gallery showcase.


Playing Mario Kart during the party.


Justin Bailey (Double Fine) covers alternate forms of financing.


Tanya Short (Kitfox) on procedural generation.


Leah Hoyer (ArenaNet) on strategies to restart your career (and have your previous employer pay for the margaritas during you wallowing and venting stages).


Full house at the Execution Labs afterparty.


Busy bar action at the Execution Labs afterparty.


The after afterparty at Big in Japan.

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