Nordic game conference 2015

It was that time of year: Nordic game conference again sang her yearly sirens call, and from all over the north, and indeed from all over the world, game developers answered the call and descended on Malmö, on Slagthuset for three days of socialising, talks, parties, business, panels and networking. Last year, I was at Nordic game conference on my own dime, and had a blast of a time. I was there without an agenda. I had nothing to sell, no meetings lined up, no objectives to fulfil, and that meant I spent the entire conference just socialising.

 This year, I was at Nordic game conference representing the science at home project, where I work part time as a producer. I had also had a talk accepted in the nordic fast track. I had my pockets full of business card sized promotional cards for the science at home project, as well as for my own game, “the meek”.  I had released my pre-alpha trailer the day before NGC started, so this year, I had a lot of objectives to fulfil. And again this year, being at Nordic game was an absolute pleasure.

Slagthuset in Malmö looked as usual
Slagthuset in Malmö looked as usual

SESSIONS AND TALKS

I went to see the opening keynote by Rebecka Coutaz, the studio manager of Ubisoft Annecy, but that particular presentation was a serious disappointment: Ms Coutaz spent most of her presentation flipping through trailer after trailer for Ubisoft games. While these WERE admittedly very cool trailers (Ubisoft knows their shit for sure), the presentation which SHOULD have been about “Cross studio collaboration as a key to success”, became instead “Why Ubisoft is really cool”. When she did touch the subject of cross studios collaboration, the takeaways were honestly pretty collaboration 101 -ish stuff, like “be transparent and build trust” … er…. yeah ?. It’s a bit sad really, cause I think there are some interesting lessons for micro companies, like for instance my own, in collaborating across studios on shared titles.

Anyway. disappointing presentation.

After Ms. Coutaz´presentation, the Nordic game funding money were distributed. five game each received 200.000 DKK (about 30.000$). This was done relatively unceremoniously, which in some ways is a bit of a shame: I like to celebrate things like that, and I think that when you do pull people on stage, some amount of pomp and circumstance would be nice.

The recipients were Minimo from Denmark, Pukk from Sweden, Mussikids Music Box of mussiland  from Finland, Look at my drawing from Denmark and Fe from Sweden.

I spent some time just messing around on the conference floor, checking out the many booths, and shaking hands with a lot of old friends and acquaintances from different companies and places. I reconnected with the guys from Unity of course, and with a couple of the guys from Mixamo. It was nice to be able to show them my trailer, which they politely said they liked.

The pre-alpha trailer for the meek running at Mixamos booth
The pre-alpha trailer for the meek running at Mixamos booth

I swung by the new board game initiative, and was pleasantly surprised to see my good friend Lauge Luchaus game Bloom featured as one of the boardgames in there. Another cool thing was, that this years winner of Fastavals board game competition, Hivemind, was also one of the six featured nordic board games. I hope the boardic game sensation is a thing that has come to stay.

I went back to see the “founders of the industry” panel in the Unreal theatre, and was honestly a little disappointed: I mean, I certainly respect the panellists: they were four of the true founders of the nordic game industry… or maybe more like the swedish games industry, but honestly, the panel wasn’t really all that interesting, beyond a few chuckles at at few “we’re grumpy old men, dissing the youngster upstarts, except not really, cause we don’t really mean it hah hah” jokes. So. that was kinda disappointing.

The next couple of talks however picked the quality up tremendeosly: Nicholas Fortugno, as usual, was brilliant, energetic and inspiring with his talk about “Impact games” (which apparently is the new term for “serious games”). Nick talked about the ways he and others design games for change, games that have a goal of changing the way the player of the game see the world, act, or in some other way impact the player. Nick pointed at Basketball as the best impact game ever; the game that should have won the nobel prize.

Wonderful talk.

