Develop 2010 – Evolve Day 1 – 10% is the answer

Develop – Evolve Day 1

The first day of the 3 day Develop conference proved, as usual, to be very interesting and well worth the trip to Brighton. It’s not a million miles away form home but enough of a trip to make it worth while staying over at the hotel for the after conference conversations.
Develop 2010

Matthew Wiggins – Wonderland creators of Godfinger
Making Free apps for fun and for profit.
Matthew @wiggo on twitter is a games design veteran having worked at places like lionhead. His company Wonderland created the hit iphone game Godginger which is published through DoCoMo and uses the plusplus social networking system.
The talk was primarily a case study in moving from an initial design with a price point of $9.99 on the app store to a completely free game. This was, and he referenced it, an example of the variety of opportunities and business model decisions written about by Chris Andersen in his book Free.
Free does not have to mean for nothing, users get the game, enjoy playing it and if the game has merit they play it in large numbers. 10% of the users will want to start paying in some form or other, for kudos, for content. Or when you have a huge number of users advertisers clearly want to direct adverts towards them.
As this was the Evolve part of the conference, this is the sort of forward thinking, with actual examples, that the games industry needs to hear. Just like many other industries that have become large and monolithic with huge sums of money flowing around a disruptive business model is often greeted with scepticism.
We do know though, free works, and in some case free is the only way forward.
Matthew also talked about how the design decisions in the game have to be intertwined with the business goals and the overall finanacials. He did not think this was a problem but that some people might consider this restricted their creative freedoms. He pointed out this is a balance and when it works lots of people get to play and enjoy the game, which as a game designer is the point.

Patrick O’Luanaigh -nDreams
Explorers guide to Facebook and other digital platforms
As the previous talk had had a projector problem I got to this one a little late. Patrick was doing an interesting explanation of the challenges of working in Facebook and also alluding to Playstation Home emerging as a much richer game platform in its own right, not just an advert platform. This doe sofa course stand to reason, as he pointed out, it already is an MMO platform. Part of the problem though is content is not as resizable across other platforms, its a specific build.
During his pitch he had lots of comedy product placement, which having missed the start I am not sure if he explained. However he was treating his pitch as a beverage generation engine. i.e. he was promised beers to mention certain books and people which he sprinkled through the pitch. The final one was “there is no such thing as a free lunch though in this case there is” as he showed a photo of a local cafe who offered him a free lunch if they got a mention.

Lunch – Vertical Slice
At lunch I got talking to the guys from Vertical Slice who are doing a pitch on Thursday. They specialise in user experience in games and are the first UK studio to set up to study this having come from an academic background but applying the science.

Thomas Bidaux – ICO partners
Games as a Service
Thomas was sharing his experience of running MMO’s. He made no apologies for coming at this from a service level direction. He talked about how the things around a game often get forgotten, the registration path, the localisation, the experience of getting to the experience. He cited the first MMO he worked on which was not a fantastic game, but they knew that and focused on working with the users and the community to create a fantastic service.
He cited the sort of mistakes that can be made in dealing with collecting information from users, in breaking the in game experience by having to back out to website. The tricky difficulty of providing translations and setting up the processes with 3rd parties to perform those.
Many people would recognise this runtime need who have worked on any serious website or backend commercial system that runs 24/7. In a build it and ship it games industry (which is now shifting to online and constant iteration) it is going to be a shock. Runtime operations actually become core business and need to be designed in as things scale in unpredictable ways.

Dave Bishop – PopCap
When Casual meets Social
Bejeweled is 10 years old. PopCap have created some of the most popular and addictive puzzle games over the years. There were some amazing facts and figures around just how many people play Bejeweled.
Popcap
The focus of the talk though was around how PopCap are making the transition from Casual games to Social games. This quite often gets mixed up into the same thing. Dave explained how people played PopCap games in their droves but a complete standalone experience. Now with Bejeweled Blitz they have introduced social networking elements to allow people to share scores with friends. There are many aspects to this that ramp up the complexity of doing this. Having had games in flash on the browser, having iphone version etc they then have the complexity of trying to make the experiences and the relative scoring systems the same across all the platforms. Each platform may look very similar but in reality, as Dave said, PopCap spend more time than is natural working out how it feels when the gems fall.
Dave said that PopCap were not only putting social features into all their games, including cross platform interactions but they are also creating actual social games. This will be interesting to see how the transition happens in game design from a recognised franchise point of view.
Like Thomas before him Dave indicated the massive alteration that happens in the business when it goes to actual online, not just delivery online. They have had to go from teams of 3 or 4 people to teams of 30+ to deal with the constant iterations.

