Nordic Game Conference 2014

I love NGC. It’s beginning to feel like coming home, or maybe visiting some friends I only get to see at various game industry events around the world. Of course, not everyone is at every event, but there’s definitely an overlap. And of course, the beauty is that for every event I attend, a few extra people get added to the circle.

The only thing I hate about these events is that I suck at remembering names. Not faces: I remember faces like a champ. I have that shit down to an art: Let me have a conversation with someone about something interesting, and I will remember the face. I will however also, with just about 95% probability forget the name. So: If you meet me at a conference, and I look a little panicky, the truth probably is, that I remember your face, and is doing my damndest to hide the fact that I can’t remember your name.

Another interesting thing, for me, is that I apparently am a guy people tend to remember, even if they’ve only met me a few times. This means that I actually relatively often get chatted up by people I’ve met at another event, where we’ve had an interesting conversation. And I remember the face, and I know that I should be able to remember the name, and what we talked about the last time around. And I can’t, and I feel like the shallowest asshat on planet earth. Please: Don’t take it personally. I genuinly am interested, I just suck at remembering names.

But I digress. I can do that, cause this is my blog.

This year at NGC was special for me, in that I not only was there on my own dime, as the lone squirrel representative for Ratatosk games. For a number of reasons, I was also at NGC with no real agenda. I had pretty much zero business reason to attend, and absolutely zero plans to buy, sell or promote anything. These two things combined to give me a much more relaxed and pleasant experience at NGC. Interestingly, I also found that somehow, and in some senses, I actually made *more* relevant business work than other years, where maybe I tried a bit too much.

So… Trends: What is going on in the Nordic game scene these days ? Thomas Vigild and the other guys doing the last wrap up session also posed that question, but I dont feel they really answered it, so maybe I should give it a shot.

WOMEN

No. Women are not a new thing in Nordica. We’ve had them for a while, and they’ve rocked for a while. In fact, equality, feminism and equal opportunity has been an agenda for longer in Nordica than in the rest of the world, and we’re doing pretty well. So well in fact, that many men and women in Nordica maybe take it a little bit too granted, and maybe underestimate how many problems still remain. I’ll get back to that… For me, it was great to see many more women than I’ve seen at earlier NGCs. I like that our industry is finally becoming more diverse. Another thing I like, is that when I meet young women in the industry now, they aren’t necessarily PR or marketing any more. They are devs: they are coders, artists, designers, testers, hackers, level designers and that is a great thing.

I met these two:

Nitro games Community manager and Friend

and approached them. I didn’t really think about this before I approached them, but exactly because we were at NGC, I assumed that they were both devs on the game they represented. That they were part of the team. At an American event, like GDC or E3, I’d have assumed they were hired booth talent: that they were two of the booth babes these events have become (in)famous for. In America, I wouldn’t approach them in the same way. I have a pretty good geekdar, an ability to recognise a fellow geek, an it didn’t let me down here either: The blue haired pirate is Ida-Emilia Kaukonen, community manager of Nitro games from Finland. I didn’t catch the other girls name, but she was a friend of Ida’s, and also a gamer geek, along for NGC to help promote a game she loved herself. Pretty much all of Nitro games’ games are about Pirates, which of course explains the customes.

I would LOVE to see more of *this* kind of promotion in Nordica. To me, the differences is subtle, but very, very important: These girls were not hired to be a pretty face and a nice cleavage to draw in guys to hear about the games. They were a dev and a fan cosplaying as characters from the game universes they love.

Friday, I went for the #1ReasonToBe panel discussion, partly because of the experience I had had on the conference of there being more women than in earlier days, partly because I wanted to double check my own assumptions about my own thinking about women in games, equality and sexism. It is a topic that is becoming more and more interesting for me, for a lot of reasons, maybe also because I have two daughters, and I am beginning to think more about what kind of world they are going into, and what sort of world they should be going into.

