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This week, I spent my working days at the Reboot Develop Blue game conference for the first time. It was at the elegant Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera Hotel in the beautiful seaside town of Dubrovnik, Croatia. I took a signature relaxation picture of my feet on a beach chair looking out upon the hotel’s pretty blue swimming pool against the backdrop of the blue Adriatic Sea. But the picture is a lie.
Of course, I had no time to enjoy the swimming because I was busy at the event, listening to talks, meeting new people in games, moderating three sessions, and writing some stuff. The news doesn’t wait, and that makes traveling extra busy for me. Add to that the joy of traveling delay-prone airlines in the post-pandemic world. I started writing this after missing my flight connection. It’s not so joyful in the Istanbul airport, where the Wi-Fi is not free and they confiscate your refilled water at the gate.
I’ll be finishing this column above the Atlantic Ocean, and by the end of this journey I will have been traveling via four connections for maybe 26 hours. And that makes me and probably everyone else wonder whether I really get a return on the investment of my time. I’m no time accountant. And I usually decide not to drive 50 miles for appointments in San Francisco these days when a Zoom call is enough.
But, of course, it’s worth it.
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As a game event organizer, it helps me to see how Damir Durovic, the respected organizer of Reboot, deals with the chaos of a live event. We were supposed to discuss the ups and downs of game events on a panel with Ivan Lobo of Gamelab and PR veteran Caroline Miller. But Durovic couldn’t make it because of complications from an event party in the castle of Old Town on the night before.
Reboot had to roll with a lot of last-minute changes to its schedule. But I had a nice walk with Richard Browne of Digital Extremes to the bombed-out buildings from the war of Croatian independence from 1991 to 1995. In Old Town, I did a Game of Thrones tour, as much of the series was filmed in the majestic fortress city. But it was easy to notice signs that showed where the 2,000 or so shells landed in the city and caused so much destruction during the war. My guide wanted me to see that.
And after that, it was interesting to watch a panel with Serb, Montenegran, Macedonian, and Croatian people on it, talking for the first time about developing a strong regional game industry ecosystem. They talked with pride about having my 600 developers in one country and 50 dev studios in another, and they all hoped that the war in Ukraine would end soon. As I have in other parts of the world, I saw their determination to be the region of the gaming world that gives birth to the next Angry Birds or Royal Match.
I spoke long distance with Alex Chachava, the new owner of My.Games, a game company with Russian roots that extracted itself from Russia and joined the diaspora of Russian game studios that left the country to survive in the industry. There were many Ukrainians, Russians and other Slavic folks at the event.
And so it was quite compelling for me to moderate a session with Hendrik Lesser, the founder of Lesser Evil, which is making Death From Above, a game where you can use drones to drop grenades on Russian soldiers and tanks. We held our fireside chat together on stage near the tranquil swimming pool.
Lesser’s position was that it isn’t a noble thing focus on peace and avoiding politics. Rather, he is choosing the Ukrainian side and wants to use the game to make a point and to raise money for non-lethal aid to the Ukrainians. He announced the game and was aghast to learn that the main reaction to media about the game was silence or indifference.
It was refreshing to get different reactions, like how it’s too real, or too fresh in people’s painful memories to make a game about an ongoing war. It was better to do that panel in Europe, and in Croatia in particular, as it’s not so far from the borders of that war, and war is still fresh in its memory.
There was also a lot of joy at the Reboot event. Jonas Antonsson, CEO of Raw Fury, got up on stage for a “brutally honest” ask me anything (AMA) session, and he drank a couple beers. His talk was preceded by a saxophone player solo. His own son, sitting in the front row, asked him what his biggest regrets were in his career. Antonsson joked it was “you.” But then he said it was failing to show those whom he really cared about how much he loved them.
Bringing beers into the sessions was part of the event’s festival atmosphere. Julie Elven and Marie Havemann talked about the craft of music in games, and Aaron Loeb, who recently left a leadership role at Scopely, debated the promise of generative AI in a panel.
There were dozens of other talks and thousands of attendees, as well as beautiful indie games on display like Viewfinder, which won Game of the Year in the final contest at Reboot. To be sure, there were a lot of serious discussions at Reboot, but talking about games in such a fantastic always seemed to return the subject for me to joy. The only challenge these days is that I’m meeting more people than I can remember. Still, I always like to be surprised by meeting interesting new people.
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