Saturday, 11 May 2013

GameHorizon 2013

Shiny Happy People

My first game conference has been a pretty awesome experience, I've met so many amazing, like-minded, friendly people, in or just enthusiasts of the game industry. I've had time to digest my adventure and I'll try to give a retrospective view of some of the highlights.

Day One

The event was held at the Sage, Gateshead, a fantastic venue, pity about the Newcastle weather!

Must admit i was a little nervous as i was there by myself and didn't know anyone, that eventually subsided as i talked to a few people and found they were pretty much in the same boat. The event started with a meet and greet session so it was a great way to get out there and put my worries aside. Every one was open to engage in discussion and keen to find out more about each other. Maybe it's just my memory but i was really pleased that our GameHorizon passes had everyone's name on them, especially during day two, when i was suffering from a hangover and had talked to loads of people at the evening event!

The first talk of the day was by Pauline Jacquey (MD, Ubisoft Reflections) and David Polfeldt (MD, Massive Entertainment) titled, 'The Fearless Creation of the Million Dollar Game'. They were both great speakers but i was particularly struck by Davids' story and advice for aspiring game creators.

All the talks were live streamed but can be found over at if you're interested

I really like his idea about visualising our fears as a friend trying to give us advice and realising that person is probably not a good friend to us. Also his advice about not burning any bridges was always at the back of my mind as i talked to one and all throughout the event, not to profit from in any way but for my own karma. Massive sounds like an awesome company to work for thanks to Davids' ethos, making sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to workplace ethics. Employees are asked to embody the values of a Hero; honesty, loyalty, bravery, and willingness to help. It's a set of values that everyone can understand, which helps when running a team of multinational employees.

It's also great to hear from Pauline that even in a huge company like Ubisoft, it's OK to fail, not on a regular basis of course, but once or twice is OK.

What was also interesting was that due to the risk, and huge budgets of AAA titles and the use of analytics over the last few years, to analyse player behavior, we are going to see a golden age of gaming titles around 2014-2015, based on the implementation of those analytics in game pacing and design. Can't wait!

It was great to talk to David at the after party event, although i guess i was a little nervous/starstruck and had forgotten all the questions i wanted to ask him as soon as i started to talk. I was really keen to know what changed in the development of Far Cry 3 that took it from really bad one day to amazing the next, i guess that will remain a mystery.

The next highlight was a talk by Fredrik Wester, CEO, president and principal owner at Paradox Interactive. Perhaps my favorite quote of the conference was: "Add things (to your game) that only total nerds care about." I believe it fits with my own personality and what i look for in games, attention to detail.

Incoming call from Big, Giant, Will Wright, Head!

A little dissapointed when i realised it was only a Skype call for the Q&A session with Will Wright, as he's a bit of an idol of mine, being a massive Sim City fan, but it was a good talk non the less. Some noteworthy advice in relation to games design from Will was to look for external influences rather than looking for inspiration in games themselves. Although this is also a piece of advice that my animation tutor has been trying to impress upon me, he just backed it up.

The final talk of the day was a little short as i think we were running over time, and it was a little disappointing there wasn't much PC Gaming love, something i was going to ask about during the Q&A, but ran out of time. Although the talk did make me more excited for the upcoming VR tech, the Oculus Rift, as i keep hearing extremely positive things about it.

You are not prepared!

The first half of the after party was held at Malmaison on the Quayside, it was a chance to get to know people a little better and for all i was hesitant to drink it certainly helped ease my nerves. It was at this point i realised I wasn't as prepared as i should have been, everyone seemed to have business cards, from fellow students to MD's. It's something i won't forget next time as it's an important way to look professional, network, and get your name out there easily. Must admit though i snagged as many cards as i could from others that evening. This was where i had the opportunity to talk to David Polfeldt, although he was getting ready to leave so it wasn't the best of situations, really nice, personable guy though.

I'd also spent the previous evening trying to polish my portfolio, by uploading high-res images of my renders, not thinking about the bandwidth constraints it would put on my phone

The second half of the evening was held at the Fat Buddha Bar, at 55 degrees North. To my surprise another free bar! When i asked someone about it they replied, "Welcome to the games industry!". I met more great people and loads of Ubisoft employees turned up after work, that hadn't been at the conference itself. Talking to these guy I just need to keep applying for any position that comes up and keep doing what I'm doing in terms of developing my skills. I left relatively early (too much beer), as i wanted to be fresh for day two, and i also got the worst hiccups I've ever had, they continued all the way home, about a 40 min walk!

Day Two

The day started early at the Sage with a much needed hangover breakfast, it was good to see the faces from the previous evening that I'd talked to, and this is where it came in handy that everyone had their names on the passes around their necks!

The talks were supposed to be more design based rather than business oriented but apart from Ernest Edmonds and Alex Mays' the rest seemed pretty focused on the analytics of the gaming market. I felt really sorry for Alistair Aitcheson, he had the first talk of the day, on 'Re-imagining Multiplayer on Tablets'. He had a bit of a tough crowd as everyone nursed a hangover and it went on for a little longer than most, at least it felt that way with a sore head :S

Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle, had a pretty tough time of it as well with her talk on 'Girls and ICT'. She was suggesting that it was up to the gaming industry to promote the adoption of more women into the field. The room was pretty much all male however, and as it was brought up in the Q&A, everyone would love to have more women in the industry, gender isn't taken into account when it comes to job applications, it's the skills of the applicant that matter. It just so happens that most of the people that apply with the required skillset are male. It was a bit annoying as I've grown up as gaming as my passion, I've read, played, designed, and built games, as long as i can remember, I'd love to meet more women that are as passionate about gaming as I am but unfortunately they are few and far between. Her talk wasn't well received to say the least!

The best talk of the day and one of the highlights of the conference was by Danny Bilson, 'Building IP in the Digital World.' His resume was extremely impressive having worked for EA, THQ, and worked on films, TV, and comics, such as the Rocketeer and the Flash.

What was most interesting was something Danny said that backed up my own knowledge about games, that mechanics were pretty much everything, and it's a notion I've been trying to tell my college without much success, as they try to focus on a more narrative style of game design. The narrative should be there to enhance and engage players with the game mechanics, but polished, interesting, and fun mechanics are what keep a player coming back for more. He does kind of contradict himself by talking about Telltales, The Walking Dead game, as that's really just all narrative, and his new IP seems to be something that's already been tried by the new Defiance franchise, linking both a T.V show and an MMO, but hey, what do i know? He's been a VP at EA :P

The day finished with a wonderful BBQ at the Baltic, it was even more relaxed than the previous evening and i was even more into the swing of things in terms of networking. I've got loads of leads to follow up over the next few days, even if it's just to say Hi.

All in all it was a great first games conference, I can't wait to go back next year! I'm really looking forward to Rezzed 2013 next month but i doubt it will be as intimate as it's more a traditional event where games are showcased and are playable, really hope they have the Oculus Rift there! I was also told to look into volunteering as event staff for some of the conferences, Develop is apparently one of the biggest and best but I'm not sure i have the funds for travel and accommodation to make it down to Brighton, maybe next year!