“If you have the muscles go info offensive mode” – Interview with Hendrick Lesser, president of EGDF

5_Hendrik Lesser_EN
In times of crisis, many companies could use a helping hand – and it is great when someone is willing to give it. As for the games industry, one of such helpers is European Games Developer Federation. We have talked to Hendrik Lesser, the president of EGDF and found out what problems European developers face, how Federation can help them right now, and how the industry will change as soon as the pandemic is over.

«Games will rule the world and I want to be part of it»

— Hendrik, your entire life is closely tied with the game industry. When did you first get into gaming?

— When I was 4 years old. At least that’s what remember. That was 39 years ago. I guess I loved it from the first second. I sucked in everything I could lay my hands on. I organized copy rings, traveled in new hoods in Munich to meet people to exchange and play games etc. Games have been a major part of my life ever since.

HL: Quote of choice: «Never, ever ever ever ever give up.» ― Winston Churchill

— Were you thinking back then, that your work would be connected to games?

— Sure. To a certain degree it always has been. If you organize copy rings, make lists for everybody what they would wish for Christmas, do events for people to check out new games, etc. that is already working or even my calling. My parents keep telling me that I told them during primary school that games will rule the world and I want to be part of it.

— What genres were your favorite?

— I always loved strategy games in particular and RPGs. But as a teenager I made it a habit to also play genres I didn’t love, to know what’s going on. A colleague once gave me a t-shirt with a quote of mine: “I run the company the way I play Civilization. I win the endgame” (in multiplayer of course). My message being that games shaped my thinking overall so I kind of deeply love games in all it shapes and forms.

«GTA 3 was my first game credit»

— When did you realize that you don’t just want to play games, but actually work on them? How did you make that happen? What was your first job in the industry?

— As mentioned – organizing access to games. This was never for money rather for being able to get more nerd stuff as in better hardware, more games, comics, animes (I then rented out) etc. My first “real” job was working in a game store as a pupil for nearly 3 years. I loved it! I also worked as an online games journalist, writing reviews, during my university time. Then my first proper job was as an intern becoming a product manager at Take 2 Interactive in Munich basically weeks before we released GTA 3! And crazy enough I worked on it for language/violence QA and this was basically my first game credit. Let’s say I got lucky.

Biannual DevSummit of the RCP Family in Munich

— From 2005 to 2011 you were a lecturer at different organizations like MEDIADESIGN Hochschule, Games Academy and Quantm. What were your responsibilities and what were the lectures about?

— I actually still am. I never quit teaching. I still hold a chair for production at the S4G and teach here and there at other educational institutions including public universities. My responsibilities are from giving lectures to shaping the whole discipline. I was part of a small team to introduce the first German production track many years ago. My main topics are: leadership, strategy, production, business development/terms & legal and topics like that.

— How was that experience helpful to you?

— As a teacher you learn a lot yourself. This is why I still do it and expanded it into startup coaching (for non-gaming) which I’ve been doing for 7-8 years pro bono. I also never stopped learning myself. Reading books, attending classes, attending a peer review club, etc. keeps me alive and learning.

«There were cool developers that didn’t see this as a business»

— Since 2005 you are the CEO (and the founder) of remote control productions – a company defining itself as a production house. What kind of problems are you solving?

— A lot of development studios want to focus on development, thus, we take care of the rest – the rest being administrative tasks, financing, HR, etc. Then we do most of the Business Development, guiding strategy, and the understanding of the quest also being a business and creating an ecosystem around the studios like gamify now (gamification agency), attract mode (marketing agency), and so on. Basically we help developers to stay alive and climb the ladder of cool projects without dying in the process.

Hendrik Lesser elected president of EGDF
— When did you realize that the industry could find a company like remote control productions useful?

— That was during my Take 2 days already. Especially in Germany there were some cool developers but many didn’t see this as a business. It was obvious there was a lack of that perspective and also the ambition.— If I’m a European developer, in what way can RCP help me?— We help you to thrive and survive and synergize. We become a true partner in your company for you to stay as independent as possible and us helping you to fulfill your dreams as a game creator. We ideally help you on the path of sustainability, passion matching business properly and becoming the best version of yourself. By the way, this is not a European developer only offer.

«Finding an industry friendly common ground is not always easy»

— How did you get into EGDF, was that your goal or did it just happen?

— I was always interested in politics (even studied it a bit once + philosophy), so being engaged in the politics of our industry came naturally to me. So at some point, one of my friends and mentors, Malte Behrmann, who was the executive secretary of EGDF at that time, called me and said it´s time. After a while on the board I became president, which happened 3-4 years ago. Overall now nearly 8 years on the board.

— What kind of tasks are handled by EGDF and how did they change during this global crisis?

