Category Archives: conferences

GDC 2013 feedback on speakers

This year: I hadn’t even left the talk before I got this email:

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 11.36.14

This is excellent. Easy and automated (using the RFID tags in the pass itself, that’s scanned as you walk in the door), it’s quick and accurate.

As a bonus, I can rely on it to give me an email record of which talks I attended (so I can easily look them up, share with colleagues, etc).

I’m looking forwards to more conferences doing this…

A brief aside: Speakers at UnConferences can sometimes be very wrong

Great writeup in PCGamer about GameCamp4, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the feel of an unconference (and google the term if you want to know more).

The first unconference I went to, the very first session … the speaker clearly didn’t know what he/she was talking about. They mouthed a bunch of nice-sounding soundbites, but way out of touch with reality. Worked out OK – the audience took over, collectively, and turned it into a great session, with lots of people providing their own knowledge.

That’s when an unconference works great – weak speakers displaced by a more knowledgeable audience.

And then we have GameCamp4. I missed the session on “crunch”. If I’d been there, I’d have cried bloody murder before letting them settle on this:

“The general consensus at the end of the half hour seemed to be that, while a lovely idea, games needed a crunch time, otherwise they’d never be finished on time. The idea that crunch wasn’t all that productive was raised, but there was enough experience in the room to shoot it down. Turns out games developers are quite happy with their battery farm conditions. Or at least, the ones in the room.”

“enough experience … to shoot it down” … WTF? Bullshit.

Let me be absolutely clear, as someone with 10+ years experience, having run teams at multiple studios, and having worked on multi-million-selling titles:

Crunch is *abuse*. Crunch is never “necessary” to finish a game, it’s something the management requires or allows, when morally they ought to be preventing it.

Anyone who says differently, first ask their job role; If they say “producer”, “manager”, or worst of all “director” bear in mind these are the roles where people directly benefit through the abuse of others; be very suspicious. It’s akin to asking a Slave-Trader whether slavery is “a Bad Thing”.

I wrote a lot more, but it came across as a rant against Mike Capps (who’s infamous for implying that only 2nd-rate developers don’t crunch) and Erin Hoffman (who’s infamous for railing against crunch, and then doing a volte face and implying that all the abusive corporates are just poor, misunderstood humans who are lovely really).

I’ve got an idea; I’ll give you 25%…

…if you:

  1. finish it
  2. and design it
  3. and build it
  4. and test it
  5. and refine it
  6. and launch it
  7. and sell it
  8. and market it

…for me.

This was the tempting offer whispered in my ear this evening by a hard-up web-developer at a networking event, once we were alone, and he’d heard I developed iPhone apps.

For the record, this is the worst offer I’ve ever had – even in the days of the iPhone goldrush (2008, mid 2009) the least I was offered was “one third”. Since then, even the unrealistic offers usually start at $2,000 cash up-front.

I smiled, and said nothing.

I carried on the conversation, when he suddenly broke into a long (minutes) tirade of abuse in the middle of the venue, because I’d “blown [him] off” when he’d “offered to share [his] great idea”.

I stood there in silence for another 30 seconds, wondering what to do: should I respond in kind? should I try to help him? should I walk away?

I decided to try and help him. I asked him to think about how his offer sounded to someone who makes apps for clients every day. (he ranted about how I thought I “was the Big Man – BUT YOU’RE NOT!”). I apologized profusely for offending him, and said I’d try to explain (he told me to “scuttle off, little man”). I made one more attempt – I pointed out that after inadvertently offending him, I was at least trying to make amends, and all he seemed to want to do was insult me. He sneered.

So, my public-service act for the day:

How much does it cost to develop an iPhone application? (tl;dr – $250,000 for a good one)

(note: when we talk to clients, I advise them the sane limit is c. $150k for a great one, or $75k for a good one. The $250k figure is accurate if you’re doing own-IP and it HAS to be awesome (like twitterific, quoted) – but you always end up spending more when it’s your own IP – or if you work with extremely expensive digital agencies who don’t have in-house iPhone specialists. Most of the good, solid iPhone dev teams are about half that price)

NB: this problem (“I’ve got an idea, I’ll let you have it in return for a profit share”) is prevalent among people who know nothing about computer games, as much as for people who know nothing about generic iPhone apps (but who read the papers and think they’re sitting on a goldmine. That’s very interesting in and of itself…

At the end of the day, I walked away from Mr. Abusive. Some people just don’t want to be helped, sadly…

Why I’m not going to GDC 2011

I just got two more emails about GDC attendance, and had to apologise that I won’t be there. Hopefully, this post will head off some of the rest.