The panel consisted of these five women, plus Julie Heyde who isn’t on this pic

the women of the fisrt Nordic edition #1reasontobe
the women of the fisrt Nordic edition #1reasontobe panel

each of whom delivered a microtalk about their own personal experience with being a woman in the games industry. Initially the vibe went in the direction of the women saying that they basically felt well treated mostly. That they didn’t feel overtly harassed. That they felt pretty much welcome in the industry. But it also quickly felt like they all had more to say; something hurt. Something was afoot. One presenter, then another teared up a little, or had trouble getting the words out. It became obvious to the audience that there is something very important going on here, even if it is hard to put into words, numbers or precise tendencies.  I think the presenters themselves were probably at least as surprised by their own emotional responses as the audience was, and I think it points to a problem that is emotional at its core: Too many guys, maybe myself included, make too many women feel slighted, insulted, unwelcome, disrespected, objectified or in some other way subtly mistreated. The guys may not realize it, may not want it, may think that they aren’t doing anything wrong. To me, it is important to not feel guilty, because that makes me go on the defensive, and nobody wins out on that. I did NOT get an impression of six women asking for help, or complaining about a big huge issue, but I DID get a serious reminder that there is an issue, and an issue that we should maybe all take a little bit more seriously.

Women are an important trend in gamedev: They love playing games, and they also want to MAKE games. I, for one, welcome this development.

INDIES

Of course, indies aren’t a “new” development, but there has been a veritable explosion in the past couple of years. There are a ton of reasons for this: Unity, and the other engines that follow Unitys lead, like Unreal etc. This tech and more importantly the business model sorrounding it, is a tremendous driver for independent devs, and their ability to deliver much cooler projects, for much much lower budgets. I have half-joked with other veterans (Yeah.. I’m a veteran now 🙂 ) of the Nordic industry, that “back in the day” when we stated out, it was much more difficult to make a game: You had to be able to program and stuff. We’ve joked about how we are getting out competed by people half our age, who can barely program. The thing is, it’s partly true; It IS a lot easier to make a game today. It is possible to get production values that 5-8 years ago would have cost millions to achieve, for a few thousand today. More affordable engine tech is one important driver, but all parts of the eco system are getting democratized these days. Want profesional animations ? Buy a 1500$ year subscription at Mixamo. Want assloads of cool affordable stock 3D graphics ? Asset store. Want stock code for typical tasks ? Asset store. Want profesional, free analytics ? Gameanalytics.com, flurry or any one of the many other options. Want a  distribution deal ? Appstore, Android, google windows store etc.

It’s still hard to make a fun game though. Its still tricky to tell a good story, and it is still impossible to tell if a game is any good, until you play it. But now, where all the other stuff is so much more affordable and quick, it is also possible to try out many more thing much faster, and sort the wheat from the chaff, so maybe even the creative process itself has become easier, by extension. It has become cheaper and faster to iterate, cheaper and faster to fail early.  So, what that means is, that many, many more people are making games. I think the ratio of good games to shit games is still the same, so its still maybe ten percent of the games that are actually any good. The difference is the volume. These days, there are more good games out there than I for one have time to play. One dev I met, talked about her “Pile of shame”: A pile of games she hadn’t had time to play yet.  I know the feeling.

Everything isn’t all roses though: The one thing that has gotten harder since “back then”, is discovery. Discovery has become an absolute, cast-iron bitch. And nobody has a good solution. This problem is of course directly related to the much larger volume of games coming out these days. I get the impression that iOS is the worst market, in terms of discovery, followed closely by Android and the other mobile market places. Steam seems to be a little less horrible, once you’re in, but it seems discovery in the greenlight program is increasingly becoming a problem.  I fear, that ven though Steam right now looks good, it is a window that will close soon. God I hope I’m wrong.

Where was I ? Oh yes. Indies. The big trend as I see it, is that there are more Indies. A LOT more indies than earlier. And therefore, the very best handful of games are simply better than they were before. This became very visible at NGC this year: The six games selected for the Indie game night were really, really good, each and every one of them. The diversity was enormous: From the highly artistic  Future Unfolding, by Spaces Of Play (Sweden) to the unapolegetic local multiplayer retro blast Orbit by 4Bit Games (Norway). From the horror of “Among the sleep” by Krillbite (Norway)  to the slapstick madness bugfest of “Goat simulator” by Coffee Stain Studios (Sweden) . From the retro of Savant – Ascent Savant – Ascent, by D-Pad Studio (Norway) to the innovative  Shiftlings,  by Rock Pocket Games (Norway). Else { Heart.break()}  by Erik Svedäng, Niklas Åkerblad, Tobias Sjögren, Oscar Rydelius (Sweden) and Chronology by osao games (Denmark) both had innovative mechanisms, but I didn’t get to try these.

