Ok, so firstly.. I don’t really blog. That should be the first indicator that this was inspiring enough to me to make the effort… and blogging is long work.
Secondly, I took a shot at a reflection on GCAP ’11 earlier… and in true ‘phalez’ fashion, ended up with a huge, overly complex essay with 0 appeal to anyone, myself included… and that’s just not good.
So the solution was obvious. Rather than edit, scrap the draft. Redo. Just like a game prototype.
For those who don’t know, GCAP is the game connect asia pacific. This year, it was hosted in Melbourne, providing me the opportunity to go.
Now, I’ll admit – I went with the intention of networking, looking for work leads, that sort of thing. I’m active in Melbourne’s IGDA chapter, so there was also the chance to catch up with people and drink a lot. But given general busy-ness at the time as a final year student, I hadn’t made an effort to check what talks were on, who was going to be there, or what the general theme was; I just knew it would be worth going.
And it was.
By day one, I was shocked. Hell, by lunch of day one I was shocked, and I missed most of the morning to sit an exam. In hindsight, looking through the plethora of info provided beforehand, it should have been obvious… but not having that expectation turned into an unfolding mystery to me that was an invaluable experience. Hence, the best $135 I spent this year.
So, what was GCAP this year? In short, at least to me, business. The business of games. This theme was weaved throughout the event. Every keynote, presentation and panel was focused on the business behind the funding, developing, marketing and releasing of games. The key word here, if you haven’t noticed, is business.
As developers, on first glance this is frustrating. After all, it’s someone else’s concern. But I began to realise… this is actually really important, especially to the Melbourne game development scene.
Now, being honest, there’s not much AAA future for Aussies.. well, there is, but it’s incredibly competitive. Australia isn’t appealing to the big boys anymore, and that’s the vibe I got from the event. Let’s face it, while “money comes to the talent”, no one’s coming here. Not for a while. Support for 300 man next-gen studios isn’t practical anymore. The lonely island just got lonelier.
This has paved a path for local talent geared towards indie and mobile. Small, self-managing and self-supported teams of passionate, innovative developers who are struggling to make ends and loving it. And isn’t that in our blood? The Aussie battler, values of mateship, being irrationally passionate (about beer and sports)?
It seems like destiny then that Australia would become a hub of the world’s best mobile devs, and continue to grow as hopefuls enter the scene. But when you have limited resources at your disposal, a game to make, and a team of developers, the business stuff gets lost, ignored or overlooked. Despite being full of piss and vinegar, the company, business or project will not survive without attending to the matter of the business.
Every experience I had addressed the issue of games within a business or marketing context.
- BioWare’s Richard Iwanuik revealed the progression of the company, their games, and where they see the industry shifting.
- Jesse Divnich shared the importance of branding and research on trends through analytics.
- Phil Larsen of Halfbrick introduced the idea of ‘positioning’, and the importance of public image and competition.
- Luke Muscat shared on using randomness in games such as Fruit Ninja, and how to balance it with people’s expectations.
- Amir Rao, one of the creators of Bastion, shared in a keynote the story of its loving development. He shared the experiences of leaving the safety of AAA to run a company with roommates at home. This resonated with me most, as it’s a very common situation for teams where money is tight and you can count the company’s time-to-live in days on your hands.
- Morgan Jaffet from Defiant Development shared a similar story, where the team was on short contract as next payroll was like Christ’s second coming*.
- Many other panels, presentations, and general sharing of experience proved to make for very insightful and valuable food for thought at the least.
I noticed A common trend emerge from all of the talks I went to. You must have passion for what you do, but passion alone is not enough. It will help you through the perseverance, along with discipline and comradeship, but it wont guarantee you any market share. You don’t have to be in it for millions, and the truly inspiring success stories never are. But, as Jay Wilbur from Epic repeated over and over, “you gotta pay the rent”. And I feel that’s what it was all about. Raising awareness of the fact; business matters.
At the ‘Farewell’ of the conference, Tony Reed, the organiser, said “I hope you guys now realise what we were getting at with this theme” (paraphrased of course).
And I do.
“The Journey”, or how each and every step, no matter how irrelevant it may seem to the production, is relevant to the success. As a guess, I think that the “state of Australia’s industry” issue really sparked the theme. There are increasingly more developers and teams not dipping their toes for a feel, but rather cannon-balling into the water… with no pre-thought of the fact that, yes, this is still a business. Being ‘indie’ doesn’t change that fact. You will drown unless you learn to swim.
All of this is really close to home. Being a ‘Melbournian’ developer, new to the scene, about to graduate, and clueless about the future… the opportunity and reality points to indie. And the world is a noisy place, easily distracted. It’s not enough just be the most innovative, or most creative, or most polished. If you want to survive, you need the discipline to work the hardest, yell the loudest, and still offer the most.
If there’s anything I learnt from GCAP ’11, it’s the importance of the market. You can still focus on the craft of games, but never underestimate the importance of the market. Watch it. Test it. Use it.
So that wraps up what was meant to be a “short” personal reflection on a fantastic GCAP ’11, and I didn’t even get to any of the exciting stuff about support initiatives and the industry future trend. Now to go over the publications from sessions I couldn’t chose between…
*-It’s word-play on the Christian belief that their savior will return at an hour only known to God the Father.