Disclaimer: for the past 4 or 5 years, I’ve run one of the main calendars of unofficial GDC events. Every night of the conference, I’ve had invites to at least 3 parties, usually 5 or 6. This year, I’m not going, so I’m not bothering with the calendar – sorry, it’s a lot of time and effort (I used to personally check every single event + time + location), and if I’m not at the conference, there’s no point in me doing it.

Instead, I’ll be running my company. I wish I could justify going to San Francisco for GDC, but I need to focus my efforts on making sure we don’t slip up…

Generally, I don’t go to games-industry conferences unless I’m speaking (I used to go to many of them as a delegate). At my level of experience (technical director / studio head) it isn’t worth it. It may be worth going for the non-conference parts, but it’s not worth paying for the show itself. In the last 4 years, I can only remember learning one significant thing by attending a conference session – courtesy of David Edery (who was a fellow panellist at LOGIN/ION – so, incidentally, I was speaking on that occasion too).

I made the decision about a year ago that I wouldn’t go back to GDC until/unless I was invited to speak. I love GDC. I love being there, and I love meeting all the wondeful people there (and catching up with old friends). But … I decided I would no longer put effort into pitching a proposal to them – if they didn’t ask me in, either my work was no longer interesting enough to the community OR it was interesting but not relevant enough / not proven enough to justify me pontificating at my peers.

Historically, the above statement is often proven false: games industry conferences treat most of the speakers so poorly that rarely do they attract (or retain) the best speakers – it’s “buy em cheap, pile em high”. They tend (NB: this is not exclusive – they do lots of good too!) to attract the famous speakers (by showering them with accolades and free publicity), and retain the speakers who are about to launch a new game, and who need the free press. The truly important people? The influencers? Meh. Sometimes, but often not. Often, the really useful stuff at GDC is stated only when drunk, and at parties. Which are free to attend…

However, I felt it was a good metric: the few who *do* get chased-down by organizers to speak always (IME) “ought” to be speaking – the organizers know lots of the right people, and chase them assiduously. Although … sadly, the chase-ees often give mediocre talks, probably because they didn’t care enough … because they were cajoled into speaking, rather than choosing to.

(In my experience, volunteers who are doing something because you tricked them into it generally give little; those who do it out of personal interest / engagement tend to blow the roof off.)

Ironic and tragic.

But, yet – a great way to test (effortlessly) if your areas of interest are of great importance, or if you’re imperceptibly turning into Chris Crawford (founder of the original CGDC, which became GDC), and have gone off on a tangent THAT NO-ONE CARES ABOUT.

This year, thanks to the urging of two people on the advisory board(s), I put in some proposals anyway. In all honesty, I was too busy with work, and servicing clients, to notice the deadlines coming and going, so it was all done last-minute. My proposals sucked. The main one, though, was (IMHO) clearly important and worthwhile – rough around the edges, but I cited *3 years* of R&D behind it (even if I didn’t have time to write it all out in detail).

(NB: c.f. my previous statement about Crawford-ism: I can only tell you what *I* believe, I can’t fairly judge how important / irrelevant this stuff is to the rest of the industry)

The main one (on entity systems) was rejected silently, the second one (on mobile / iPhone) I didn’t get time to finish. Laughably, it was judged anyway – I heard on the grapevine that the judges thought it was a crap proposal. Well, duh – I only filled in the the title and a few aides-memoire on the rest of it – I ran out of time before I’d even decided what I wanted to say. But the process (apparently) auto-submitted my empty proposal anyway. Sigh. That implies to me that a lot of games-industry speakers only put a half-arsed effort into their talks – otherwise, the system would just auto-ignore the incomplete entries.

Anyway … if you do go to GDC, please have a great time. And if you’re not sure what to do, short-cut the few years it took me to work it out – go read Darius’s blogposts on newbies and games-industry conferences … I wish I’d known his tips before I first went to GDC!

TEDxBrighton only receives positive feedback

It’s a bit mean to hilight just one culprit here – this isn’t that rare – but it’s something I’ve been meaning to talk about for ages. Sometimes, bad or broken user-interface has a direct, measureable impact on a business, due to increased customer-support costs (usually CS is paid by the minute or by the hour), or due to incorrect marketing and sales campaigns that are funded in future.

