Reboot Develop went into round #4 this year and it was amazing. And not only did we have the pleasure to experience ‘Croatia’s finest’ for ourselves, we also had the chance to sit with co-founder and Managing Director Damir Durovic and talk about the history and evolution of Reboot, amazing features, future plans and speakers and, of course, soccer tournaments.
Damir, thanks so much for having us. Please, for all those who don’t know about Reboot yet, would you tell us a little about the event, how it came to life and how it evolved up to today?
The event itself started four years ago, but the international core crew behind Reboot Develop was originally tied to games media und marketing agencies from all over Europe. Personally, I’ve been involved with the games media for about 20 years before I started doing events. Last, I worked for two big agencies that were handling some big publishers and developers for Eastern Europe. So, the first event that we actually
started before Reboot Develop was sort of a games convention in Zagreb, Croatia. Today, with around 80,000 people, it’s the biggest in Southeast Europe, like PAX. However, we wanted to use our network to start a really high-end conference, that was still approachable even for indies with lower budgets, who would otherwise be excluded due to the pricing. Reboot is exactly that.
When we first started, it was a very small conference with maybe 250 people, but even back then our line-up of maybe 20 speakers was really great. We decided that we had to take advantage of the network we built over more than 20 years of media and agency work, and that way we managed to invite some absolutely amazing speakers. After this first event the word was slowly getting out and we knew that we were onto something. So for the next one we decided to follow up on an idea we had from the beginning and we started looking for a really beautiful location. Being in Croatia gave us a huge advantage. It has lots of gorgeous places and also a great international metric of interesting games and people. The second edition of Reboot Develop happened in Dubrovnik and it was very important for us! This time we had around 50 speakers but the event was also remembered because it was keynoted by Peter Molyneux, at the time when he said he’ll never ever step out to the media and he’ll never speak at a conference. Three months after that he came to our conference and did the keynote, there is also a recording of it. And that keynote was his attempt to … maybe not apologize, but some kind of explanation speech.
We wanted a really high-end conference, that was still approachable even for indies with lower budgets, who would otherwise be excluded due to the pricing.
That conference was huge for us. From there on attendency was growing each year by around 60 to 70 percent, and so did the number of speakers. Now we’re at 104 speakers. I think that number is great and nobody really needs more than 100 speakers on six tracks. What we, however, want to develop further is the quality of our speakers. It’s already very high but we still want to raise the bar by always pulling in industry legends and some of the biggest indie superstars – we’re always focusing on the upcoming stars or the names that once were the greatest at what they were doing. You know, the guys that actually shaped the industry.
For the next three years we’ll definitely stay in Dubrovnik, on a very similar date, from April 19th-21st. Also, we’re obviously bounded by the size of the venue, so we’re staying at 100 to 110 speakers and 2,000 attendees. Otherwise the whole relaxed spirit, which makes Reboot so much different from many other conferences, would get lost. One reason, of course, is the venue. The other is that we never wanted the event to have that strict business touch.
Let’s go a step further: Would you even say, Reboot Develop – as to what it has grown over the past years – wouldn’t even be realizable in another city? As you said, the atmosphere is extremely relaxed. As soon as you get off the plane you’ve got hills on one side and the coast on the other and you automatically drift into some kind of vacation mood, just with a high-end conference on the side.
I completely agree. We wanted to have a unique signature, because why just go and repeat what 30 other very good conferences out there already do? That’s why we decided to go for these really beautiful, coastal locations because, as you just said, it definitely helps the atmosphere. Last year we tried doing it in Split. It was very successful and Split is really beautiful, still it doesn’t have the fame of Dubrovnik, which obviously helps a lot. The biggest restriction right now, however – even in Dubrovnik – are the flight connections. They’re still a bit quirky, although Dubrovnik just got a new airport and connections are improving. The thing is: During the summer time there are hundreds of flights a day and Dubrovnik is immensely connected to everywhere in the world, but we chose a date in April.
Some reasonable compromise? You already have nice weather and everything looks gorgeous, even though it is a little windy and cold, but it’s still off-season and therefore affordable.
Exactly. Doing this kind of conference in the middle of summer in Dubrovnik? We’d have to increase the ticket prices in a threefold or more to survive. Here in Dubrovnik prices skyrocket, the city itself is already unbelievably expensive, especially compared to rest of Croatia but also in straight comparison to some of the biggest cities in Europe. Looking at the prices of some of the top restaurants there, it’s almost on one level with San Francisco.
So, Dubrovnik definitely helps. We knew that from the beginning and of the reasons we were attracted to it, of course, was its connection to Game of Thrones. And now, with Star Wars and Robin Hood coming in, who wouldn’t want to come? It’s like free marketing here and there and we are definitely using that to our advantage. This edition of Reboot was basically “Game of Thrones”-colored, the next one will be inspired by Star Wars – a little more futuristic.
When you opened the conference with the orchestras playing the Game of Thrones theme … goosebumps. I still get them whenever I tell people about it.