Nick explaining how basketball should have won the Nobel prize
Nick explaining how basketball should have won the Nobel prize

After Nicks talk, Nicole Lazzaro of XEOdesign opened her keynote with a call for “Free hugs”, for the audience to hug the person next to them. We did, and Nicole had us and our complete attention for the next 45 minutes. She told about the four keys to fun, super inspiring talk, and definitely something I need to read up on more. Her way of designing towards specific types and layers of fun intuitively feels exactly right for me: I recognised many of the ways I have come to design games myself: Starting with the core second to second gameplay activity: the part she called “bubble wrap fun”. then, a game loop around that, and a layer of social fun.  Nicoles talk confirmed me in that this is a good way to design, but it di so much more: it showed me WHY this is a good way to design, and even touched on the specific different hormones released in our brains as a response to those specific forms of fun. I am going to read up on her website a LOT: I feel like I have only touched the surface here.

4 keys to fun
4 keys to fun

On the evening of day 1, the indie night took place. This is basically a big party, where the indie games of the nordic indie sensation selection are showcased, while people mill around and talk. A DJ hopeless tries to get people to dance by playing way to loud music, but mostly people don’t dance, because awkward geek, and hey … there are games to play !.

Dancing ? not so much...
Dancing ? not so much…

My highlight of the evening was (apart from talking to a bazillion super interesting people) to play Zero-G. I also played “Awkward Ellie” which is a VR game in which you play the part of an elephant in a tea party. You control the trunk of Ellie with motion sensor of some sort, duct taped to the oculus headset. Of course, Ellie the elephant is not particularly good at delicately drinking tea with her trunk. Despite a few laughs, awkward Ellie seems a bit “me too” after Octo dad and surgeon simulator that both explored the concept of horrible controls for fun effect, and honestly did it better than awkward Ellie.

Iawkwardly drink tea with my trunk
I awkwardly drink tea with my trunk

I didn’t have a chance to play the winning game, “Interplanetary” although it seemed like an interesting concept. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they had won, because it didn’t strike me as a concept that would do well in that particular setting: as a single player game, pretty hardcore tactical, pretty hard to play, in a loud, party-like atmosphere, with a lot of drunk people playing. I mean, this is the kind of environment that something like Goat simulator should do well…. I digress….

Another game that caught my eye at the indie night, was “the gentleman”. I didn’t actually play it, but I loved the idea and aestethics of the game: You play as a dapper gentleman dancing his way down a street in the style of old-school Fred Astaire musicals. “The gentleman” struck me as a game with so much positive, happy vibe, with a style and feel all of its own, and a positive happy message. I really liked that, and I hope they make a ton of money.

I responsibly went back to my hotel without getting *too* drunk, but still, the next morning it was something of a challenge to get up. I quaffed copious amounts of coffee and fruit juice, and made my way to Chris Avellones keynote: Rolling the dice on Fallout Van Buren. Chris explained how he was a pen and paper roleplaying games geek when he was a kid. His talk explored expanded on and explained how he had expressed the core design of Fallout Van Buren in the form of a pen and paper roleplaying game campaign. Van Buren was the codename for a, sadly cancelled, fallout title he was working on.

The talk was good, and it is clear why Chris Avellone is one of this industrys absolute best designers, and why the Fallout series of games is so damn awesome. From the point of view of an old Fastaval veteran, such as my self though, it was interesting to see how Chris’ RPG experience is so deeply steeped in the dice rolling, playing-to-win US tradition of roleplaying games: A tradition where it is very much about the rules, the dice, the monsters and the loot, and less about the characters, their feeling, their internal drama and their relationships. And yet, fallout is a game world full of so much ambience, mood and soul. Sadly, Chris’ advice was probably useless for most other applications. He himself said as much, and added that it had taken a very, very long time to for the design to come to fruition. but there is some general lesson in there maybe: maybe a games design can be playfully created in other ways ? maybe you can gamify the design process of making a game ? pretty meta huh ? 🙂

From Chris Avellones talk, I went directly to Salone Sehgals talk about “Flirtual reality”: A game about social challenges and interactions. I am always interested in games that explore the structure of games that is prevalent in fastaval style pen and paper role-play, or nordic-style LARP games. “Flirtual reality” seems to me to maybe have a little of that DNA in it, although I wasn’t really convinced about how cool it is to play a virtual dating game. Unsurprising, Salone could reveal that “Flirtual reality” appeals much more to women than to men, in average they experienced 75% female players. one very interesting aspect that was mostly just mentioned by the speaker, and not really expanded on, was that the game apparently measured the players activities in game to classify the player in the Briggs Myers personality model, and then throw challenges appropriate to the players personality trait at the player: That was a very inspiring and intriguing idea, that I would love to hear more about.