Adam Boyles – Beefy Media (Formely CapCom)

Round2 – Get ready for convergent gaming
The basic premise here was that convergent gaming, i.e. a game experience or brand that crosses platforms and ways of interacting with it has been talked about for a long time but might now be coming. This was much more than simply porting game x to platform y. It was about fundamentally different experiences suited to different ways people interact. He told a few war stories about the restrictions put on CapCom by both Sony and Microsoft as they were delivering some of the downloadable titles, and how when you have two competing giants you don’t have to take their word for it, but push them.
I found this all interesting as I tend to be getting data from one place and effecting change elsewhere even with the virtual worlds. Closed platforms development wise, or very expensive ones are of no interest to me, but being able to get data feeds from them very much is.
Adam also talked about the problems of just converting content, or of only doing half a job when doing an HD remix. The fans will tell you when you are not doing it right. Hence CapCom always gets the fans involved.

Nils-Holger Henning Bigpoint
How 100 users turned into 100 million – a browser game success story
Bigpoint has 130 million registered users. That is a lot. They come to play top quality web based games. Bigpoint are pushing the envelope of what that means with both Java and Unity and Flash. They deal in MMO massive scale. Nils-Holger indicated the shock and exponential shift in effort required in MMO’s. He also re iterated the 10% rule. Most of the 130 million will not be paying anything but 10% will start to. That is why free works. For some of their early games they still have massive longterm support from the users. People come for the game and stay for the community.
With respect to taking payment he also said something that makes a great deal of sense economically, but many may laugh.
If you set a subscription price for anything you have a massive impact on that 10% that will pay something. i.e. many will drop out. If you set the subs at $10 but they are prepared to spend $5 you are shooting yourself in the foot. He also alluded to the other end of the market though. (This is my favourite anecdote). There are some people with so much money that they would just not bother with $10 subscription. They would however pay $50,000 for a custom piece of armour in a game. This is about paying for kudos and quality. It is the couture end of the market. People who spend 10k on a dress will not shop at Primark. The product may look the same but its not. So, as he said, 2 people paying $50k each for one piece of custom content is worth a lot of $10 subscribers.
He went on to show Poisonville and then Battlestar Galactica online both extremely rich visuals and in browser. One Java one Unity3d.
Another interesting point was that Bigpoint are now targeting the US more. He admitted they had treated it in the same way the US tends to treat Europe. “send a junior to london and he can cover germany, france, spain, italy …). Its a much bigger market and deserves proper attention.

David Helgason, Unity Technologies
Gamification: How games are everywhere

David was not specifically talking about Unity3d, though of course it came up as a scene setting. It was interesting (as I tweeted) to see Mark Rein of Unreal sat in the front row as clearly Unity has a disruptive influence over the engine market. Unity3d I still find really interesting and exciting.
Unity meets unreal
The core of David’s talk was that we are at such an interesting point in the use of games and of games technology. He cited Jesse Schell’s pitch on life achievements which is turning into as seminal a work as Chris Anderson’s Free or Malcom Gladwell’s tipping point.
David also said that there are so many programmers out there, many of them probably starting to develop in the first place because they really wanted to build games, but have ended up not doing that. (sounds familiar 🙂 )
He also said that we had an education systems that was creating technically literate students with a will to create.
The third element was that of content creation and the change in the web to allow and encourage that content
Finally The technology and community is in place to work and collaborate with anyone anywhere (as I say everywhere is local)
This creates a perfect storm (which was cheekily shown with a backdrop picture of the icelandic volcano that disrupted all our lives, David is originally from Iceland)
David’s pitch was quite handy when explaining to people in the evening when asked “so what do you do then” the whole metaverse evangelist thing and the education in virtual worlds and business use of game tech ended up with people saying “oh so ramification then”. So thankyou David 🙂

A cracking day and looking forward to day 2

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