By Ed Dille
CEO, FOG Studios, Inc.

Those of you who have come to know me over my forty-one years in the Game Industry know that I have been a Road Warrior right alongside all of you for those decades, and that I am also not prone to alarmism. As an industry, we have not just survived despite whatever else was going on in the world but have thrived and will continue to do so. Why then am I choosing to pull a Chicken Little and speak publicly to my colleagues in the industry about the threat of the Coronavirus at this moment? Because I speak with a lot of people every week and many of you are expressing concerns privately about this outbreak, so one of us elder statesmen needs to surface those conversations in a public forum. We do have options other than blindly traveling to each of the scheduled conventions to achieve our goals for 2020, and we need to consider them carefully until the CDC and others get a better handle on this. I played Plague Inc., did you?

Some personal observations are in order. All of us have experienced “convention crud,” the inevitable spreading sickness that comes from disparate people from all over the world meeting in one location for an orgy of thirty-minute business development meetings over 3-5 days. This has demonstrably become more common over time, but typically these exposures are more of an annoyance than a threat. Yes, we lose some business productivity to them, but no one is discussing mortality rates. I have personally had two post-convention experiences which were life threatening, the worst of which was from GDC 12 years ago. I contracted a bacteriological rather than a viral pneumonia and ended up in ICU for 7 days after nearly losing my life the first night. I was 47 then, now I am almost 60. By all reports, the Coronavirus is age agnostic and any of us can be vulnerable to it.

So here we are on the cusp of D.I.C.E. and six weeks or so from GDC in San Francisco, a city already under infectious threat from open feces and needles all over the city. The Coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, vaccines are months away by all official news sources, and the acknowledged and widely reported mortality rate is 3-4%. Russia closed its border with China this morning and I read another story today about an entire cruise ship in Italy being quarantined because of an outbreak onboard. So even if you are unaffected by the virus, you could end up in a two-week quarantine away from home waiting to see if you exhibit any symptoms. That can be disruptive to your business as well. Could you meet your obligations to your existing clients and customers in those circumstances? Remember, time is already the one non-renewable resource none of us can potentially waste. Is it a responsible business decision to risk your money, and potentially your life solely to press the flesh with folks whom you could just as easily meet face to face on Skype, Zoom or some other existing tool?
What business development objectives do you have for GDC? Most everyone will have some combination of the following:

  • To meet with existing partners with whom you already have regular contact
  • To meet with potential partners whom you have been courting for some time to hopefully develop new business
  • To meet with new folks and establish a personal contact to explore potential future lines of business together

With the first two types of meetings, it doesn’t matter whether you are discussing an ongoing project, pitching a new game, looking for or providing outsourcing solutions, or any other actual topic. The common theme is that contact is already established and except for social reasons, there really is no requirement to meet in person. Videoconferencing solutions let you read the body language of one another as readily as if you were in the same room, and screen sharing utilities let you walk through any presentation or demo you wish to share as well or better than onsite typically. Also, your meeting attendees will be more focused because they aren’t worried about wrapping up quickly to walk to wherever their next meeting may be. If you both want more time, you just take it or immediately schedule a follow up in the same format outside the show. No chance of getting buried in all the post show follow ups either. So, if you are really spending all this time, money and risk to meet a bunch of folks for the first time to explore potential fits, be honest with yourself and answer these questions. First, what percentage of those meetings result in new business within a year, and how many are just filler because you have spent the money to go to the show anyway and might as well meet as many folks as you can. Second, could you achieve the same or a better conversion percentage by being more selective, intentional and pro-active in your meeting setting outside the show formats?

Here are some positive steps you can take right now while waiting for the situation to normalize.

  • Make a list of the top 3-5 objectives you need to accomplish in the next six months
  • Look at your business targets for each of these objectives and use Appointlet or some other tool to easily coordinate meetings outside the show
  • If you aren’t sure who would be good targets or providers for an objective ask me or ask your network, we all help one another all the time
  • Look at business development efforts in similar terms as Sprints in game development, and manage them accordingly throughout the year, not just at shows

God willing, this particular issue will all be behind us soon, because I certainly don’t want to read any untimely obituaries on Gamasutra or elsewhere. In the meantime, be safe, travel wisely when you must, and good hunting!