I’m not a UX person, I’m a games person. So, of course, it’s the game-design side that interests me here. Are there any free, public reports on the same phenomenon in games? I have vague memories of this coming-up at at least one of the games companies I’ve worked for, but we couldn’t find sufficient evidence at the time. IIRC, the argument was over “where is the point of diminishing returns?”, given the idea that decreased costs in support-queries justify *some* additional spending on the user-interface for a game.

Anyway, in the case I just saw, people who applied for TEDx but failed to get a ticket are auto-subscribed to a mailing list whether or not they asked for it (not unusual, but the practice always stinks of spam to me), and if they unsubscribe (manually) then their comments just get ignored: the website has been constructed so that the feedback form can’t be submitted.

I’m sure it was an accident (I’m assuming they checked the form before going live, but that it only works in one web-browser. All I know is that it didn’t work in Firefox). Either way, it would seem to ensure that “the first licensed TEDx conference” has great feedback when the licensors come to evaluate it.

Will this cost them? Not so clearly as other examples (see below for anecdotal evidence), but cost may come when they fail to take into account the negative feedback that people tried to give them, but was never received. (I’m assuming that nearly everyone who unsubscribes will have negative feedback – although in the past, when I’ve been monitoring un-sub forms, we’ve often seen 5-10% positive comments in there too. Sometimes you even see people “apologizing” for unsubscribing from your mailing lists!)

Going back to the issue of *actual* financial loss … this reminds me of a couple of talks at last year’s UX Brighton conference, and the websites listing black-hat/white-hat ways of “manipulating” the audience by making the “unsubscribe” and “refund” forms legally valid but practically impossible to complete.

In those cases, the gain/loss is usually quantifiable (allegedly). Although the practice was unanimously reviled by people at the conference, someone stood up and admitted to some experience in it – with the observation that although it “Worked” the client had then asked to un-do the process, because it increased the number of angry people phoning Customer Support (instead of using the website), and CSR staff are expensive enough that the practice had decreased profits.

TED: rejected

With only 250 tickets available, I guess a lot of people in Brighton will be getting one of these today:

Dear adam martin


I’m sorry to inform you that your application to attend TEDxBrighton on 21st January has been unsuccessful.

As the first TEDxBrighton event, and offering free tickets, we have had a huge level of interest and the ticket application was very oversubscribed. … hope that in the future we might be able to offer a TEDxBrighton event with a larger capacity than the 250 this one can host.

Selection criteria in 2011…

It was an unusual process for a public event – the tickets are free, but there’s very few of them, and to be “allowed” a ticket you had to go through a review process, answering questions from the obvious, like “who are you?” to the bizarre, like “what’s your favourite web-site?”.

I remember at the time thinking it seemed very reasonable at the start, but increasingly invasive and judgemental towards the end. You want to allow/deny access based on the personal reading habits of the visitors? IMHO that comes perilously close to opening a can of worms that conference organizers should be steering clear of.

But it’s a brand with a very high reputation, so I ran with it, intrigued to see what would happen. I felt I had as good a chance as anyone – the conference is taking place in my home city, very close to where I live, and many of the TED themes have been a big part of my career and background.

Now that it’s done, I’m rather disappointed. (and of course disappointed too not to be attending the conference!) For such a high level of invasiveness, and an arrogant (although justified!) approach of “don’t call us, we’ll call you … but only if we like you enough”, I was expecting at least *some* kind of feedback :). This is the age of feedback, A/B testing, validation, and openness.

(c.f. my post the other day on UK Education and the A-Level blacklists: on the whole, those institutions that are holding-back info about public decisions tend to be frowned on these days)

What were their criteria? Who did they accept, and who did they reject? Why?

It’s not who you choose, it’s *how* you choose them

Over the years, I’ve become innately suspicious of any and all selection processes that aren’t fully “open”: with the judging criteria clearly documented in advance, and ideally with actual (theoretical) examples of good and bad submissions.

Partly … because of my own experience as a judge. I’ve judged or helped judge everything from obscure community programming contests, through game-design contests with cash prizes, to competitions giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash funding to new businesses.

Every time the judging criteria were given to candidates in advance, the overall quality of submissions was massively better, across the board. Every time the criteria were vague or secretive, the volume of crappy submissions was depressingly high.

…speaking of which, I still have some user-submitted game ideas from 6 months ago that I promised to review publically and critique on this blog. Every time I fire up the laptop for a long journey, I pull them out and go over them again, and I can only apologise profusely that most of them are still unpublished. A new-year resolution for me, perhaps?

