Interview – Guerrilla Collective and how to put on an independent E3-ish showcase

There is no doubt that 2020 has been an incredibly difficult year. For the games industry, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen developers working from home, E3 getting cancelled and publishers choosing to host their own showcases. All of that was before the Black Lives Matter protests forced companies to adjust their plans further and consider their own position on the matter.

It’s been uniquely challenging for large companies, but also nigh on impossible for smaller publishers and indie developers to overcome. So they banded together for the Guerrilla Collective and create their own showcase, originally planned to take place last weekend, but now rescheduled to take place from 13th-15th June.

On a lovely Friday afternoon with the sun shining, I sat down with Fernando Rizo (virtually, of course), CEO of Modern Wolf and one of the people behind Guerrilla Collective, to chat about getting publishers on board, how it all came to be, and how he sees the games industry changing long term as a result of physical shows getting cancelled. We were also briefly joined by his dog, Jefferson.


Fernando: I’m going to be incredibly rude and eat this sandwich.

TSA Go ahead. It’s lunchtime, so we can crack on while you eat. The first question I’ve got for you then about Guerrilla Collective. Where did the idea first come from?

Fernando: So the idea (laughs) started with… Jeff! Shhhh. That’s my dog Jefferson; we’ve just moved this house and he’s the self-appointed guardian of the house.

So the idea really was born in a Twitter conversation. It was when E3 got cancelled. It was the dawn of the realisation that at the very least, the summer show season was dead, and me and Johan Toresson and Jonas Antonsson from Raw Fury and a couple other folks we’re just kind of spitballing on Twitter. I think it was me who said, “What if we did a Nintendo Direct ourselves, right?”

It would be hard to get people to turn out to see a show with one indie game publisher, but to see a show with tons of indie game publishers and even some, you know, bigger non-indies, that’s a cool show. So it just sort of snowballed from there. It went from just a fanciful idea in March to an actual show in June. You know, me and the Raw Fury guys have been friendly for a long time. We very quickly just started adding folks into it and we liked the idea and just kept running with it. And here we are.

TSA:  Going back to all the people you’ve got on board. From Raw Fury and Fellow Traveller, to Rebellion and Paradox how did you convince them to get on board with Guerrilla Collective?

Fernando: It didn’t take a lot of convincing! (laughs) I think once we started talking to folks about the potential, the benefits of it were obvious. The thing that I love about game development and game publishing is that our competitors don’t act like competitors. We are friends more than we are competitors, and I think that there’s such a real spirit of camaraderie. We’re in this business because we love games and, you know, banding together to put on an awesome show with tons of cool games in it? it doesn’t take a big lever to move people into that.

There is such a deep spirit of camaraderie in this business. If a pitch crosses our desk that we’re not going to publish, but it’s a perfect fit for Irregular Corp or a perfect fit for Fellow Traveller, I will immediately sling it their way and vice versa. I mean, there’s tons of cool pitches sitting on my desk right now that have come because Good Shepherd or Raw Fury sent it our way. It is such a friendly business at this level, right? I’m sure that doesn’t happen at the EA and Activision level (laughs), but it definitely happens at our level!

TSA: That kind of answered my next question. Why did you want to do something like this? Why get involved with something like Guerrilla Collective? What was your motivation?

Fernando: I mean, on one level, because it’s a pretty cool idea! (laughs) It’s fun and it’s gonna be fun, and that is hugely important.

On a more like brass tacks, business level. the demise of the show calendar is a big deal. It’s a big deal for indie devs, it’s big deal for indie publishers. The number one problem that indie devs and indie publishers sit around thinking about all day, the problem that wakes you up in a cold sweat at night is discoverability. There are probably 200 new games on Steam this week; there are probably 30-40 new games on PlayStation Network this week. There are so many good games out there, and shows, physical shows like E3, Gamescom and PAX are an unparalleled way to get your game into the hands of folks.

We were at PAX East with like a lot of other publishers right when the Coronavirus pandemic was really starting to manifest itself in the West, and at that show, thousands of people came by the Modern Wolf booth and thousands of people wishlisted our games off the back of the show. That concentrated hit of attention from consumers and sort of enthusiasts, it’s so hard to replace.