I voted for Goat sim and Among the sleep to win the Indie Sensation, and personally, I was happy to see Among the sleep take home the award.

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Among the sleep. You play as a toddler in a dark world…..

Other microtrends

I saw quite a lot of ad-networks, app promotion agencies and “get your app out there” companies promoting their products at NGC. To me, most of them look the same. I won’t be the one to say that they work, or that they don’t, but my gut feeling says, that they are right in seeing an obvious need in the market: the need for better discovery and user acquisition. I’m not sure that they solve that need though.

Weird game hybrids seem to be up and coming: Oculus had a nice booth showcasing their HD glasses. A couple of games mixed TCG and app, or App and AR or App and ARG. Maybe the amount of buzz that Cloud chamber has been getting these past months is inspiring people to think out of the box in terms of what a computer game could potentially be ?

TALKS

I went to a lot of talks this year, because I had no agenda, because I love to go to talks and learn something new, and because there were a lot of really awesome talks.

“Nordic dev culture” David Polfeldt.

I saw this presentation at DICE Europe last year, and it was a super inspiring talk for me at that time. David is a great speaker, exploring the question “Why are the nordic developers so good ?” He answers the question with a thouroughly well researched talk, full of anectdotes, tongue in cheek humor, and a lot of truth.

I met David later on the conference floor, and to my delight and surprise he actually recognized me :-). Last time we interacted, we won the DICE go-cart team competition. He promised me a tour of Massive next time I come to Malmö: David, If you’re reading this: I will take you up on it !

“My other car’s a Cobra Mk III” David Braben

Elite is probably the first game I have really, like REALLY geeked out on. I have spent ridiculous amounts of time on that game, and that game is one of the reasons I am in game development today. So, to me it was a huge fanboi moment to sit in the same room as David Braben (!!) as he presented his vision for Elite: Dangerous. I think that that will be another game I am going to spend a lot of time on….

IMG_1842
“Old timer”: I gotta go with “yep” there…

 

“Killing the games Industry” Ste Curran

I saw Ste Currans presentation at the last NGC, and it blew me away. I have said nice things about some of the other presenters, but Ste is something else. When he takes the stage at NGC, it doesn’t feel like a presentation, it feels like a theatre piece, or a poetry recital. There story he told this year, was the story of the murder of his True love and soulmate, the games industry. He captured the audience with his heart gripping tale of finding the dying games industry on the floor of the London flat he shared with her. And he proceeded to name the suspects, and murder weapons, all 100 of them. F2p, FPS,RTS, three letter acronyms, Indies, Big business, casual games (because you cannot say “I love you” casually) and many many others.

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Ste Curran presenting suspect #37 : Indie games are killing the game industry,

You can catch the full presentation here

It isn’t possible to retell the experience, except to say that it was highly emotional, and basically an expertly executed micro theater performance. If for nothing else, I would gladly come to NGC, just for Ste’s performance.

“Creating and Visualising an online world” Matt Mocarski

Matt went through the creative process behind creating the world of Wildstar.

“New Unity GUI system”, Rune Skovby Johansen

Rune worked very briefly for us in Unity Studios, before moving on to Unity Technologies where he more rightly belonged. I like Rune, and I like to catch up with him, and chat about what he’s doing in Unity, when we run into each other on conferences. I wanted to catch his talk, because I wanted to find out whats in store with the new GUI system for Unity. And it looks really, really cool. To me, it looks like the very well polished NGUI system by Tasharen has been integrated smoothly and cleanly into the core of Unity. This is not surprising, since Unity hired Tasharen to help them implement the new GUI system. I imagine that a lot of the experiences from NGUIs users has gone into the new GUI system, and that shows. I’m looking forward to starting to use it, and as far as I can see, the time I invest in getting to know NGUI and getting used to think about GUI in that way now, is time well spent.