Going to GDC 2011? Want an iPhone app for the conference?

Last GDC, we made an iPhone app for friends at the conference, but it got stuck in submission for too long (Apple was being paranoid about anything with location/GPS at the time. Sigh) and only a handful of people got to use the app (our beta testers).

We ended up re-using the tech (and improving it) for client projects during the year – including a 4-star app for the Venice Biennale (100,000 people descend on Venice for Art/Architecture festival).

GDC’s organizers didn’t want an app for 2011 – the last we spoke, they’d commissioned a mobile website instead. As they pointed out, it may be lowest-common-denominator, and lots of usability problems (what do you do when you have no internet?), but it’s likely to work for the BlackBerry users, unlike an iPhone/Android app.

But it looks like we’ll have some free time / spare cash in February, so I was wondering if it was worth updating our app from last year, and putting it into submission really early this time.

Votes yay/nay?

The tech we built works out where all your friends/colleagues are right now (iPhone only), and includes stuff like a live-updated list of all the unofficial parties (this year there were about 25 parties, only 5 of which were on the conference website, IIRC)

EDIT: PS – if we’re paying for this ourselves, we couldn’t afford an Android port, so this would be iPhone only

My first SXSWi: the “low-brow” conference?

This past few days, as people have asked me “how’s the conference going for you?”, my recurring response has been: I’m ambivalent.

This is my first SXSWi; I go to 3-5 tech and media conferences a year, speak at 1-3 of them. The “party” atmosphere was fun on the first day of events, and unusual, but the evening parties were horrible – massive droves of uninterested and uncaring people crowding-out the much smaller number of people who had a genuine interest in being here and talking about the things they love.

I saw this post from a veteran lamenting how the conference is much larger but much worse this year.

I thought it might be a product of size, but I’ve been to big conferences which still have a really positive atmosphere.

Having been to other Austin conferences, I think it’s an issue of image – how people coming to Austin for the conference already perceive Austin. SXSWi feels like “6th street carried into the convention center”.

Other, smaller, Austin conferences manage to co-exist with the presence of 6th street without inter-mingling with it. If you want to go down 6th while you’re there, you can – but the conference itself exists apart from it. It feels like SXSWi has embraced 6th and forced us all to be part of that, no choice allowed.

If that’s so … I’m not sure what the organizers can do to “fix” it, short of aggressively controlling the marketing for next year, changing the image and the market/audience that they target. With an (alleged) 40% growth in audience attendance … would they want to change it? A lot of people who used to like the “small” SXSWi, and dislike the “large” SXSWi maybe just don’t like large conferences anyway … maybe there *is* no problem.

(although I don’t think so … my impression is that a lot of people came this year because of the same reputation that SXSWi is rapidly throwing away: high quality people, cutting-edge breaking technology / startups)

Personally, in an ideal world? I’d like to see SXSWi 2011 take place in San Francisco. (bearing in mind that I have to fly from Europe, so this isn’t an issue of convenience). SF is big enough to accomodate the influx of people (hotel prices in SF don’t go up by a factor of 3! Unlike Austin right now :( ), and allows for a lot of partying, without the lowest-common-denominator mentality.

Just IMHO…

EDIT: When I said “ambivalent”, I meant it…

…but, being exhausted by that point, I only covered half what I was thinking. The other half was this: there was some great content, I sat in some very interesting talks with good speakers. The conference itself seemed very well organized, coping admirably with the vast number of registrants (they dealt with badge pickup, for instance, extremely well considering the numbers involved).

I know that some people experienced terrible content – for instance, the complaints about the Twitter interview – but I got lucky and skipped all of that. These days, I can usually make a good guess at the quality of a session by the title and the abstract. Sessions that had little real purpose can usually be filtered out this way, whereas sessions with a strong, genuine, theme can be cherry-picked.

So. A lot of the conference I found very enjoyable. But Jolie’s comments struck a chord with me – I was really surprised by the poor social elements of the conf. As noted above, my guess is that this is more to do with the people who attend than it is with the conference itself.

Generally speaking, when you mug someone…

…it’s not a good idea to mug someone who practices Kung Fu.

Fortunately, in this case, I’d only slept 3 hours in the previous 40, and it took me long enough to realise what was happening – and I was sufficiently in-attentive – that I didn’t hit back in any serious way.

