Saturday, March 13, 2010

GDC2010: Microsoft Women in Gaming Awards

Yesterday I attended the Microsoft WiG luncheon. Microsoft had invited Jade Raymond and Peter Molyneux to give keynotes at the luncheon. Jade's talk highlighted the role of mentoring when pursuing a courier in games business and that mentoring and learning from seniors (as well as applying good practices from other industries) is the only way to become a leading expert in game business. Peter talked about the necessity of diversity. The games as just as good as the development team behind it. Naturally what counts when building a team is the skill set. Many companies do not understand that besides essential skills in game development, personal viewpoints, preferences, experiences and thoughts are also very valuable. In relation to that one of my own favorite example of identifying new potential is Shigeru Miyamoto's Wife-o-Meter. With Wife-o-Meter Miyamoto gauges product's potential success with an expanded audience. The point is that some things might not be interesting or sensible from his personal viewpoint but without his Wife-o-Meter method Nintendogs and Wii games might have never been invented. The same wisdom goes for game development teams.

IGDA Women in Games SIG is also providing online mentorship program.
Karen Clark (Sr. Project Manager, EA) is the chair of the mentoring program.

Between the talks the following ladies were awarded as winners in the following categories. I was honored to be a member of the jury.

Art: Amy Beth Christianson, Principal Artist at LucasArts

Design: Jenna Chalmers, Creative Director for Zynga

Engineering: Corrinne Yu, Principal Engine Programmer at Microsoft Game Studios

Production: Megan Gaiser, President/CEO at Her Interactive

Lifetime Achievement Award: Amy Hennig, Creative Director for Naughty Dog

At the expo floor Sony presented their Move controller and 3D stereoscopic gaming. Notice the game on the
screen (!) --that's Super Stardust HD by Housemarque. I am not too excited of either Move or 3D gaming. Still it is clear that at the moment Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all seem to be moving to the same direct ion and trying to catch players' attention by focusing on social and functional gaming. Similarly there is a clear consensus in SNSs (Facebook gaming) as well. Zynga model of developing social games for the Facebook seems to be the way to go. I am hoping to see someone to push the envelope. There is still a lot to be invented.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Day 2 & 3 at GDC2010 highlights

After the first two summit days it was time to kick the main conference going. Uncharted 2 and social games are in a very big role this year. A love letter to flash = funnies video of Wednesday :)

Playdom people talked at their presentation "Games as a live service: a 360 degree look at the art and science of managing social games" about user generated content and their community building efforts. They highlighted that social features are the best viral features in Facebook such as pick or steal a boyfriend at Sorority Life. Same message came from Zynga, too. Gifting and adopting lonely cows or winning super berries instead of strawberries (top seller items) have been excellent choices. They also talked about choosing colors -- how colors matter when communicating to certain type of an audience (e.g. Mafiawars vs. Farmville).

They highlighted how relevant it is to balance game performance (stability) and new stuff (new features); bugs and features; user feedback and disruption. In Sorority Life competitions people can (and do) create content to the game (virtual items, clothes etc.). In Christmas and New Year, 53% of the revenue came from company generated content and 47% from user generated content. Issues adding stickiness: loyalty features, support features, blogs, fan Pages at Facebook etc.

"Fate of a small social game studio" by Justin Hall was one of the best talks on Thursday. Raph Koster wrote a good summary of Justin's talk. Another nice talk from Thursday was given by Nicole Lazzaro. I have seen her presentation a couple of years back. Basically talking about the same issues aka emotions and fun factors in games. She has quite a bit of data & presentations online as well. According to her, four keys to Farmville success: score, feedback, friendship and reward.

Game development fund. The Mochi GAME Developer Fund is a $10 million fund that will help promising Flash and social game developers support their games through sponsorship, licensing and publishing deals.

IGF winners:
Monaco won top honours at the Independent Games Festival 2010.

