The Nordic Game Conference is held annually in Malmö, Sweden. This year, the 2017 Knowledge, Emotion and Business edition of Nordic Game will take place on 17-19 May at Slagthuset, a beautiful venue near the Malmö city centre. We had a chance to talk to Nordic Game’s program director Jacob Riis about dream jobs, his advice for his younger self and beeing the drummer of a really bad rock band.

Nordic Game Conference 2017

Making Games: Hello Jacob, how long are you working for the Nordic Game Conference?
Jacob: I started off as a media partner and joined the team in 2006. At first, I was responsible for communications. After that, I moved up the ranks, got rid of my competition and started working on the programme itself … oh wait, that’s not entirely true (laughs). For me, it was really interesting to start creating the programme and getting more and more involved in the whole process of planning and executing the conference.

Jacob Riis and Eric Robertson at Nordic Game Conference 2016

Making Games: That’s quite a long time! If you could send your younger self a message back through time to the year when you started, what would you tell him?
Jacob: Haha, this interview is going in the right direction! But seriously, this IS my dream job. I could probably never work for a game company after hearing how hard it is – with crunch times and what have you. The Nordic Game Conference is the highlight of my life every year – not only because we put so much work into it, but also because of the positive feedback we get from the developers. Standing on the big stage in front of a thousand people, watching them beeing happy and seeing them connecting with each other is amazing.
Making Games: It’s probably similar to beeing in a band, standing in front of a crowd and playing a good show.
Jacob: Absolutely. I was a drummer for twenty years of my life, and I totally get what you are saying. But there are also similarities with a game like FIFA: You know you have to do a sequel every year, and you definitely want to do it better than the last one, but you cannot really tear it apart and create something completely different. So it’s a fine balance between fine tuning all the existing elements, introducing new stuff and get rid of old stuff that didn’t work. And to get back yo your original question – I would tell younger myself: Do it! Don’t think about it! It’s a dream job!

Making Games: When we talk with developers, we often laugh about the fact that most of our parents don’t understand what we are doing. What do you tell your parents?
Jacob: My parents are quite happy nowadays because they always thought I was going to be the drummer of a really bad rock band. I tried to explain to them what I am doing for a living, but as you already said they don’t really understand it. I think they are happy as long as I´m not trying to restart my career as a drummer. My kids, on the other hand, think that I sit on my ass and play games all day. At least that’s what they tell their friends at school (laughs).

Making Games: What is your advice for someone who has never been to the Nordic Game Conference? What are the dos and don’ts for the first visit?
Jacob: You should come with an open mind, be friendly and ready to connect with people. If you are curious, you will get into a lot of topics and discussions with people that you wouldn’t normally talk to at other developer conferences. Also, don’t get too drunk on the first day! Of course, that doesn’t count for Finnish people, who are not very good at beeing social without their vodka (laughs).

Hideo Kojima (middle) and Jacob Riis (r) at Nordic Game Conference 2016

Making Games: Last year, you had Hideo Kojima as a speaker. Is there anyone else that you would really like to see as a speaker at the Nordic Game Conference?
Jacob: Yes, there are plenty! Obviously big icons like Shigeru Miyamoto, but if I had to pick one, it would be Dan Houser. I would love to hear his thoughts about creating new genres and ask him everything about Grand Theft Auto. Besides that, there is a most wanted list in my head with all the usual suspects that haven’t been at Nordic yet and hopefully come to Sweden in the next years.

Sten Selander, Jacob Riis, and Erik Robertson at Nordic Game Conference 2017

Making Games: What is it that makes Nordic Games Conference so special?
Jacob: I think it’s the level of intimacy. This region is filled with talented people working on really successful products and games, and here they all come together, and a lot of them think of Nordic as their home turf – like an annual “Get together”. It’s as much about business talks as it is about meeting friends and sit together and chat. We were also working very hard to make the Nordic Game Conference even more interesting from a business point of view as it was before. We are doing this for a very long time now, but we still learn from our mistakes and listen to our audience. Nordic Game feels like a family reunion with a lot of new family members each year.

Making Games: Okay, now what’s your plan for the next 14 years?
Jacob: Do you have an hour left (laughs)? I hope that we will expand in all directions. And not only us, but also the nordic game industry. If you want me to mention a specific thing I would say the Nordic Game Discovery Contest that we have introduced this year. I have really high hopes to develop this into something that could be a fresh and new take on bringing game developers closer to their audience and helping developers to get recognised. But to make a long story short: I hope that the Nordic Game Discovery Contest will take off. This year is the premiere season, but I hope it will grow in the next ten years into something like the Eurovision Game Development Contest – but with good taste (laughs)!

Making Games: Many thanks for this interview, Jacob Riis!

More links about Nordic Game Conference 2017:

This year’s speakers