 From that talk, I rushed to the nordic fast track, partly because I wanted to hear Natascha Roesli talk about “Shiftlings”: I’ve only ever talked to Natascha online on Facebook, but would have liked to meet her. Unfortunately, Natashca was not there, for whatever reason. Luckily, we were treated to a rapid fire version of a talk about Machineer, by Henrike Lohde of Lohika games. Henrike presented of course Machineers, but also talked about games that teach in general. She gave a nice talk about dragon box, claiming that it “stealth teaches” math, algebra specifically. I have heard personally a lot of people say that Dragonbox is in fact a successful learning game, and a few people saying that it is in fact not successful. I suppose I need to read up on it myself at some stage. Intuitively, I lean towards Dragonbox being a pretty damn good teaching game.

Henrike explaining about teaching games, and her own brilliant machineers game
Henrike explaining about teaching games, and her own brilliant machineers game

Shortly after, it was my turn to take the stage. I had a modestly sized audience. The people that were there were well engaged in the QA session after my talk, and I did get a lot of positive feedback after the talk, so I think it probably actually went OK.

Doing my best to sound smart
Doing my best to sound smart. Thank you Lauge for the photo

I suppose I must have been selling the topic wrong: I mean … I was talking about how we build games that help scientists build a REAL quantum computer ! How cool is that ? Anyway. It was also a pleasure to give the talk, and to announce the quantum game jam satellite that we’re hosting at Science at home in September.

After the talk, I went to the main floor, talking to a couple of the people that had been particularly interested in the topic, and had a great chat with them.

The rest of that day was spent in the main Unreal theatre, first in the company of David Gaider, senior writer for Bioware, talking about creating diverse characters in the bioware games, especially dragon age inquisition. Another very inspiring talk about how Bioware, who is pretty well known for actively encouraging diversity in their games, both in terms of race, gender and sexuality. David was a fountain of excellent quotes, including “If a character is not a straight, white, male, people ask you why”. He also had Nordic games best slide, the famous “But!” slide, which was about how bioware also sometimes fails to do it the right way. Guess which part of a female characters anatomy was featured on the “But!” slide 🙂

David Gayden
David Gaider

After this excellent talk, the always brilliant and amazing Ste Curran took to the stage. His performance was not a talk as such, rather it was a one-man performance art show, in which Set took us through a story and narrative with his usual fantastic timing and pacing. The story was heart rending in his description of talking to “Ghost” on a help chatline, and failing to help him or her. It was hilarious, in the description of the advice given to the (mostly ladies) manning the help line, on how to deal with callers that were “pleasuring themselves”: “I’m sorry, but I cannot talk to you while you are masturbating”: This turns out to be, not only the best quote of Nordic game 2015, but also a piece of advice that was useful in a lot of other interesting situations….

Ste’s talk was easily the best thing of Nordic game 2015, just as it was for Nordic game 2014.

I wanted to hear Tom Happs presentation about his five years working solo on Axiom Verge, because that is of course pretty much the situation I am in myself. Tom had made the mistake of flying with United airlines, and had ended up not getting to Sweden, because United sucks. this is something I can confirm from personal experience. Instead of Tom, the person responsible for bringing Axiom Verge to market talked about how the indie business environment is quite horrible from a business point of view, and what can be done about it. His primary suggestion (which I very much like) was to launch at a reasonable price point, and publicly announce that there will be no discount of the title for at least six months, and that any discounts will be announced at least 1 month ahead of time. The basic idea is to encourage people that want the game quickly, and want to support the developer, to buy, and give them some guarantee that they won’t feel cheated a few days later because the title suddenly goes on discount. This is good advice I think, and certainly a practise I will adopt.