PlayDead's platformer Limbo (Go Denmark!) was multi-award winner, earning Excellence in Visual Art and Technical Excellence. Closure Team's puzzle platformer Closure was recognised for Excellence in Audio. The Direct2Drive Vision Award was given to Press Play's Max & The Magic Marker (Go Denmark!) , and the Audience Award was claimed by Heroes of Newerth by S2 Games.

The renamed Nuovo (Innovation Award), which honours unconventional game development, went to Cactus for puzzle game Tuning. Best Student Game went to Ragtime Games' platformer Continuity and IGF Mobile Best Game went to Tiger Style's Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor.

At the Game Developers Choice awards this year’s big winner was Uncharted 2, which walked away with a total of five nods. Check out the video for more.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

GDC2010, day 1. My top 3

1. Nexus One
Woot, I got a Nexus One! I don't like the design but new gadgets are always cool! And some feelings (see the photo) from North Hall (GDC2010) -- that's so 80s ;)

2. Focus group driven development not as relevant in Facebook
10 years ago the popular saying was that if you manage to get girls into gaming, you will double the market and become a billionaire over night. The development was _very_ segment driven. Developers were wondering what teenage girls would like to do in a game and how the game should look like. The result was that the market was full of friendship adventures and doll house simulations. With social games it is clear that game development is no more that much focus or segment group driven. It might well be that the e.g. Facebook game developers were thinking of certain type of gamers -- but that is exactly the issue here -- social games (at Facebook, MySpace etc.) are played by everyone and as a brain break. Basically Farmville attracts both 11 year olds and 31, 41 or 71 year olds. The development does not start with typical mechanics or game play or even games but instead is "an activity you do in the net". So it is casual past time activity and social in its virtual and asynchronous way. I think this is a good point! The change of viewpoint (purposely or by chance) is the key. Facebook games are different type of activity from "normal" games. In Facebook people don't want to achieve high scores, practice their skills or spend hours gaming. They just want to take care of their farm or fish tank a couple of minutes now and then, chill out and relax.

3. Social, viral and game patterns in Japanese social games (DC Collier talk)
DC has given brilliant presentations at E3 and GDC for years already. Again he presented some current SNS trends from Japan. This time there were nothing really shocking or surprising. Instead many examples were pretty typical SNSs. Also brands were not as much in the limelight than some years back. I think Disney was the only branded game in the selection. Other than that many themes and the game play was very well in line with what we have here in Europe or US.

The slides will be available though his company's blog shortly, you can check more details from there. Still I would like to share a couple of remarks from the presentation. Many popular Facebook games have Japanese parallels. Most popular applications implement OpenSocial. In Japan Mixi, DeNa and Gree have many times more users than Facebook and better ARPU.

He also presented examples of social patterns, viral patterns and other game patterns. Viral patterns e.g. "wink me" and get points, "visit my shop" generated page views and trading benefits. Game patterns such as grinding and collecting stuff mentioned in his examples. Social patterns: location based teams or items, decorate & show off and different ways of poking (aggressive, win-win etc.) were just some of many examples shown.

Oh... I also learned that if you want to succeed in China -- the best way is to marry a Chinese woman because foreigners have so many limitations related to running a business in China. Hm... Another China comment was that currently there are no Chinese games in Facebook top 20 game applications but it is just a question of time when then move from cloning to inventing something new. Last but not least James Gwertzman's nine points how to start a gaming business in China (in a nutshell). His slides.

My sessions Tuesday:
Indies and Publishers: Fixing a System That Never Worked
Ron Carmel (2D Boy)

Abusing Your Players Just For Fun
Jonatan (Cactus) Soderstrom (Cactus Software)

The State of Social Gaming: Industry Overview and Update
Justin Smith (Inside Network)

Why Are Gaming Veterans Flocking to Social Gaming?
Brenda Brathwaite (Slide), Brian Reynolds (Zynga), Noah Falstein (The Inspiracy) and Steve Meretzky (Playdom)

Social Games in Japan
David Collier (Pikkle KK)

Meet the Newest Chinese Import/Export Business: Social Games!
James Gwertzman (PopCap Games, Inc.)

How to Innovate in the Land of Clones
Nick Fortugno (Playmatics)