— Our main focus is lobbying for our causes as an industry with a strong developer, entrepreneur perspective in Brussels for proper regulation. Many times it’s about preventing stuff from happening. Very abstract and invisible – great to talk about it. At the moment, we need to bring people together, do some background research on what’s happening and make that visible and lastly guide the members of our association with all kinds of topics especially in a crisis like this.

— What are the most common issues European developers have to deal with? How do you help them with that?

— Access to funding is always an issue. Therefore we lobbied for games as culture and then to get subsidies. It only took 5-10-15 years depending on the trickle down from the supranational level to the countries. We achieved being included in MEDIA and other programs. We also help with the fundamental rules on conducting business, making sure these are suitable for SMEs, which most game companies are and so on.

Hendrik Lesser in his office in Munich

— Can you tell us about the hardest case you encountered while working for EGDF?

— Attacks on funding from other industry players and interests. Obviously the debate about F2P/lootboxes and its inner workings. This is a specifically hard case since some parts of our industry are not necessarily knowledgeable about this in detail and have strong opinions about it too. Finding an industry friendly common ground then is not always easy.

— Are there any problems or issues that the Federation still struggles to solve – what’s the ‘pain’ of the Federation?

— The mentioned F2P debate, all kinds of regulatory issues like geo-blocking, the problems with using the image of buildings in a game for free or having to pay (therefore all kinds of copyright topics) and increasing awareness for the work and the organization itself. EGDF has been instrumental for the industry in Europe and 99% of the developers have never heard of it or don’t know what it does.

— What makes European gamedev different from the industry in US, Asia or Ex-soviet countries?

— Ex-soviet? We count Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus as Europe to be honest. Asia is obviously very mobile and gamedev is kind of “new” in China with only 10-15 years but crazy growth, the US has always been strong in all matters including. the spending power of the players. Europe is very diverse and is also strong and mature in regards to topics of indie games, for example. Europe understands games really as culture and art. This is the reason why we have great developers who make awesome games that don’t need to be AAA.

«If we do not meet people for months to do biz dev we will have a problem in the future»

— You are organizing an online conference on May 13th and 14th that is going to help European devs to keep working, find investors, and move the industry forward. When did you realize that this event is necessary, maybe there was a particular case that led to this decision?

— I came up with it roughly 4 weeks ago. I thought about the challenges for us as the rcp family and the obvious one was not today but the day after tomorrow. If we do not meet people for months to do biz dev we will have a problem in the future. Then I obviously realized that this affects everyone so I brought together several players like EGDF, rcp and reboot to make this an event for way more developers than just us as the rcp family.

Hendrik during Reboot Develop Red 2019 in Banff, Canada

— What do I need to do as a developer, publisher, or investor to get the most out of this conference?

— Come up with a great profile in the MeetToMatch system. The reason for a publisher or investor to talk to you should be clear from your profile. Prepare well for the calls and have great material to show. Sharing and bragging about it on social media beforehand also helps to remember you when they see the invite in the matchmaking system.

— Do you think the game industry and IT in general will go back to real-life events after all of this?

— To a certain degree yes. But we will never go back fully.

— What do you think about doing events in VR?

— I don’t think we are really there yet but let’s see about the first event doing this at scale and how it works.We will check out the event form our friends at xsolla though which is in a metaverse.

«Enjoy the adventure as best as possible while still taking it seriously»

— What new issues are game companies facing during this crisis, what hit or will hit the industry the hardest?

— Meeting in person to make deals. Аdding new people to the team and interviewing them properly. Leadership adjustments to remote leadership and some other topics like security for your team. And at the moment revenues are stable or even increasing but if this goes on for many many months this could change if the spending power of some regions really shifts for the worse.

— What can help us deal with the issues that occurred during this crisis?

— Mindfulness, strategic thinking, sticking together and exchanging best practices with fellow devs, bolster your cash position if you can and stay frosty. If you have the muscles go into offensive mode and enjoy the adventure as best as possible while still taking it seriously.

Fun Fact: Hendrik also is a huge fan of the Star Wars universe

— How much do you think the European game industry will change after the pandemic?

— Let’s see. Ideally, we will have a better transition into the new normal than the way we went into the crisis. We will see how spending from players, publishers, investors will develop. I wish for our landscape to be even more diverse, strong at its core and able to make awesome games who are played and loved by people from all around the world.

— What lessons can the industry learn from the current situation?

— Stay sharp, plan for the future, don’t expose yourself to risk too much, and walk together. Also that all your plans from Q4 last year are probably not applicable anymore – so embrace change now and always.

— How badly, you think, will the workflow in game companies change over time – maybe there will be some new job positions or processes that will have appeared because of the new work environment?

— So far so good. We lost some productivity overall but some disciplines and people could even increase productivity. So as always we evolve fast and I bet there will be new positions in the future.

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