But if you see me with a black eye and a swollen cheek at GDC, that’s why. Because I was still apologizing after the guy had hit me in the face the third time, and only when he tried to take my bags did I start hitting back. I’ve heard about it before – the “Gentleman martial artist” problem – where you’re too polite to respond when someone hits you in a manner that’s fairly weak compared to what you’re used to, and you find it hard to take the attacker seriously (although it hurts enough afterwards).

Guess I’d better start going to more sparring sessions. Because – frankly – letting yourself get so utterly surprised is a total fail in a martial sense. If the leader had known what he was doing (and I could tell him what he should have done), I’d still be unconscious right now. There’s been a few muggings recently in Brighton – Nik got a fractured cheek for refusing to give up his iPhone (good on you, Nik) – and I tried to catch them, but they ran faster than I with my suitcase and laptop heading off to San Francisco :(.

GDC 2010 about to start…I’m there for 3 days

I’ll be in SF from Monday afternoon to Thursday evening (leaving SFO at midnight on thursday night).

My iPhone is unlocked, so I’m hoping to find a cheap SIM to shove in, but otherwise it’ll be email-only.

The 2010 list of GDC parties is looking pretty full (and there’s a bunch after I leave) – if you should be on the calendar, email me ASAP.

ALSO … Sulka and I made a neat little iPhone app that tracks all the parties for you, and tells you where/when they are. We’re just waiting for Apple to approve it, hopefully it’ll be live on Monday. It’s San-Francisco specific right now, but if it works, we’ll expand it to other cities in future.

Google and the Games industry

Google is giving away free Nexus One handsets to mobile developers attending the GDC this year

Google is not a games company; Google has never shown any interest in the $75 billion (roughly) games industry. Suprising? Not really … $75 billion *for the entire industry* is smaller than some individual companies in other sectors (e.g. off the top of my head, IBM makes more revenue than that *every year*, e.g. VISA has a market cap of $70 billion, etc).

But … maybe iPhone has changed all that.

Games on iPhone weren’t initially the big fuss, but as the first year of the App Store came to a completion, it was clear that the million-selling apps were set to all be games. This was an excellent handheld gaming console.

Perceptions shifted; giants like EA who’d resolved to ignore iPhone (typically after making expensive failed investments in the Wii) did an about-turn and came onto the platform in force. Mainstream and tech-industry press came to see games as really the be-all-and-end-all of 3rd party apps on the phone – often ceasing to talk much about other apps, except as novelties.

2010 and the annual Game Developers Conference

GDC is almost upon us. This is the main event in the games-industry calendar (forget E3; this is the less glitzy, less marketing, more developers, higher value, more real one). And lo and behold in my inbox today:

# Register by the Early Bird Deadline of February 4th, 2010.
# Register to attend the GDC Mobile/Handheld Summit, the iPhone Summit, or the Independent Games Summit

# receive a device from Google and GDC during the registration process.

… the “device” is explicitly either a Google Nexus-One, or a Motorola Droid (randomly chosen).

[EDIT: from Simon Carless’s comments below, I’m completely wrong on the GDC changes last year. This post isn’t meant to be about GDC, it’s meant to be about Google, so I’ll follow-up in the comments – but don’t take the next two paragraphs as correct, they’re probably wrong.]

The marketing materials for the GDC this year have been unusually big on the discounts, with not just one but two public extensions of the discount deadlines (this is unprecedented as far as I can remember). Clearly, the recession (and the mass redundancies at games companies) has hit the GDC organizers quite hard.

(last year’s GDC had perhaps 40% fewer attendees than the year before; it felt like the quiet conference it used to be, rather than the massive conference it had become. I’m guessing the organizers are working hard to reverse that, even in the face of the economic situation)

…and yet we see a $550 phone being “given away free, guaranteed” to every developer that buys a $550 conference ticket. Wow. That’s a pretty thick, long, solid line in the sand being drawn by Google…


Bizarrely – and IMHO a very very stupid move – speakers are “not allowed” to take advantage of this.

So, let me get this straight:

  1. You decide to target the international games industry, at it’s biggest annual conference
  2. You give away free, expensive, top of the range Android phones to *every* developer, but only the ones specialising in Mobile
  3. …but you ban the 500-odd people who are the pre-eminent experts and the thought leaders in this industry from participating?

It could be down to the potential for abuse – speakers can choose to declare themselves “mobile” developers while still attending all the other summits due to a quirk of how the GDC is organized.

