Saturday, September 5, 2009

PAX'09 thoughts

I did a whirlwind trip up to PAX yesterday, leaving at 5:30 for the 3hr drive up to seattle, and arriving home at around 11:30. Six hours in the car wore me out, but well worth it for what I compressed into the remaining time.

I hang my head in shame and say this was my first PAX. When I was living up in Seattle I had schedule conflicts that kept me from attending the past couple of them. Decided I'd make the effort this year and was glad I did.

Some quick thoughts on the event, with a few topics requiring lengthier posts later.

The event itself: Wow. PAX has grown up. I think the E3 Supernova helped them get escape velocity, and now even with E3 making a comeback, PAX remains a big deal. We'll wait to see attendance numbers, but it felt like a 10k+ attendee event.

If you haven't been, I'd describe it as follows: GDC is the nerdy kid you knew in high school. E3 was his Jock older brother who drove a Chevelle and got all the chicks and gave him wedgies. PAX was the middle brother who listened to GWAR, wore combat boots, played D&D and smoked weed while doing it, and who mom and dad didn't really mind skipping out on the family reunion. :-)

There are panels and other sessions at the event but they aren't the point of the event itself, which is really a mix of game/geek culture celebration, fan-fest, and game companies exhibiting their goods to the hardest of hardcore gamer fans. Oh, and there's a pretty big lanfest and some board gaming thrown it for good measure.

Talks: I only attended two talks and a keynote, but I'd say that the fact that these aren't the main focus of the conference, and the quality is indicative of that. Not that the ones I attended were bad, but the quality varied, showing that it was largely up to the individual moderating the panel. (Vs GDC which scrutinizes talks and speakers to quite a degree).

I attended a panel on 'game developer parents' that had a number of industry veterans who are also parents (and two of whom were former co-workers of mine), who were supposed to discuss issues around games and parenting. I'd say it was 10% that, and 90% anecdotes about their kids, which would be ok except that those were half sage advice and half boasting about their offspring. mildly disappointing.

I attended Ron Gilbert's keynote which was humorous and moving, but not mind-blowing or anything (like say, Will Wright's Siggraph keynote)

I attended a legal issues in games panel, with a variety of legal folk around the industry. Was suprised when they asked "how many people here are lawyers or law students?", and had like 40 people raise their hands! This panel was better run (but not excellently run) and covered a number of timely topics, with the panel offering opinions on each. A few of which were:
  • The "Edge" trademark hullaballoo: Tom Buscaglia had to tread lightly around this one because of Langdell's IGDA involvement, etc. The short version of the opinion was that trademarks and copyrights have their place and people have a right to defend them. In this case, both parties have behaved very poorly from the outset and dug themselves into a hole.
  • The project Entropia Banking license thing (my question to the panel on this one was what their impressions where, and whether they subscribed to the theory that eventually all MMOs are banks, and regulation is inevitable): At least one panelist agreed with the theory, and two expressed sentiment that the Entropia thing in particular was a good thing, shows games offering more, growing up, etc.
  • SW Patents: The usual lawyer-speak about "ya better file 'em!", but Tom B had a good answer to an audience question/comment about SW patents being evil, etc. He made the point that (a) the patent portfolio isn't the problem nearly as much as poor scrutiny of claims at the USPTO, and (b) a patent portfolio is something that can serve as collateral to borrow against with banks, and that Harmonix in particular did so against their patent portfolio and used that cash to survive a tight spot before their big hit. i.e. While there are plenty of examples of patent trolls, this is a counter example of patents saving what otherwise would never have become Guitar Hero.
  • First amendment/free speech vs regulating violent games, etc. Good precendents set now with universal defeat of these initiatives across more than a dozen states. Sign of games success and also their growth into a major media. "they join the club of art forms across history that have been feared and attacked in similar ways: movies, rock music, etc"
The show floor:

A mix of exhibitors from the major publishers (EA, Ubi, etc) and HW vendors (Sony, MS, Intel, Alienware) but with a disproportionately high number of indie studios meeting their fans and selling merch. (Twisted Pixel, Dofus, The Behemoth, many others).


Cosplay: Wow there was a lot of it. Plenty of galleries online.

Indie Games: Lengthier post on this later, but there's both good and bad here. The "indie game" meme has caught up with publishers, and so they are nabbing up titles whereever they can. Good to see guys getting funded, but this results in muscle put behind these titles and ups the pressure for higher polish etc. As an example the quality of some of the showcase titles in the Xbox Indie games (formerly community games) was fantastic, but these are looking like multi-month, multi-person team titles, and it's not clear that these games can generate the numbers on that channel to justify the investment. Not picking on MS, this is a problem across the board about which I'll post a lengthier piece when I get some time.

Some photos in my next post.


Darius Kazemi said...

FYI I wouldn't call Ankama Games, the group that makes Dofus, an "indie developer." I was talking to someone from Lyon's gov't biz dev office and he said that Ankama has hundreds of employees!

KimPallister said...

Ah, I didn't realize they were that big. But then, did they bootstrap, or were they funded?

And what size is "too big to be indie?"

Does The Behemoth have a headcount cap before they lose the distinction? :-)

Darius Kazemi said...

I don't know if they were bootstrapped or funded to begin with.

At some size I do think you're too big to be indie. Is Bungie indie simply because they're not owned by another company anymore? This gets into that whole distinction between "independent studio" and "indie developer" which has been argued to death. Generally speaking I'd say of indie... "I know it when I see it." Heh.

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