After this longish day, I was getting kinda tired, and went back to the hotel for a brief rest. I missed the nordic game awards show, which I suppose is kinda bad style, but I was just plain too damn tired. Later that night was the Nordic game Gala dinner and party. I had the pleasure of sitting at the “Player of games” table, filled with a lot of the, mostly nordic scene, game devs from the Facebook group “Player of games”. That was a nice place to sit, and one where there was a lot of super interesting people to talk with.

 The party that followed was as these things are: loud, a lot of beer to be drunk, and a lot of people trying to have a conversation. The best part of the party was outside, talking to friends, and on stage singing “Maraoke”: Karaoke with classic 80s songs re-lyricced by Ste Curran to be about computer games instead. “I want it my way” becomes “my game is free to play” etc. I honestly do not remember the lyrics all that well, but it was fun.

Rock start game developer
Rock start game developers

The final day of a conference is always a little sad. especially when the conference is such a personal affair as NGC is. I started out by seeing Elina Arponens talk about their game “Drama game”. I have followed Dramagame since the company was founded: As I mentioned earlier, games that have their core around nordic style LARP or pen and paper role-play traditions holds a special place in my heart since the days of Runestone. I have also played Dramagame a long time ago, and then recently some more. It is a super interesting game, although I have my doubts about the execution of it: The story lines, characters and core mechanics are too cliche for my taste, and the fact that you have to wait for a while for a scenario to start, then play for something like 45 minutes, where the experience is damaged severely if anyone leaves…. these things conspire as sone serious flaws in the game, and yet, I so very, very much want them to succeed.

Elinas talk was, I hope, an eyeopener to the audience.

From her talk, I went to hear Ryan Cash talk about how to properly launch an Indie game, using his gorgeous snowboarding game “Alto’s adventure” as a case story. The talk was very mobile, very App Store focussed, which of course was kind of a letdown. However, the talk was also full of general good advice in marketing.

Last year, one of the indie sensation games was the brilliantly stupid “Goat simulator”. Since then, Goat Simulator has been tremendously successful , selling quite a lot of units. Armin Ibrisagic, the guy hilariously running Goat simulators community management, held a wonderful “I don’t give a shit” talk about how they logically break every rule in the book with their PR and marketing, in perfect harmony with their game which also breaks pretty much all the rules in the book. This was another talk full of awesome quotes, like e.g. “It’s OK to talk shit back to the customers, if you’re funny while you do it”.

 And funny they are….

goat simulators most viral image ever offers "for no reason" as incentive :-)
goat simulators most viral image ever offers “for no reason” as incentive 🙂

This was followed by a somewhat tired and disappointing panel about how hard it is to be indie, but also about how rewarding it is, on a personal level. Much of the panel was about publisher or self publish, some relatively obvious advice.. so.. yeah… It annoys me, that I didn’t see “How to get journalists to cover you” instead.

Like last year, the conference was hilariously wrapped up by Thomas Vigild & All stars. This was, as usual, a messy, irreverent affair, but a lot of fun.

TRENDS

WOMEN

Last year, I talked about women in games being a trend. Wonderfully, it seems to be a trend that is continuing: I saw a lot more women all over the conference, and at the talks. One of the better tweets of Nordicgame was by a woman, showing a picture of an all-female panel discussion, where the topic was “managing your career”: So … an all female panel about a topic not about being a woman in games. That is a cool thing. When we get to the point, where an all female panel discussing something is an unremarkable thing, then we will finally be in a good place. I think there’s a long way to go still, but NGC 15 left me hopeful: even if Denmark sucks at attracting women and girls to tech and game development, the rest of scandinavia seems to be doing better.  I also feel that theres a better understanding for feminism, also among the males. But ! There’s a way to go yet. A female friend of mine, working at a AAA studio in Malmö told me “There’s a lot of people playing the game at a lower difficulty setting, and they don’t even know it”. She also told me a depressing story about how she and her team had fought the good fight to get a middle-aged female character into their game, but were ultimately unsuccessful because the (american) focus group had rejected the concept. An exec in the american branch of the company had told her that the character had ultimately failed, “because she wasn’t f***able enough”.