“Everyplay” : Oscar Clark

The first time I saw Everyplay, was at NGC. not this one, one of the earlier ones. I remember being blown way immediately, and immediately seeing why this was really, really cool. I’d never seen a presentation by Oscar Clark, but I had heard good stuff about him, so I was looking forward to the preso. Clark didn’t dissapoint, although the presentation did come about a bit as a sales pitch.

“#1ReasonToBe” : Panel, Dejana Dimovska

I’ve already  written a little about this panel above, but I want to single out the brilliant microtalk “Not bad for a human” by Karin Ryding (@CrainFuzzbrain). The minute I saw the title on her first slide, I knew exactly what she was referring to, and why this was cool. The talk of course drew on “Aliens” and the quote Lance Henriksens character Bishop utters to Ripley at the end of the movie. “Not bad for a human”. Not, “Not bad for a skirt”, but “Not bad for a human.  Also, in the same talk, she threw this slide up, and said “So, I was at this meeting with a venture capitalist last year…..”

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I snapped this pic, and tweeted it with her words directly, and Thomas Vigild later nominated that as one of the best tweets of #nordicgame. Had I won, I would have given the prize (a ticket for next NGC) directly to Karin. Her microtalk was probably the one with the worst example of power abuse, disrespect and general douchebaggery the panel presented.

#1reasontobe was to me the most thought provoking panel, and probably the one that will affect me the most going forward, similar to the way my good friend David Mariners talk last year deeply affected me.

“Next gen story design”: Leah Hoyer

Leah Hoyer from Microsoft gave a good talk about using narrative in games, how narrative and gameplay should be closely aligned, and how they should strengthen each other. Nothing particularly groundbreaking but still a good walkthrough of the basics of narrative in games. She had this slide, which to me was a damn good slide:

IMG_1863

“Kickstarter” Cindy Au.

Cindy Au from Kickstarter gave us a nice walkthrough of the kickstarter platform. Good advice about the project video. Summarizing shamelessly she adviced to make it personal, make it about you, your story and of course your project. She advised to get a good solid hook into the first two minutes of the video. She also told us a lot of statistics about kickstarter. To me, the most interesting statistic was, that the succes rate of projects is around 43% (!), and even more interesting, that the rate has stayed pretty much constant. That is interesting, because it counts against the otherwise “conventional wisdom” that there is a kickstarter “fatigue” effect. So. Interesting stuff, all in all.

“Analytics playbook” Allison Bilas

I was a little disappointed with this talk. Allison clearly knows what she’s talking about, and seems extremely knowledgeable about analytics and how to make use of all that wonderful data, but I felt like I got a message that was basically:

1: figure out what question you want answered

2: Figure out what data to gather to answer the question

3: Gather and analyse data

4: Act on conclusion.

Well…. duh.

I’m dissapointed in the talk, because I am damn sure she could have informed us a hell of a lot more, because it was obvious she knew what she was talking about. I would have loved to see a specific, step by step example (fictional, if need be) of the playbook in action. It all became too theoretical, too general.

“NG14 summary”: Thomas Vigild & co.

The closing panel was a somewhat playful and deliberately silly affair, chaired by Thomas Vigild. I would have liked it to be a little more serious, and maybe have drawn a few more interesting conclusions about what is going on in the Nordic scene, maybe tease a little for the next years conference. Anyway, the format was apparently decided to be silly and fun, and that goal was fulfilled nicely.

Closing

NGC 2015 will absolutely and definitely include me, even if I again will have to come on my own dime. I remember expressing some degree of dissappointment to Erik Robertson back at the first Nordic game conference. Back then, I was dissapointed that the language was nordic, that the scope felt restricted to the nordic countries, also in terms of market. I remember Erik saying words to the effect of “Give us time, we WILL be better”. He, and the rest of the organising team for NGC lives up to that promise, and NGC is becoming increasingly important, and at the same time, a super “hyggelig” conference. 

As always, if you liked this, spread the word with the links below, and if you dont want to miss out the next time I write about something, follow me on twitter @krolldk

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