Friday, July 22, 2005

Casual Games Developer Conference

I'd meant to post something on this right after getting back, but as my previous posts imply, I've been a little busy. I've got a little time now, and will see how much I can type given that I've only got a little over 30 minutes, and am *crazy* sore after wakeboarding yesterday. (see previous post)

I attended the conference as a kind of ramp-up exercise for my new job, trying to make new contacts and learn more about the casual gaming space. I got up at 4am to drive down there, attended the full conference except for the final session, when I went to look at some houses for sale in the area and then drove home.

For a first time conference, I give it about a 7/10. I've been to many first-time events before, and this did better than some, but there was still much room for improvement. Feedback I'm sending to them (maybe I'll just point them here?) is as follows:

  • More international representation on panels. First panel was great for this, but after that, everything was very US centric
  • Panels are good, but this was almost exclusively panels. Mix it up with a mix of panels, lectures, workshops, etc.
  • Feedback forms. They had them for the conference overall, but they need a better mechanism for getting per session feedback.
  • As well as rating panels, rate moderators. (Jessica, bless you for your efforts on the conference overall, but you have much to learn about moderating panel sessions)
  • Stick to schedule. "let's give it 5 minutes for people to show" is discourteous to those that showed up on time. Esp when 5 minutes turns into 20.
  • Make sure that speakers and panelists are familiar with the abstract, what the audience has come expecting, and that you stay *moderately* on topic.
  • Make proceedings available afterward, at least for attendees. Word on the street was that there were no plans to.

OK, griping aside (temporarily), here's some notes from the conference.

Day 1:

Session 1: Multiplayer: This examined multiplayer as it pertained to online games, services, portals, MMOs and all points in between. Wonderful selection of panelists with people from UK (Dan James, Three Rings) to US (Hugh De Loayza, EA Pogo) to Korea (Jiho Song, CJ Internet) to Finland (Pai Ilola, Sukake) and others. Very eye opening examples of figures being thrown around for things like item sales in games, numbers of online subscribers, pay-per-play numbers, etc. I found this panel very educational. Best quote: from Jiho Song, "Online game is like a live animal. You don't just release it. You raise it" (talking about how you release the game expecting to make many changes, and viewing it as a 'nurturing'). They also refer to their in-game-MMO service reps as "game gardeners".

Session 2: Developing for the PSP and DS-if-we-had-someone-from-nintendo-but-we-dont: Definitely worst session of the conference. Sorry Mark! (a) Jessica did a very poor job moderating, not playing off panelist comments and probing further, but rather moving on to next item on her prepared list of topics and (b) it was a PSP love-fest, but without substance. "Aw man, it's just awesome to develop for!" OK, why? What's the one thing you'd change? Any downsides? Ugh. The only highlight was when Alex St-John poked at Mark a bit from teh audience and made him do a little check-is-in-the-mail dance about how Sony is looking into download-to-device channel schemes.

  • And aside: I made some notes while in this session and made a point system for moderators: You get 2 points for getting panelists to inject 'vision', 2 points for injecting 'controversy' (an automatic 4 points if another panelist takes the other side of an arguement), 1 point for 'information regurgitation), minus 2 point for product-pitch, and minus another 2 if it's uncontested by another panelist. This panel didn't score well.

Session 3: new business models. Well, there aren't any :-) However, the discussion on how the current ones work or might be modified slightly or turned into hybrids was pretty good.

Session 4: Advergaming: One of the better sessions of the conference for two reasons: (1) Alex St-John was on it and knows that poeple like some controversy and like to see panelists 'mix it up' a bit, and he delivered on that front, and (2) it was an informative, eye-opening look at a very significant portion of the market that often gets dissed unjustifiably. Best (most eye opening quote): Alex St John, "This is a significant and growing market. You can ask me, or any single one of the companies on this panel, and I guarantee you we'll all tell you that we are turning away business. We have more business coming to us than we can take on."

Session 5: "Creative Plagiarism": This lecture (1 of only 2) by Scott Kim, puzzle-meister, was a bit different than the abstract explained, but it was really good nonetheless. Kim has designed paper puzzles, plastic toy puzzles, games for PC, Online, and cell phone that were puzzles, and puzzles for audiences world wide. His talk was about digging down to the root mechanic of puzzle games, figuring out what will or won't be possible when translating to another medium, and then extending it on that new medium. Very informative and entertaining. (speaking of plagiarism - I'm tempted to steal his logo!)

Day 2:

Session 1: IGDA Sig announcements. Great they had it, poorly run. Only about 20 people showed up, so they made us wait 20 of the 30 minutes and then did the panel in ten minutes. They didn't appear to have a charter "we're here to evangelize casual games" until I probed them "to who?" at which point they had ideas they threw out that were ok. Applaud the effort, but they need some work.

Session 2: Scoring Music for casual games: Guy Whitmore from MS casual games studios talked about design principals he uses in designing interactive music for games, both casual and 'hardcore'. Great examples, very thought provocative. Best quote: "I use sound effects as instruments and instruments as sound effects. They are all part of the same soundscape and should seemlessly mesh. If you aren't using the same person for both, at least make sure they are talking". Great examples he used to illustrate: Word Harmony, Russian Squares (Win XP plus pack bundled game).

Session 3. Contracts and Royalties: A panel in which the audience and several panelists once again amazed me with their lack of understanding of basic business principles. Ladies and gentlemen, does anyone on the flight know how to fly the plane? There were a couple sane voices on the panel that brought some sanity to the discussion.

Session 4: Sponsored lunch session from Lisa Waits at Nokia. Possibly the worst lecture I've ever attended. Comical. We guffawed through lunch and then left. Example: "If you aren't thinking about how to get on device X, you'd better think about it!" um, why? cause you say so? cause you bought me a turkey roll and a bag of sun chips?

Session 5: Wireless: I missed this one because of a hallway discussion I was in that went long.

Session 6: Appealing to the casual gamer: A good discussion about demographics, how to grow the audience and the medium. It wrapped with a mucho excellente soap box pitch from Nicholas Fortugno at GameLab about the future of interactive entertainment and interactive narrative. Way to go Nicholas! I'm drinkin' the same Koolaid and lovin it!

Nicholas' rant would have made a fine closing note for the conference, and for me, it did. I skipped the last session to go house hunting.

Hope these notes are useful to someone. For what it's worth, I intend to attend next year. See you then!


william said...

Excellent write-up (short and sweet). Reading it made me a bit nastalgic for the days I was on your staff :)

Other than Nokia, was there much interest from the IHV/provider community? Will there be a call for abstracts for next year's conference?

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark said...

It's okay Kim, you can hate the panel I was on :) I thought it was pretty dull myself, for a variety of reasons. Hopefully some of the information was useful for someone!