 We have quite a way to go yet before we reach the promised land.

VR

Oculus was not new last year, but this year saw GearVR demoed on the floor, an indie game sensation VR game, and a VR Game jam happening just after the conference at Shayla games. Also, VR had some more buzz this year than I felt it had last year. It is my distinct feeling that VR is just on the verge of breaking a wave in a big way. I think that all that is needed is a good game that really opens this market, and I think this is why Shayla games VR game jam is so supported by Unity. Of course there is a personal connection between Unity tech and Shayla games, but there is also a clear interest from Unity for VR games to break through. I personally will be looking very closely after this trend, and like everyone else, try to think about what kind of games could be made better with VR.

Gear VR looks very promising.
Gear VR looks very promising.

END OF THE INDIE DREAM?

A number of the talks this year was about how horrible the business environment is for indies. A number was also about optimism and opportunity in the indie ecosphere. In some ways, it seems like the indies are waking up to the facts of life: It is harder to sell a game tun it is to make one. Mobile is becoming much, much harder to break into, and maybe even steam is getting more difficult to get noticed on. It is hard, very hard to get journalists to write about your little indie game, and consumers do not care that you are just a few guys with a shoestring budget working weekends and evenings: They will still compare your game with AAA productions with three digit million dollar budgets.

It IS hard, and there is a LOT of competition, but it is also an age where the barrier to entry has never been as small before. Of course one thing causes the other, and the more indies there are, the larger a market there is for tools. this should make the ecosystem of tools and third party services and assets even better: When there are many gold diggers, there are many people selling shovels and picks, and they are probably the most likely to earn money.

Amen to that
Amen to that

As I felt the buzz, the younger the indie dev, the more optimistic. The older indies, the ones that have one hit and a string of misses behind them, are more sceptical. I personally think this is a good time to be stubborn and patient, to stick it out and stay alive until times change for the better.

SOCIAL, TRULY SOCIAL, GAMES

Flirtual reality and Dramagame seem to be doing well with a new genre of games: Games that are about navigating the social interactions between people. This is to me a significant evolution in the genre, allowing us as a medium to explore stories about other things than zombies and guns and explosions. It is also unsurprising to me, that the two talks I heard about these subjects were both held by women, and both made it clear that this is a class of games that appeal massively to women. I still believe that both Flirtual reality and Drama game are only scratching the surface of something really, really interesting, and potentially disruptive. When “Seed” failed commercially almost ten years ago, I said that I hoped investors in the business would draw the right conclusions, not the wrong ones from our failure: I hoped then, and hope still, that people would draw the conclusion that we failed in execution, not in idea and concept. It seems like there’s a new breed of games on the way now that may be on to a better way of executing on those ideas. Since Seed, I’ve had my own dreams and thoughts about how to pull this off in the right way, but I still don’t have the answer. Maybe they do ?

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.

IMG_1852
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….

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“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:

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“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

Game changer game jam

So. I went to a gamejam.

I’ve been wanting to try a gamejam for some time now. While I was development director at Unity Studios we did a couple of game jams, but I’ve never tried a gamejam where the other participants were people I hadn’t worked with before. Gamejams seems to be becoming something like a movement by now. A sort of sub-sub culture of the sub culture of Indie game devs.

The particular game jam I attended, was Game changer game jam right here in Århus. In fact, right in Filmby århus where we incidentally headquartered during the Runestone game development days.  The game jam was organised by a couple of local guys, Robin Sverd and Jonas Klemmensen, both of them Kaospilots.  The philosophy of the game changer game jam is to make games that change the world. So, no pressure there :-).

