From March 19-23 the Moscone Center once again played host to the Game Developers Conference, the biggest professional games industry event in the world. For the second year straight we’ve sent a Belgian delegation across the ocean with just one mission: remind the world of international game development that Belgium is a force to be reckoned with.

After the resounding success of last year’s maiden voyage, it was crystal clear that our mission to San Francisco would be getting an encore this year. Once again, co-organisers Flanders DC, FLEGA and WALGA found each other effortlessly. As we had already become acquainted with both city and conference, that collaboration wasn’t the only thing that felt familiar. If last edition we needed a few days to find our feet, this year felt like a cheerful reunion with old friends as we waltzed through the conference with growing confidence. 

Game Developers Conference

Game Developers Conference

Something old, something new

Participating developers included both familiar faces, such as Pajama Llama Games, Graphine, I-Illusions, and PreviewLabs as well as newcomers like Bazookas, Once Storytelling, Cybernetic Walrus, and Pepkarijnel Industries. We were also joined by a group of teachers and directors from Digital Arts & Entertainment at HOWEST Kortrijk, who wanted to amplify their reputation as the best place in the world to study the art of video games.

We also caught the eye of some politicians. Both Flemish Minister for Culture, Media, Youth and Brussels Sven Gatz and the major of Kortrijk Vincent Van Quickenborne joined the mission. Them freeing up space in their busy schedules just to get a feel of what it’s like to be at the biggest gathering of game creators in the world, is wonderful in its own right (though time was spent at non-game related visits around Silicon Valley as well), but their attendance also generated extra media attention, which resulted in massive coverage of our mission in national newspapers, magazines and even television

Video games and beers

“Show yourself”, was one of the top tips we learned from attending the conference last year. Putting our money where our mouth is, we hosted both a showcase event and an informal network drink where the Belgian game developers could strut their stuff.

Before the conference kicked off, we co-hosted the sold out pre-mixer Dutch Courage meets Belgian Beers with our Dutch colleagues on Sunday evening. About 700 people, among them lots of press and important decision makers, got to try their hand at a selection of Belgian titles in exchange for a delicious Belgian beer. Not exactly known for their lightness, we recommended people to try out the games before quenching their thirst. 

Dutch Courage meets Belgian Beers pre-mixer

Dutch Courage meets Belgian Beers pre-mixer

Because believe us, you don’t want to end up behind the steering wheel of supersonic racer Antigraviator when you’ve just been robbed of your reflexes. The game’s as fast as it is drop-dead (pun intended) gorgeous, so you can thank us later for saving your virtual life. Not to be mixed with too much alcohol either: Journey for Elysium by Once Storytelling. In this unique VR experience, with a prototype developed by fellow Flemish studio PreviewLabs, you pilot a rowboat on an underworld river and have to paddle your way to eternal life. Easier said than done, as the game will regularly throw puzzles and monsters inspired by classical mythology your way. Those who wanted to chill out could try out Boa Bonanza by Pepkarijnel Industries, a new studio founded by Karel Crombecq of Sileni Studios and student developers Pepijn Willekens. Or you know: just grab a fresh beer and call it a day.

It wouldn’t be the last beer either as three days later the Belgians hosted their own network event. During the Belgian Games Cafe, taking place in the heart of San Francisco in a traditional American bar serving classic cocktails and exquisite finger food, our studios were able to strike up new business relationships or impress existing partners.

Get on the floor

Earlier that day the doors of the expo had flung open to expose quite some Belgian game dev talent. If there’s one Belgian studio that knows how to get their game out there, it has to be Cybernetic Walrus. With Antigraviator appearing at four different locations throughout the week, there was no escaping this supersonic racing game.

Flemish Minister Sven Gatz racing Cybernetic Walrus’ Mike Coeck in Antigraviator

Meanwhile, in the brand new South Hall, Ghent based middleware developers Graphine amazed visitors with the newest release of their Granite texture streaming technology. 

As usual our friends of Digital Wallonia also had a shared stand where a couple of companies were able to highlight their services and products. The booth is spearheaded by Mons based game developer Fishing Cactus, that are showing off their monochrome puzzle game Shift Quantum

You don’t have to show off a game to be in the spotlight though. Merely whispering the name Space Pirate Trainer in VR circles is enough to grab everybody’s attention. The VR space shooter is a critical and commercial success and I-Illusions captain Dirk Van Welden got to talk about his passion project in three different sessions. On Tuesday he shared the stage with developers from Epic and Unity in a panel about performance in VR technology. The next day he was a keynote speaker during an Intel session and some hours later he talked about Microsoft’s mixed reality technology. 

Dirk Van Welden

Other interesting talks that hold valuable lessons for indie developers include:

  • Practical IP Law for Indie Developers 301: Plain Scary Edition
  • Know Your Market: Making Indie Games That Sell
  • Funding What When
  • Let’s Be Realistic: A Deep Dive into How Games Are Selling on Steam
  • The Diary of a Modern PR Campaign: How to Plan Your Game’s Promotion
  • Advocating for Yourself: How to Change the Public Perception of Games and Game Developers
  • No Booth, No Problem: Showcasing Your Game on the Go
  • Loot Box: How to Strike Gold through Licensed Consumer Products

All these talks (and accompanying presentation slides) are now available in the GDC Vault.

No cigar

Space Pirate Trainer might be successful in every imaginable way, the game wasn’t able to bag an IGF award. For the second year running, our space pirates had to settle for an honorable mention in the category Excellence in Design. Unfortunately, it was the same story for Ghent based Larian Studios. Although their epic roleplaying game Divinity: Original Sin 2  won several game of the year awards, they didn’t get a chance at winning a Game Developers Choice award. Of course, they can be proud about the honorable mentions in no less than three prestigious categories like Game of the Year, Best Design and Best Narrative. Still, it seems like a sore oversight that the exceptional efforts of Swen Vincke and his team weren’t lauded with at least one nomination. 


Independent Game Festival

So we invested our final hope at a Belgian win on the youthful shoulders of Pepijn Willekens. His alternative game Windgolf was selected for the popular alt.ctrl.GDC showcase, a selection of games that are controlled in an innovative way using a custom built installation. In Windgolf for example, you have to steer your golf ball over a series of mini golf courses by blowing into tubes. A great idea, but unfortunately Windgolf fell just short of the final selection to win the the alt.ctrl.GDC award. Close, but no cigar! 

Pepijn Willekens at GDC with Windgolf

Pepijn Willekens at GDC with Windgolf

Mission accomplished

Even though we went home without a prize (imagine the hassle of getting that thing through airport security!) we can look back at a fruitful second excursion to San Francisco. Instead of trophies, our suitcase is filled with business cards, inspiration and future plans. As our plane let go of American soil, we were filled with the fuzzy feeling that we’re part of an amazing industry where the best is yet to come. That’s a mission accomplished in our books.