Q&A: Midwest Game Developer Summit Representative Andrew Matt Sheds Light on Event
Last weekend in Oconomowoc, WI, the annual Midwest Game Developer Summit (MGD) began. For two exciting days, aspiring gaming industry students got to hear from real industry game developers of all kinds (from Random Seed Games to Volition). How are games designed? How are games published? What kind of audio should go with a game? This event covered it all.
The MGD Summit is all about exchanging information through lectures, panels, exhibits and more. This event also allows those with game demos to showcase their talent and points aspiring game industry students in the right direction.
Andrew Matt, public relations for the Summit, shares details about putting the event together, success stories, his current gaming habits, and more.
GS: How long have you been with MGDS?
Andrew Matt: Just a little under a year, I started working on the project back in September of 2013.
GS: So have you always been the PR guy or have you done other things for the project?
Andrew Matt: PR is my formal title, but I wouldn't say it defines what I all do. I wear many different hats. I wrote the majority of the Kickstarters body, filmed and edited our pitch video, helped with event organization, scheduled speakers, folded handout schedules, designed our new logo, and more.
GS: What do you like about your job?
Andrew Matt: Everything, haha! If I had to say one thing in particular, it is knowing that I'm working on something I believe in on a subject I'm incredibly passionate about.
GS: Do you work closely with the creators of the event?
Andrew Matt: Yes. We have weekly meetings on Skype and we talk about all the things we can do to improve the event, how we can make it bigger and better.
GS: What was it like organizing the event?
Andrew Matt: It was a lot of work. The event actually was started in 2012, with Travis Garski and Ben Mathwig (the creators) holding an event called the Wisconsin Game Developers Summit at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's student Union in April 2013. That event was held using grant money from the university and required that we held the event there. Breaking away from them and making the event bigger by rebranding as an event that was inclusive to the entire Midwest was a challenge and required a lot of effort and determination to get it funded and delivered.
GS: What have been some of the biggest challenges you've had to deal with as far as being the PR guy?
Andrew Matt: Trying to get attention to the event from the biggest video game focused blogs and websites would probably be the biggest challenge as far as PR goes. We sent things out to a lot of the big sites, but most told us that we were too small of an event to be worth covering. There are a lot of video game developers and fans in the Midwest and trying to reach them on the biggest mediums has been a bit tough. Thankfully, we are starting to get some recognition, and we were featured in Game Informer's upcoming events schedule in their Far Cry 4 issue.
GS: Did you get the chance to sit in on scheduled events or play any demos in the expo area?
Andrew Matt: Yes, but not nearly as much as I wanted to. I had to hop around a lot between our different session rooms to make sure things were running smoothly or to cut speakers off to keep us on schedule. The best game I got to see was probably Lacuna Passage, which is sort of like Gone Home on Mars. Really awesome.
GS: Were there any exhibits or lectures in particular that were the most anticipated or had the most attendees this year?
Andrew Matt: Well, the keynote by Keith Fuller was something I was looking forward to. We have known Keith for a little while and he is a pretty great guy and incredibly knowledgable when it comes to this industry, so that was fun to see. All of the sessions were pretty full though, we had a pretty great turnout.
GS: Do you feel that the Summit was an overall success?
Andrew Matt: Yes, I'd say it was. We had just over 350 people who came to the event and we had incredible people speak like Tim Gerritsen, Jeff Hanna, Pat Dwyer, and more. Obviously we didn't become GDC or PAX overnight, but this was a great stepping stone toward building something sustainable.
GS: Have you heard any success stories based on past MGDS attendees as far as networking or showcasing game demos?
Andrew Matt: Well, from WGDS we had Tetrapulse and Race the Sun both shown in the expo. At the time, Tetrapulse was still a student project and went on to have a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $15,000 and is listed in Steam's upcoming games list. Race the Sun had just barely finished a successful Kickstarter at the time they were at WGDS and went on to get the game on Steam and are now porting it onto Playstation platforms. We hope to hear more stories like those moving forward from MGDS.
GS: What did you hope attendees took away or gained from the event?
Andrew Matt: I hope they took away that there is a great game development scene right here in the Midwest. A lot of times we focus on the West Coast and the East coast as hubs for the industry, but rarely highlight that big sect of developers that exist in-between. I mean, we have a great indie scene in Chicago with Iron Galaxy, Younghorses, Robomodo, and more, and there are great AAA studios like Volition and Netherrealm nearby as well. This is a great spot to be a developer and I'd like to think that people came away knowing that they can find great success here.
GS: Was this the first time that Kickstarter was used to fund MGDS? Why use Kickstarter?
Andrew Matt: This was the first time we used Kickstarter. The precursor event, WGDS, was funded by grant money from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In order to make the event larger and host it at whatever location we wished, we needed to give that up and find an alternate funding source. The best way we decided to do this was crowd-funding to make the event possible. We've looked into venture capital and other means to get the project off the ground, but we thought that Kickstarter's model was the easiest way for us to be able to accomplish what we wanted to for the event in 2014.
GS: How well have social media outlets, like Twitter and Facebook, worked to spread word about the MGDS since it began?
Andrew Matt: Pretty effectively. We have a decent amount of engagement and organic reach from our pages. I think it helps that there are people who are looking for this sort of event that is in their backyard. Not everyone can make a yearly trip to Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, or LA for the big events, so the fact that there are people looking for an event like MGDS has helped us on social media.
GS: The Midwest Game Developers Summit is fairly new. What's in store for next year's Summit? How soon do preparations for the Summit begin?
As of right now, our plans are to move MGDS into Chicago as soon as it is viable.
Andrew Matt: We are taking a week or two off to recover and lay low, but preparation will probably start again at the beginning of August. As of right now, our plans are to move MGDS into Chicago as soon as it is viable. We want to have the event near a major airport like O'Hare and in a larger city to draw a bigger crowd. Will that happen in 2015? Well, I'm not so sure about that, but I wouldn't rule it out. We'll definitely try to move it south of Milwaukee and get it closer to Chicago so we can have the cities local indie developer scene more involved with the event.
GS: What do you feel sets MGDS apart from other gaming conventions?
Andrew Matt: It's accessible. Right now we only charge $60 for a two-day pass to the convention and we try to offer things like an after party with the speakers and developers there for fans to mingle with. When you are at a PAX type event with tens of thousands of fans, it is really hard to be able to just get a half hour of one on one time chatting with a developer. We try and make the event a bit hands and I think people like that because they can make some great personal connections that way.
GS: Since GameSkinny is dedicated to all things video games, do you have a favorite video game? Console? Game genre? What are you currently playing or looking forward to playing?
Andrew Matt: Haha, that is a loaded question. Well, I really love indie games, I'm one of the co-founders of indiegameinsider.com and I love getting to play zany new concepts and chatting with small developers. Recently, I've been looking forward to Push Me Pull You as an indie game. It's part wrestling, part human centipede and probably the zaniest and most grotesque couch co-op game I've seen in quite awhile. Overall though, I'm predominately a PC gamer and I've been just tackling my backlog lately, playing through Rogue Legacy, Far Cry 3, The Wolf Among Us, and Wolfensten: The New Order. I just got Divinity: Original Sin from a good friend of mine, so that might be what I tackle next.
GS: Do you have anything to add?
Andrew Matt: Just that if you want the latest updates from MGDS to like the Midwest Game Developers Summit on Facebook, follow us @MGDSummit on Twitter, and check out our website at mgdsummit.com. If you want to read what I'm up to on a daily basis and what new adventures I go on with video games, you can follow me on Twitter @AndrewJMatt.