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BIG Conference 2022 - Impressions & Recap with co-director Antonio Santo

Formerly known as Fun & Serious Game Festival, this year was the first edition of the now-renamed Bilbao International Games Conference and Gamereactor naturally attended once again as official media partner. This is a mixture of thoughts and an interview with co-director Antonio Santo, as we talk about renewing a video game event after the pandemic, developers and publishers, the indie space, the European industry, the Titanium Awards, and more.

Audio transcription

"Okay, so we're in Bilbao for the first ever BIG Conference, which was formerly known as Fun & Serious Game Festival and I'm here with Antonio Santo, who is co-director, and I wanted to give you my impressions update on the whole event and the awards that happened yesterday, but then I thought, let's talk together, we're good friends for some years now and you're now the co-director and you can tell me a little bit more."

"So, first of all, of course, you guys announced this rebranding of the event earlier this year, last year we were here it was pretty remote, it was still pandemic times, so I felt like you guys are coming back and it's nice that you have a new purpose so what can you tell us about this new brand and the way you're trying to make this bigger and perhaps more industry focused?
Well, that's the thing, we wanted to make it a full industry event and that change in the nature of the event we felt that somehow we needed to reflect that in the brand on the other hand, the thing is that the event has been changing and evolving over the years and it's been increasingly difficult to explain the brand Fun & Serious so at some point we decided, okay, if we are trying to explain the brand and everyone, international guests and so on say, why don't you just call it Bilbao Games Festival or Bilbao Games Conference and at some point we just said, you know what, why not?
and on the other hand, this event wouldn't be possible in any other city we wouldn't find the same cooperation from public institutions, from the public, from the audience, from the city itself so we wanted also to put the city in the spotlight somehow let everyone know that this is, you know, like the San Sebastian Film Festival or Cannes Film Festival the nature of the event is different because it happens in those places so we wanted to get all that together and the new name came from there and I guess, even though we're back in person, it's more difficult than it was before to try and grab interesting speakers and make them come even though the proposal is really interesting to them as well but, you know, of course there's been some really nice, interesting speakers this year but at the same time we kind of missed more development, more of what we were used to so I guess you can share how it's tricky after the pandemic to tell them, hey, let's get back to meeting in person the thing is that the very first single thing everyone tells you when you're organizing this is can we do this remote?
the new way but my answer is always the same, yes we can, but it wouldn't be the same we're trying to build a bridge here between the Spanish industry and the European industry and that can happen over a Skype call or a Zoom meeting that needs a cup of coffee or a Pincho's or a Chagolli wine so it's really important for us to bring people for not just networking, professional networking but to create the opportunity for synergies that further down the line can become a new professional relation or whatever we're planting something that we don't know how it's going to grow over the years and for that, personal human connections are key so we can expect this to grow bigger, I mean we can expect this to return this year, I don't know if that's confirmed yes, I can confirm that, that we are absolutely doing this next year and on top of that, in the mid to long term, our goal is for this not to be just a Spain focused event we want this to grow internationally and to attract attendees from other countries as well we now have an international roster of speakers and of business guests, publishers and investors from all over Europe now we want also to help indie developers from other countries to talk to them and I think there's a space for that in Europe right now there aren't that many events that are not just cheaper, more accessible than Gamescom which is, for anyone who's been there, is super hostile for small developers and I think it's important to have a place and an opportunity to meet a publisher in a quiet place where you can sit down comfortably and have something together and spend some time together rather than a jungle of an event where you have to fight for every minute of attention and now that you mention Indies, of course the space for Indies grew bigger that's a fact, it's really big, it's really nice this year and there's lots of talent in there so could we say that the best response you got was from Indies that were eager to do this rather than what you were used to before which was developers and speakers first?
honestly it was a bit scary at first because we didn't know what kind of support we would have from the community but then we were overwhelmed, we have now more studios showing their games than what we had before the pandemic and we have 40,000 people attending the event, we've jumped from like 30 Indie games to more than 50 that's doubling the numbers, almost, so that tells us something too that when they want to show their games, Indie developers are, to explain better good feedback is better than more feedback it's better to have feedback from fellow devs, from publishers, from media and influencers than to have a thousand people playing your game that might not be your target audience, might not be interested in Indie games so having a smaller event where on the other hand you have more time to explain what you're trying to do and to form a bond and a connection with those who are playing your game is a different experience and brings different values to the table we're surprised and humbled by the support we're getting from the Indie community and we hope that this new recipe is working for them because the feedback we're getting so far has been very good yeah it is, and one thing you actually didn't change was the name for