So, when it became apparent that there weren’t going to be physical shows in 2020, everybody in the business just freaked out and realised that we need something. We need something to replace the shows and Guerilla Collective, I think, is really going to help. It’s going to give us the chance to spotlight our games in front of a lot of folks. And, you know, Guerrilla Collective isn’t unique. There are other shows this year and I think the industry as a whole is hoping that folks check the shows out, try game demos, watch trailers, tell their friends about it, and hopefully it will fill the gap that’s left behind by the end of the show season.

TSA: Putting together a show like this is quite a big deal. What kind of problems have you faced trying to get it together in such a short space of time?

Fernando:  think one of the first things we realised was that none of us had ever done something like this before. (laughs) And so we found somebody who had, right? So I wouldn’t say this was my idea personally – it wasn’t – but we reached out to The MIX (Media Indie Exchange). Those guys are fantastic show producers. They do great twitch streams, they do Media Indie Exchange GDC show every year, a bunch of other shows besides. Justin and Joel over there are super experienced at running and producing this kind of thing. So we just went to The MIX guys and said “Hey, help! None of us have done this before. You guys have.”

They jumped at the chance and they have been just instrumental in taking what was a fun, ambitious idea, and turning it into a grounded, practical, achievable one. So they’ve been just fantastic and we couldn’t have done it without them.

TSA: I guess the opposite question is what has been the highlight in putting this together? What’s been surprising to you? What are the moments that stand out?

Fernando: The highlight is the enthusiasm and the camaraderie. We’ve got a Slack channel, we’ve got a Discord where we’re kind of organising stuff behind the scenes and those channels are fun. They’re fun! They’re full of super enthusiastic folks from all these different publishers and devs and we’re all pulling in the same direction.

It’s that spirit of camaraderie and the complete absence of, you know, secondary agendas and ulterior motives like it; it really is just a bunch of folks kind of pulling together to try and make something fun happen. And it’s great to be part of that.

I’ve met a bunch of folks that I didn’t know at the outset of it. I made friends on the other side of the world, and it’s been a great experience. If it works, and I’m confident that it will, we’re going to do Guerrilla Collective again. And who knows what kind of legs this project has, because the sort of grassroots, collaborative spirit of it is so powerful. I think you’ll see more Guerrilla Collective activities before too long.

TSA: That leads nicely to one of my questions, asking if you saw Guerrilla Collective as a one-off event or if this could be something that comes along annually as part as the conference calendar?

Fernando: I mean, why not? It’s already been a success in the respect that we’ve proven that all of these erstwhile competitors can be allies and be friends and pull something together that creates a rising tide and lifts all of our boats. It’s going to be a fun show that I think people will want to see more of. So if we, you know, if we meet the scale of our ambition, and I think we’re going to, it’s going to be something people are going to want to see again and we’d be dumb not to do it.

TSA: With these ambitious plans, how do you kind of see the future of the industry changing? The impact of COVID? The shutting down of conferences? This is going to be a long term issue. How do you see it changing the way publishers and developers interact with the audience and get their products across now that we don’t have these shows?.

Fernando: I mean, that’s a big, big question. Big question and it’s something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. It’s something that I think everybody is thinking about right now. Shows up until now have been such a crucial part of your marketing, right? You don’t just have a bunch of consumers all in one place, which is amazing, you also have a lot of journalists like yourself. So if I’m announcing a new game, I can do it on a random Tuesday and shoot my press release around and email and call journos and hope somebody doing the news beat will pick it up, or I can do it at an event where tons of journalists are physically located, and I can say, “Hey, I’m announcing this game1 Come by and play!” Having all those journalists from all over the world in one spot, be that PAX or GDC or Gamescom or Paris Games Week or whatever, that’s pretty hard to replace.

There’s also something irreplaceable about physical proximity to people on the business side of the games business, right? Not just the marketing side. The business side of it’s going to be quite different because the shows were also a place where deals were made. You could go shake hands with Nintendo and Sony and Microsoft, you could go talk to people from Steam and GOG, have a beer with Intel and Nvidia and Razer.

Importantly for those of us on the publishing side of things, devs would come to talk to you, right? You would see 100 pitches from awesome devs who had put time and effort into getting ready to come out to that show, pitch their game to you, maybe give you a playable, and that’s where publishers would sign games. There’s no obstacle to doing all of this stuff via Zoom and Google Hangouts or even by phone, but the simple fact of the matter is more deals got done at shows than not at shows because there’s just magic in having that physical connection to somebody.

