DDM Agency Aligns Game Developers with Hollywood Talent (Q&A)

More game developers are looking to the future of interactive entertainment through a new breed of agent

A record 22,500 game developers gathers at the Moscone Center in San Francisco last week at GDC 2012 to discuss the future of interactive entertainment. While some of the bigger names in the games industry are represented by Hollywood agencies, a growing number of development studios are turning to Digital Development Management (DDM) to handle all aspects of the fast-growing gaming industry, Created in 2005 by founder and managing partner Jeff Hilbert and president Joe Minton, DDM has emerged as a leading videogame talent agency. The company focuses on representing entire development studios, versus individual creatives. Minton talks about GDC, the changing landscape in the burgeoning videogame landscape and what opportunities exist in Hollywood for game talent in this exclusive interview.

The Hollywood Reporter: How do events like GDC contribute to moving your business forward and connecting with the developer community?

Joe Minton:GDC is a spectacular time for DDM. We throw our annual cocktail party where 300+ executives from publishers, developers and financiers network in a relaxed setting. Conversations and connections at our past parties have directly led to new partnerships and it is already clear that this year’s will be no different. In addition, the DDM team takes part in over 400 meetings to support our clients over the course of the week – from product pitches to uncovering new funding sources. Every GDC has been better for us than the one before, and this year was just terrific. Our agency is being hired to consult on a number of very exciting projects, such as building a new mobile publisher, and overall the vibe of the show and the industry is very positive. It does finally feel as though the recession is in the rearview mirror.

THR: How big is DDM in the videogame industry?

Joe Minton:I’ve been running DDM for seven years now with my partner, Jeff Hilbert. What we strive to do is connect together all the parties who want to do business with development studios. There’s never been a time in the industry where so many quality studios have been under representation.  When you add together the employees at our studios, we represent over 1,600 people. Six years ago Ninja Theory and Terminal Reality didn’t work with agents and the reason they are working with us now is because we come from this industry.  We know what developers need and we provide that.  We have eight offices around the world from Osaka all the way to Sweden.  We also do work in China and the Middle East, and we’re meeting every month with over 100 purchasers of content, largely publishers, but also funds, and no other entity in the world does that. We have our finger on the pulse of what’s needed in the business and we can help connect people together to do it.

THR: How many people are working at DDM?

Joe Minton:We have 15 folks across those offices and we run three divisions.  In addition to our game studio representation, we also have game industry services where we can help people who are looking to get into the business. We’re advising a new free-to-play publisher and helping a company in the Middle East build a new game publisher for that region. Our third division focuses on game production services, where we connect people together with everything you need to get a game out, including distribution, quality assurance, localization, animation, music and so forth.

THR: How does your agency differentiate itself from traditional Hollywood agencies like CAA?

A particular piece that is really different is in our DNA, where we know the game business and they know Hollywood. The reason we represent entire companies as opposed to an individual is that it is those teams inside of those companies that really do make the games.  You can’t just pluck one individual and have the same type of success with them in another place.  Certainly, there are famous people in the industry, but it’s really about the team.  So that’s a fundamentally different way that we approach the market. CAA has gone from six people in the games space down to three, while we’ve moved up to 15 people.  CAA is in the process of rebuilding what they are doing because they see that the way in which we’ve been approaching the market has been successful and a lot of the top-tier clients have been gravitating towards us.

THR: How do you work with game makers in the transmedia space today?

We have a strategic partnership with Verve Talent Agency in Hollywood, which is like the Switzerland of Hollywood.  They work with all of the other talent agencies and they generally represent talent that is behind the camera -- writers, producers, and directors. We have a strategic alliance with them where they’ve been sourcing writers for a number of our development studios and we’ve sourced them into folks that we don’t represent that would help publishers find the right writers for their game.  We are representing game publishers and bringing their IPs into Hollywood through Verve. We have also started up mutual projects with the creatives in Hollywood and the creatives in the gaming world working together from the very beginning on projects. Lastly, we’ve been able to assist directors in Hollywood with the information that they need in order to have more control over their videogame rights.

THR: How have you seen this relationship with Hollywood expand?

We’re a traditional agency.  Often times you may hear criticism about agencies that it’s all about their best clients or that they try and do everything only inside of their walls.  Verve is set up to represent everybody because they don’t represent actors. The strategic relationship has worked terrifically because Verve doesn’t want to be videogame agents and we don’t want to be Hollywood agents.

THR: Do you have any examples of how you and Verve are working together?

It’s been announced that the Hoeber brothers and a studio that we work are working on a project together.  Details of the project haven’t been announced, but they’ve in discussions with studios. We’ve provided all of the materials for them.  Most of our projects are all in the works, so we can’t discuss details at the moment.

THR: What are your growth expectations for DDM moving forward?

We believe that the offices that we have now all over the world give us a really good footprint. We’re focusing on maximizing a lot more opportunities for clients.  As an example, a year ago we were not working yet with social, mobile, and tablet studios.  Now we represent over 15 of those studios and we’ve closed deals for them on every platform that exists, so we’ll continue to build that aspect of our business. But the core console business is doing really well right now despite negative press reports. Here we are coming toward the end of the Xbox 360 life cycle and games are still $50 to $60 and the consoles haven’t fallen to the mass market $200 price point yet.  And yet still Microsoft sold a million units almost over Black Friday weekend of the 360.  So it’s really interesting.  It’s exciting seeing that core business staying strong while the social mobile and tablet businesses are all growing at a really high rate and the free-to-play business model is exploding.  When you put all of those together, there have never been more opportunities in the videogame business.