Develop 2011 Day 1: less starstruck more enthused

This year was my annual pilgrimage to Brighton for the games dev conference called Develop. I have going to this since I chose my independent career path with Feeding Edge. What I do and what I work on is still at the periphery of the games industry compared to the full on AAA title producer firms, but I do have a huge affinity for the indies.
After last year, sitting hearing something was impossible in one of the sessions, when in fact it is exactly what Second Life and Opensim do I was determined I needed to push a few more game company buttons and so volunteered to talk this year and was accepted. I was part of the Evolve stream which is all about new stuff. In a fast moving innovative industry like the games industry it is surprising that many of the things I have to share are still so leading edge, or if not leading edge then woefully ignored.
The industry itself has a huge part to play in where virtual world and online communication fit into the our lives. They have all the tech and know how to get a double bonus from assets. Games are inherently fun and cool, with very a very creative core at the start, then though they become product. Each game follows the same path as any startup, passionate founders, workers making it real and then the dreaded monetization.
It is also still amazing that all these multi site studios with outsourcing etc are not clamouring to use more efficient or creative ways to communicate with one another, that includes the very things they are building.
I think there was a set unifying sentiments, backed up by some action this year though. Three years ago hardly anyone bothered with “social”, last year everyone botched about it, this year everyone wants to do it properly and better. There is also that realisation that developer community is shrinking, the grand masters are getting older, kids are not getting into programming. It’s not really even being taught. From the newest quirkiest indie dev’s, to higher education to the grand masters of UK game development and even to me with my Cool Stuff Collective show strand we are all doing things to try and let people know that there is more to tech than just using it. You can build with it, you can program, you can share and rather oddly there has never been a better time to be able to get together with others and build. There is though a gap in the technology, which was brought out in David Braben’s Raspberry Pi session. The driver behind this is to try and push towards a small very simple device that you can just plug into a screen and get to code, create build share. In a way that it is not complicated to hit the reset button, just as we did in the old 8 bit days. Lots of kids have access to computers but not to develop on, as they may “break them”.
It really is a great plan and aiming to make a £15 machine with a developer community building the right tools for it and then giving those to entire classes years at schools really opens up the potential for a massive wave of technologically capable builders. In the session the spectre of school ICT came up. How once ICT was brought in computer science dropped out. ICT is about using basic tools on a computer, all skills that are needed, but programming is about problem solving and making things happen. My 8 year old (predlet 1.0) referred to here ICT as “I correct text” which I guess she heard somewhere. It is very different learning to drive a car to knowing how to build one. You need both avenues to be available.
Anyway my highlights of Develop
1. New Stories for New Platforms : A great freeform conversation between Adrian Hon, Alexis Kennedy, David Varela and Charles Cecil moderated by Patrick O’Luanaigh. This was away from the pure tech of games and into the narrative. Dicussions of the stories that form in playing simple board games, storyline narrative versus multiplayer shared experiences. Charles Cecil told some tales of how they remastered broken sword on the mobile years after they had thrown all the assets away.
2. Browser – The place where console, web and social games come together Ilkka Paananen. This was partly an advert for but it was based on experience of pushing to the browser. The mechanics of doing social features better seemed to be a theme too. In Gunshine your friends characters become available to play as your team mates but they play in the style of your friend as AI’s. They also get to level up for the other player (or atleast you can reward them for having been picked). So if you play well, you are more likely to get picked for the team.
3. Gamification – Extending the Game Play into business. Mo Touman gave a pitch on gamification. Which in itself had become a word that was both loved and hated in equal measure. Mo gave examples of lots of platforms toolkits that help with some of the basics of light gamification. Badges, points etc. He challenged the games industry to look at middleware. The tendency was to build from scratch still, which is fine if money is no object. He pointed out things like openfeint, plus+, bunchball(nitro participation engine), scoreloop. Bunchball is the one I need to take a look at having explored the others. In the QA the objections to gamification tended to be they indicated lazy bolting on of points. In fact this is a much deeper subject but I guess the early examples are just that.
4.Social Games, Music and Fashion : New frontiers. Paulina Bozek from INENSU gave a great pitch on their social clothed reuse/swapping project and also the up and coming superfan for the music industry. What I liked was the references to the madness of the record industry in trying to control and stifle creativity in the name of profit. Which in the long run fails. The example was of a Bieber fan video, lots of fans had put a montage of photos of themselves each with a word from the song written on a hand, a mirror, a placard etc and posted it to youtube. Bieber commented on how cool it was and that he liked it, then his record company proceeded to issue DMCA takedowns all over the place for breach of copyright. Hitting at the hardcore fans who want to share and create out of passion and interest is, lets face it, dumb.
5. What’s Next. A great panel which included Alice “@wonderlandblog @makielab” Taylor. It was lots of riffing on some ideas, Onlive and Xbox were both represented too. One discussion was have the consoles got good enough that we don’t need to bother pushing forward with the visuals any more. Will there be a next next gen etc. generally we all wanted to not have to bother with worrying what something was on, but be able to play anything anyway.
6. Keynote: Lessons from building Moshi Monsters to 50m Users. Michael Acton Smith was his usually chirpy and enthusing self. Telling tales of the dark days of nearly closing, of burning capital, changing course and then the explosion that is Moshi and moving into other non digital areas. To see the empire grow from those early ideas (which I remember seeing on a visit to mind candy way back) to what it already is and to see where it is heading really is like watching a new Walt Disney arise from the web. (Well done to Moshi Monsters for picking up their award at the ceremony the next day too)
More to come….

5 thoughts on “Develop 2011 Day 1: less starstruck more enthused

  1. Pingback: Develop conference Day 2 and 3. A wind of change? « Life at the Feeding Edge

  2. Pingback: More practical science in education – Let’s hope so! « Life at the Feeding Edge

  3. IS the developer community shrinking? I’d agree that the developer community is spread over an ever-increasing range of appn development .. but not shrinking … is there some stats to show that its declining overall?

  4. We have a general decrease in all sciences and engineering. That is reducing the pool in total in the country. There are of course home brew programmers and that is admirable, but as computer science is affected by these sort of trends it we know there are less people with the right skills. It is also part of Ian Livingstone’s skills report.

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