(Laughs) People were crying! Alen Ladavac, the CEO of Croteam, was standing next to me and he’s the type of guy that hardly shows any emotion. Normally is a very strict guy. And he told me “Man, I can’t go up on the stage after this! I’m crying inside!” (still laughs)
For us it was absolutely amazing … and super costly! The two orchestra groups never worked together before, so we flew them in two days before the event so they could practice. The connection was really cool, and even though it was only ten minutes (!) it had a pretty big impact.
Absolutely! Even if ‘d forget about all the rest, I’ll still remember “that one time at Reboot, when they played the theme of Game of Thrones”.
And that’s why we love those … not necessarily crazy, but impactful things. We look out for those even when we choose our speakers. We preferably go for the ones that want to do something impactful on their own, like Patrice Desilets. He’s been a good friend of ours for years, and he’s using Reboot Develop every single year for a worldwide exclusive reveal. Three years ago he exclusively announced his game “Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey”. Last year he did an exclusive reveal on “1666: Amsterdam” after he had gotten back from Ubisoft and this year he showed sort of like the first ingame trailer and revealed a bunch of other things about ancestors. And what’s really great, is that he’s got immense media coverage on all the things he did here. There were hundreds of the biggest media outlets covering his talks. That way Reboot Develop got enormous coverage and therefore even bigger attention as well, so both parties profit from it a lot.
How do you handle speaker applications? First come, first serve or do you personally pick your speakers?
This year we received 350 speaker applications but actually we do not ask for applications at all. Some people don’t like that but we actually handpick every single speaker, we never accept applications from outside. If someone applies with a topic we find interesting, there is of course a chance that we might get into contact with him or her and talk about a slot for the next year or the year after that. Normally, though, we think about what we want to do, who the most interesting guys are right now and who we can reach out to, e.g. maybe some guys we couldn’t get before.
Anyone you might already share some light on?
We were already talking to some huge names that weren’t able to come. Fumito Ueda, for example, was supposed to join us this year – hopefully he does in 2018. Then there is Keiji Inafune; Japanese speakers are especially hard to get and to negotiate with. They just have a very different business culture. And then are some AAA-developers from the United States who were also planned for this year. But we already had over 100 speakers, and we already overspent. At the moment we have around eleven names for next year, but I honestly don’t want to confirm anything that simply cannot be confirmed, yet. I mean, even if a speaker is a 100 percent confirmed they can still drop out last minute for whatever reason, e.g. if their companies had been bought by other companies, maybe because of family matters. It happened this year as well.
It does sound costly for sure.
Just so you know: We are losing money at the moment. We all are investing money from our other businesses. This edition of reboot Develop was the biggest so far, record breaking in so many ways – but it’s also the one that has lost us the biggest amount of money. We got five or six more huge names this year and that cost us a sizeable chunk, but we said “Ok, let’s do it”. At some point, however, enough is enough.
Especially during the morning keynotes you realized how many attendees there actually were. Ok, maybe not on day 2 … the first parties took their tolls, I guess.
We had around 1,100 (laughs) and it’s becoming even harder on day 3, believe me. People hate us when we put them on Saturday’s morning keynote because maybe 100 people out of 1,000 show up. It’s always challenging (giggles).
Talking numbers, how many people attended Reboot Develop this year? I’m asking because it always seemed busy but never overcrowded, and the Sheraton’s architectural structure seemed to play a big part in that.
The structure of the venue is a key factor. We always look for locations that allow us to pull people into different parts, so they can do a lot without the venue itself being overcrowded. Therefore a lot of thought went into the sectioning: Where should we put the B2B expo, where the indies, etc.? Obviously there are restrictions due to the venue but some of the things we tried allowed us to manipulate the layout in a certain way – like putting the panel section next to the pool to pull at least a hundred or so people outside.
We put a lot of thought into stuff like that because we really wanted to avoid the inside being overcrowded. If that happened we would have kind of failed. We want people to feel like they’re in some special place. Not in a “super posh” or luxurious kind of way, even though there are lots of those parts as well. It’s more about giving attendees the chance to connect to a huge crowd of industry people but still keep up some kind of intimate atmosphere. Even in the biggest hall it’s still semi-intimate. I don’t know, not like at E3 press conference, for example, where you watch something and simply leave right after.
It actually felt like meeting someone at the hotel bar, talking about games, just on a larger scale. Well, it’s a hotel and it’s got a bar … coincidence?
Yes! That’s it! This is exactly what I it is, the feeling that we targeted. And that’s why people love it. When we are asked about the conference’s agenda and how long it’s open, we tell them that there are speeches from 10am to 7pm but it’s kind of open 24/7. There is a bunch of things and events happening next to the event, like forest parties, yacht parties, beach parties and what else – lots of things we don’t have anything to do with but which we still love to support because it helps us. We can’t do everything, so we are happy about every piece of help and of course about how people feel after they’ve been sort of constantly connected to people from the industry over three or four days. You’re being on a vacation but you’re still doing things that are super useful for your business. We are extremely proud that some really huge business deals came together at our conference. You know, you see some people hanging around and two or three weeks later you see them announce some big thing – that’s really cool.
End of part 1; to be continued on 24 June.
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