the awards of course the Titanium Awards had some ring to them, they were prestigious already and you're not changing that, so they're called the Titanium Awards and they were given yesterday and of course the main highlight was the Honor Award, or Honorary Award that you gave Suha and Yoshida but at the same time many of them weren't here to receive the awards so what can we expect in terms of the awards going forward and how was it with Yoshida-san, I really appreciate his coming here and I think that's something that harkens back to what we got before I cannot talk about plans for next year yet because we don't have it written in stone we're still discussing what we're going to do but definitely there will be a new twist to the awards we want these awards to stay relevant, to attract more creators to them and to fill a space that isn't overcrowded already so we definitely are sitting down to discuss the future of these awards they will happen again next year, maybe in a different capacity so as to, well, you evolve or you die so we feel that they need an evolution to stay relevant and we are discussing different ways for them to stay in people's minds and to maintain the capacity to surprise because at the end of the day, how many Game of the Year awards do you have?
But it's also interesting because you guys have this, you change the dates as well so before it was early December and now it's mid to late November and of course there's this big elephant in the room is the Game Awards which are happening later so now you sort of position better in the calendar and kind of were a reference in terms of European awards so that's going to be the case in the future and you sort of, sometimes you were different and that was interesting to say, hey, we got this for Titanium this for the Game Awards I don't know what you can say about that The thing is that the Game Awards, I love them, ok?
don't take this as criticism but I feel like they are more meant to be a show than an awards ceremony like, I don't know, the Oscars well, the Oscars are also a show but I think there needs to be some kind of awards where the jury is really trying to highlight the cultural and artistic achievements of the game and not just get the most wow from the crowd so I don't know if the Game Awards are doing that for me they are a big show, they are super fun to watch but they are not striving to be artistic as, say, the BAFTAs are so there is a space for that, probably I don't know if we can fill that space or not but someone will do, probably, at some point Let's recall them Game of the Year went to God of War, of course by Sonny Santamonica Best Game Design was Elden Ring Best Script Writing was for God of War as well Ragnarok Best Art Direction was for Return to Monkey Island and Best Audio Design was for Plague Tale Requiem I really love that Monkey Island got that recognition because it was controversial the choice they made to go for that art style which also happened before with the first games How did you guys work on the jury and on these decisions?
How do you feel about the feedback you got from developers when they got the award?
We have had different jury selections over the years Right now it's a selection of top media from Spain and some other countries but I think that more than the jury they are always trying to vote the best they can I mean, they are always honestly voting for the games they think are best but you can get different results depending on the prompt you give them in the sense that when you explain to them what are you trying to highlight in each category you put the example of Monkey Island when you tell them we want to reward bold decisions we want to reward risk on artistic steps that are stepping out of the line and thinking out of the box for that, Monkey Island was obviously the best artistic game of the year it broke everyone's expectations it blew away everyone's mind for good or ill I think everything goes in what you want your awards to be how you approach them, how you explain them so, best game of the year can be a small indie game if you are looking for super crazy innovation it can be a triple A if you are looking for the kind of cinematic experience it can be a middle range experience if you are looking for something that is comfy that makes people and players feel at home it all depends on how you explain your games and if you have a clear picture of what you want your awards to be and you convey that to the jury that's where, what you say when we stray away from the game awards that's where that moment happens I think they complement each other I think it's interesting to keep following both you previously mentioned that first thing guests say or most of them would say is can I do this remote, right?
do you think that also taking advantage of this new normal, of this new situation publishers are also trying to control communication way more now that, you know not so much is in person we can control that this is not going to happen that the words spoken are going to be under their PR control absolutely, you only have to see that local offices are disappearing all over Europe it's all HQ now local offices are becoming small PR offices to translate the press releases and putting games in boxes and with that comes depersonalization when you have to go through five, six hoops to get an interview with someone from HQ who doesn't know who you are obviously the communication is going to suffer so it's a predictable move it's something that was probably bound to happen but I expect a rebound at some point where they will reassess the situation and regain local communication for what it's worth we value that a lot we'll keep supporting this we're media partners and we've been enjoying finance years and now getting bigger hopefully even bigger next year I've got to say one thing everyone says can I do this remotely but they say this only once when they come, they want to repeat so that's something I can say about our event if you come one year you'll want to come every year since then these are the ones to support that we get this real value and hopefully for viewers as well so yeah, this was it both mixed impressions and interviews so thank you so much for your time enjoy the rest of the show see you next year thanks a lot, thank you guys"

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