CEO Forum at GDC 2024 — Difficult Conversations, Reasons for Optimism

An off-the-record, curated dinner for leaders in gaming & interactive media, hosted by Goldman Sachs and Lightspeed in partnership with Inworld, McKinsey, Microsoft, Sony, and TikTok.

This year, we invited leaders of the gaming & interactive media industry to a different kind of event.

Honest dialogue

Every year, the Game Developers Conference (“GDC”) brings the game development community together to exchange ideas, solve problems, and shape the future of the industry across five days of education, inspiration, and networking. It’s also a whirlwind of VC-hosted dinners, mixers, and side events.

Against the backdrop of the “tremendous yet troubled state of gaming in 2024,” we felt less compelled to host a celebratory gathering. Instead, in conversation with our event partners, we opted to host a more introspective and intimate dinner.

A different kind of event

Modeled after “Touchy Feely” (formally, Interpersonal Dynamics)—the most popular elective at the Stanford Graduate School of Business for over 45 years—our goal was to provide a space for authentic community-building and co-elevation among those pushing the industry forward.

Attendees sat together on tightly packed round tables, invited to a candid and vulnerable discussion centered around one simple yet powerful prompt:

What’s going on in your life right now—really?

Voices across studios, platforms, and technology

In the midst of this important week of announcements and transactions, we knew the most impactful industry participants would have many places to be.

To honor their choice to take the time to join us, we purposefully kept the event small and sought to bring together the best of two worlds:

  1. Today’s most influential CEOs, CFOs, and C-level executives: Senior leadership of public and large-scale companies shaping the global gaming & interactive media landscape—including luminaries from our recently announced Lightspeed Advisory Council. From public company stewards like Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot, and CD Projekt Co-CEO Michal Nowakowski to gaming platform leaders like Microsoft Xbox’s Phil Spencer and Sarah Bond, and Sony PlayStation’s Lin Tao.
  2. Today’s most promising entrepreneurs: Key innovators in artificial intelligence, 3D technology, and extended reality—as well as emerging game studios with founders that previously led the development of many of the highest-grossing franchises. This included startup representatives  from interactive technology companies like OpenAI and Inworld to game studios like Believer and Gardens.

Depth, candor, and vulnerability

The idea for the night was to spend less time on never-ending introductions, small talk, and status signaling—and more time on letting guards down and diving into real, tough conversations. A format that would allow our guests to bring their whole selves and, as a result, build more meaningful, lasting relationships.

The “rules” of the evening were straightforward. Instead of long introductions or credentializing, and with the help of one participant moderator (pre-briefed CEOs) on each table, we dove right in.

Our table moderator guide to help facilitate intimate conversations.

Continuing the conversation

At a time when many have faced difficult organizational decisions and challenging market conditions, we believe that we built meaningful connections that will endure long after the keynotes, sessions, and parties of GDC 2024 are forgotten.

Despite recent setbacks, one overarching sentiment of the evening was that, without question, gaming will return to growth. How it will unfold exactly, and whether incumbents or challengers will reap the benefits, is something we’ll witness over the coming years. It’s okay not to have all the answers right now. Attendees had their own unique insights that, if true, could drive profound change in the industry.

Thank you to our guests for spending the evening with us, opening up in ways rarely encounter in any normal business function, and engaging on a personal level. Some even told us they would take this exercise back to their family and companies.

Bringing this group together would not have been possible without the generous support of Goldman Sachs, Inworld, McKinsey & Company, Microsoft’s M12 and Microsoft for Startups, Sony Innovation Fund, and TikTok.

Frank Gibeau (CEO, Zynga) and Laura Miele (President, Electronic Arts)
Bertrand Bodson (CEO, Keywords Studios), Troy Jones (CEO, StatusPro) and Jason Citron (CEO, Discord)
Strauss Zelnick (CEO, Take-Two Interactive)
Michael Chow (CEO, The Believer Company) and Takashi Kiryu (CEO, Square Enix)
Jim Yang (President, HoYoverse / MiHoYo), Nicole Quinn (Partner, Lightspeed), and Mike Pappas (CEO, Modulate)
Tim Morten (CEO, Frost Giant Studios), Mike Morhaime (Former CEO, Blizzard Entertainment), and James Phinney (CEO, Lost Lake Games)
Sarah Bond (President, Xbox) and John Hanke (CEO, Niantic)
Walter Driver (Chairman, Scopely) and Kylan Gibbs (CEO, Inworld)
Matt Schembari (CEO, Lightforge Games) and Langer Lee (Global Head of Gaming, TikTok)
Brendan Iribe (Former CEO, Oculus)
Remi Racine (CEO, Behaviour Interactive), Stephen Bell (CCO, Gardens), Markus Mäki (Chairman, Remedy Entertainment), and Yves Guillemot (CEO, Ubisoft)
Hemal Thaker (Managing Director, Goldman Sachs) and Moritz Baier-Lentz (Partner, Lightspeed)

How Lightspeed works with founders

In many ways, the event was representative of the types of partnerships and relationships we seek to build when partnering with extraordinary founders in gaming & interactive media and across our investment sectors of enterprise, consumer, fintech, and healthcare.

At Lightspeed, depth is our center of gravity. It’s how we build and maintain a mastery that enables unwavering conviction in the companies we back. Our depth of commitment means rolling up our sleeves to earn our seat at the table. Depth of relationships means authenticity, transparency and trust.

We have helped many companies achieve worldwide success, and we vividly remember what it looked like at the outset of our collaboration. We believe that true partnerships build more repeated success and that reputation is built from the inside out.

Our combination of knowledge, support, and organizational culture sets us apart within the gaming & interactive media industry.

  1. Authentic industry expertise and network: Lightspeed has a history of over two decades of successfully investing in gaming and interactive media.
  2. A global, multi-stage investment fund: Backed by respected and mission-aligned institutions, we solve for “doing the right thing”—with a rare ability to support our portfolio companies with the capital, talent, and network throughout their journey to greatness.
  3. An organizational culture and values that solve for partnerships: In a venture capital industry that glorifies individual stars and their egos, we believe that true partnerships build more repeated success—and that reputation is built from the inside out. That’s why our team invests jointly from a shared family of funds that bridges the traditional borders and limits of sectors and geographies.
Lightspeed Possibility grows the deeper you go. Serving bold builders of the future.