The jam kicked of with presentations from Christian Fonnesbech about cloud chamber which I assume you, dear reader, know about. Otherwise, check it out: It’s a cool project. After Christian, Adriel Wallick and Rami Ismail gave us a very informal but highly informative presentation about why they both love game jamming, and why game jamming is something all game devs should do frequently. Both of them also very much live what they preach: Adriel is working on her “one game per week” project, and has been working on it for 30+ weeks. She told us that she at the current time spends most of her time basically travelling from gamejam to gamejam. And making one game pr. week. on top of that. Crazy stuff. Rami seemed to be travelling at least as much, maybe more than Adriel.  After Rami and Adriels presentation, Ryan Green floored the audience with his extremely personal tale about his game “That dragon: Cancer”. The game is an autobiographical story documenting Ryans family against, as he put it, “the monster we found in my son Joels brain”. Joel Green was declared terminal at the age of two, and died very recently at the age of five. Hearing Ryans story was inspirational and emotional on a completely different level deeper than I had thought, and for me, this was where the ante was upped quite seriously. This was where I realised that this gamejam was not going to be about making a “fun” game, but be about making a game that wanted something more than entertain for a few minutes.

After Ryans presentation, Michelle Mildwater of the volonteer NGO “Hope now” stepped up to the mike, to present the theme of the Jam. The theme was “Justice” and the “Hope now” organisation was an optional specific topic we could base our games on. “Hope now” helps trafficked women in Denmark, and Michelle explained about her work to us, and about the kinds of difficulties trafficked people (In Denmark mostly women) face. She also educated us about the global situation sorrounding trafficking, and how it extends way beyond sex slaves, into also good old fashioned labour slavery.

Bmpg8lyIIAEUSQN After Michelles presentation, it was time to team up.

I browsed around, and ran into a small group of students that looked like they were forming a group. I asked if I could join in, and just like that, we had a team.

I’m 43, and the person I spent most of the Jam working closely with, was Rikke, a student from Grenaa IT College, at 21. I don’t think she was the youngest on our team. Let’s just say I felt pretty damn old, but old has its advantages. I found out during the next 48 hours, that I can still summon the stamina to pull an all nighter (well … almost anyway) if I have to. It was fun to hack away as a part of the team, even if I did possibly maybe push a little bit of structure and just maybe possibly did take a teensy weensy bit of producer responsibility on. Anyway.

We decided on a concept where the player manages a mega corp. As the manager, you’re supposed to pursue business opportunities around the world. Eact turn, you have three actions, which you can use to accept or decline business opportunities. Most opportunties will earn you some money, but maybe have a shady morally iffy side to it, like hiring cheap labour in e.g. India.

But hey: You’re making money right ?

When you’ve done your three actions, the board will review your actions, and especially will look at the bottom line. After the boardmeeting, you will see news stories talking about the business opportunities you chose, e.g. talking about how “Megacorp” used slave labour in India…. Some of the stories would be based on real stories about corporate greed, and we would link to the real story. The idea with the game is to explain how corporations that are usually made up of good moral people, end up becoming evil, as many large corporations do.

You can check out the game here, on itch.io. You can also see the other games from the game jam on that site, here. I especially recommend you taking a look at the winning game “Are we there yet”, which has a really, really cool and well made game idea. Also “Companion” is cool, with a lot of soul and ambience, if somewhat lacking in gameplay :-).

So. what is my impression of going to a  gamejam ? It is always cool and inspiring to participate in something as condensed and in many ways extreme as this. I can recognise a lot of the energy from similar gatherings of geeks (I’m looking at you fastaval 🙂 ). Also, there is something very particular about game devs, and about how creative people become after sleep deprivation and complete focus on one particular thing for many many hours straight on. So, I am sure I will go to another game jam some other time. I liked jamming with my team, but I think the next time around, I’ll try to find some people that are more at my approximate level of experience and age, if possible. I think that will be more fun for me, and more fun for my team. I’m afraid I was a little dominating in our team. If so, sorry team :-).

I think I will want to be involved in next years GCGJ, if the guys decide to do it again….