I wonder what’s going to happen now? (laughs) We have to transition to hearing pitches from devs, entirely on Google Hangouts, we have transitioned entirely to talking to first-party and OEM partners remotely, and I got to tell you, I’ve missed the shows! I’ve missed buying a beer with these folks. There’s something about the show experience where you get a deeper connection. If you’ve got a 30-45 minute slot with somebody, you can just shoot the shit for a while and talk about your kids and, you know, your non-work-related gaming and people’s lives and have a real sort of connection there.

It seems to me like when you’re on a video call, people just cut straight to the chase and it’s all business. It’s not quite the same. The real answer is I just don’t know. […] The other thing is, let’s say we beat Covid, the infection rate goes down, lockdowns end and it’s game on for shows. Are people going to be comfortable going? Are people going to be comfortable going to the Koelnmesse for Gamescom and being in a big effectively a big arena with fifty thousand other people? Am I going to be comfortable sending my employees to that? I just don’t know.

TSA: I think that’s a question everyone’s asking themselves. I know I’m asking, family are asking because there’s supposed to be a billion things going on, but, you know, it’s had a massive impact on everyone. Who knows? Hopefully we get a vaccine in the next 18 months and this will be a footnote in history.

Fernando: I sure hope so. Yeah, I sure as hell hope so, because I love shows, and I miss them. I really do.

TSA: The name Guerrilla Collective. Where did that come from? A few of us made a joke about it wondering if Guerrilla Games were behind this? What’s going on here?

Fernando: (Laughs) I mean, it wass like the fifth name of the project before it was revealed. I’m not sure I can give you a pithy anecdote about how we came to it; it’s the idea behind, you know, the term guerrilla. People obviously associated with Guerrilla Games the devs, but it’s also a term for, you know, a grassroots uprising. That’s kind of the flavour we wanted to capture; this is a grassroots thing.

TSA: That’s fair and I get where you’re coming from. In terms of the event then, when it all happens, what are you looking forward to the most during the event? What are you really keeping an eye out for?

Fernando: I mean, just as a fan, some of my favourite publishers in the world are at this event. Like, I am just about the biggest Paradox fanboy that exists. I can’t wait for everybody to see what they’re showing. And I can’t wait to sort of let myself be a fan and watch it. Ditto for Raw Fury, they’re one of my favourite publishers in the world. Every time Raw Fury announces a new signing, I have to work through like the stages of grief because I’m like, I wish I’d signed it! [laughs] They’re just great at what they do and they make awesome stuff.

Obviously, I want folks to tune in to the Modern Wolf segment of the show, because the game that we’re going to be showing is a blast and it will be coming out relatively soon after Guerrilla Collective. […] It’s a new IP, a new sort of universe that I think folks will be really excited to check out. And, you know, I have high hopes for that.

But I’m also just excited as a fan to watch the show myself and watch some of my favourite publishers come out and make some new cool stuff. It’s going to be great.

TSA: So on that note are there going to be major surprises?

Fernando: There are going to be some surprises there. There are, you know… I’m not going to ruin it. […]

There will be, you know if there was still water coolers that we were still gathering around, you know, the one day after Guerrilla Collective, there’s gonna be a lot of water-cooler chat around virtual water coolers about the stuff that gets announced because there’s cool surprises in there.

TSA: Finally, what would you say to people who will be tuning into Guerrilla Collective? What’s your message to the audience?

Fernando: Please come check the show out! I think people are going to love it, and if you do watch it and love it, then tweet about it. Tell your friends. Point your friends to the videos that go up afterwards. Spread the news around if you get excited about it because that’s really the thing that will determine if we do another one or not. right? If people love the show tell your friends because that’s going to aid us in in convincing folks to do Guerilla Collective again. It’s going to be a hell of a good show and there’s gonna be cool surprises. Folks, I think, will absolutely love it.

Thanks to Fernando for taking the time out to talk to us about Guerrilla Collective. You will be able to tune in to Guerrilla Collective from June 13th until June 15th to discover some of the surprises Fernando teased will be coming.

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From the heady days of the Mega Drive up until the modern day gaming has been my main hobby. I'll give almost any game a go.