GDEX hosts gamers and developers for the 'Sundance of games'
In 2013, Multivarious Games CEO Chris Volpe and others in the Columbus gaming community decided they needed a way to showcase what developers in the Central Ohio Gamedev Group were creating. Almost immediately, the idea grew: Why not expand it to all of Ohio? Or all of the Midwest?
What started as the Ohio Game Developer Expo is now GDEX, held this Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 29 and 30, at COSI. Last year's event pulled in 2,600 people from 21 states - a leap so big the cafeteria ran out of certain foods. With more than 100 game developers committed to 2016's GDEX, Volpe expects weekend attendance to hit 5,000.
"Somebody called us the Sundance of games," said Volpe, who's also one ofAlive'sPeople to Watch in 2016. "I don't know if that's the case or not, but we do pride ourselves on being a place where smaller studios come to showcase their stuff before anybody has ever heard of them. We've got a lot of games you may end up seeing at one of the bigger shows a year from now."
As the head of a small, independent gaming company, Volpe is committed to making GDEX not just attractive to like-minded indie studios, but also financially attainable. One of the largest expos, PAX East in Boston, charges $1,600 for a booth. At GDEX, developers pay half that, and smaller studios qualify for a discount down to $300.
At PAX East, Volpe attended an after-party where gamers and developers mingled, so this year GDEX is doing something similar with a free dance party Downtown at the Walrus on Saturday night. But it will have a distinctly different vibe than the Boston event.
"At one point [at the PAX East after-party], the music went down, and there was this clanking of glasses, and these scantily clad women came out holding these big things of alcohol, shining lights under them, snaking their way through the dance floor and then to the VIP section," Volpe said. "I turned to a guy from Ohio who was exhibiting there and was like, 'I don't ever want to do that at one of our events.'
"I don't ever want to have this kitschy exclusivity. That's the opposite of the community event we're trying to build. We try to keep events as affordable as we can. We want the speakers to interact with guests and each other."
DJing Saturday's party will be this year's keynote speaker, Daemon Hatfield, a 10-year veteran at IGN, arguably the biggest gaming website. "He's deeply rooted in the game scene and in the press," Volpe said. "To have him come, that's a really big honor for us."
In addition to all the exhibitors on the main floor, workshops and sessions will rotate through four rooms on Saturday and Sunday, and new to this year's GDEX is Dev Day, a pre-expo Friday event aimed specifically at developers. The Friday sessions will be geared toward game design, but even Dev Day isn't exclusive to developers.
"We had a parent ask us, 'My high school student is interested in games. Would Dev Day be something that's valuable?'" Volpe said. "Well, it's gonna be more in-depth technically than the sessions will be over the weekend, but that being said, if you know nothing about programming and you sit through a programming talk and you're like, 'That was actually pretty cool,' as a high school student that might be an indication that maybe that's the direction you should head in."
Of course, you don't have to be a developer or care about programming to enjoy GDEX. Volpe said about 70 percent of attendees are consumers. "If you want to network with people that have been in the industry, we try to provide those opportunities," he said. "But if you're someone who just really loves games - you're a fan and part of the community that loves gaming and you go to 16-Bit and Arcade Super Awesome, but you don't want to make a game - we try to provide opportunities for that, as well."
GDEX and Multivarious Games are part of Volpe's larger goal of creating a viable video game industry in Columbus. "I'm super proud of the community and what we've done," Volpe said. "We are leading the pack in the Midwest, by far."
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 29 and 30
10 a.m. -5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28
333 W. Broad St., Downtown