But my guess is that there’s something annoying here about state laws and income tax or competitions and lotteries (governments can be over-protective of their monopoly on gambling income), but it strikes me as a major fail. Microsoft managed to give away $1000 HDTV’s at a previous conference independently of paid/unpaid status (IIRC), so I’m sure Google could have found a way.

(just to be clear: for the first time in about 4 years, I’m actually *not* speaking at GDC, so I’m not affected by this one way or the other. I’m just really suprised at the exclusion)

PANEL: “Taking Video Games Seriously”

Last night, I went to the Houses of Parliament for the first time, for a panel session on Video Games, organized by one of our MP’s, Tom Watson. Walking through the enormous medieval Westminster Hall (stone floor, stone walls, massive oak timbered ceiling) en route was a bit surreal, and thankfully the event was small and cosy by comparison.

I didn’t intend to live-blog this. But then I realised I probably ought to, especially since I was too exhausted (work, recovering from illness, etc) to ask sensible questions at the time.

Here’s a semi-live-semi-transcript. As per usual, everything is re-interpreted by my hearing; errors and omissions are my own fault; etc. It’s hard keeping up with freeform speakers and capturing the meaning at the same time :).


  1. Tom Watson – MP for West Bromwich East (moderator)
  2. Tom Chatfield – author of Fun Inc. (published last week)
  3. Philip Oliver – CEO of Blitz Games
  4. Sam Leith – Journalist (Daily Telegraph, Guardian, etc)

Continue reading

Got an idea for a new game? Want some feedback and publicity?

In general, it seems that most entrants to game-design-competitions could get huge benefit from just a small amount of fairly simple advice and feedback.

I’ve been a judge on several game-design competitions. I’ve seen a lot of recurring mistakes and successes, and I’d like to see less of the former, more of the latter.

I’m hereby offering to provide *public* feedback to anyone who wants to send me their idea. I’ll publish your idea on my blog, along with my thoughts and reactions.

Here are my rules:

  1. MINIMUM of 300 words
  2. MAXIMUM of 500 words
  3. State whether it’s intended to be a Casual game, or a AAA game
  4. State whether it’s anonymous, or if you want me to include an email address and/or website URL (for people to contact you if they liked your idea)
  5. I will pick the most interesting ones, and publish the main text of your email, and my reactions, on this blog
  6. Email it to me directly, at adam.m.s.martin at
  7. You must include the text: “I have read everything on the blog post, and understand and accept all the terms and conditions”
  8. If I can think of someone better-placed to comment on your idea, I *might* forward your idea to another industry-expert blogger, on the condition that they publish it on their blog with their own feedback, just as I would have done myself (unless you SPECIFICALLY state that you don’t want me to do this)

Some notes…

SXSW entrants

If you’re already entered for SXSW 2010, don’t bother sending me your idea until after the conference. I’m not going to allow this to interfere with that event.

Public vs. NDA

If you ask for an NDA, you’ve already lost. Forget it.

In general, the only people who would bother to “steal” your game idea are so incompetent / uncreative that the “best” game they could create – even using your idea! – would be so appallingly bad that no-one would ever play it or talk about it.

Spelling and grammar

I will judge you on your spelling and grammar. Get used to it. If you are so lazy you can’t be bothered to spellcheck your entry, you’ve just screamed:


Cheat, cheat, and cheat again

Anything you can do to make your pitch more convincing is acceptable. Within the 500 words limit, of course.

If you’ve got concept art, a downloadable MOD, or even better a faked gameplay video … include links!

Panel at SXSW – AAA Game Design competition

In a few months time, I’ll be in Austin, TX, sitting on a panel at SXSW … judging people’s ideas for new computer games. I’m going to make an offer here, now, to help people entering future competitions (FYI: it’s too late for SXSW 2010).

This is the fourth time I’ve been a reviewer or judge for a game-design competition/panel/etc, and I’m noticing some recurring themes. This is interesting, since everything I’ve judged has been completely different (different countries, different audiences, different rules).

Recurring themes of game-design competitions

One theme in particular is that a large percentage (circa 30%) of entries are depressingly bad; it seems that many of the wannabe-game-designers in the world are just plain lazy.

Another theme is that when someone has a good idea, they often don’t realise how good it is. They end up spending one sentence (or, if you’re lucky, two sentences) talking about the interesting part, and the next 500 words spewing out meaningless drivel that applies to every game ever made.

e.g. “you will have different choices to make in this game, there will be puzzles, and when you finish a puzzle you will get a reward, rewards will be used to unlock more levels, and to finish the game you have to get to the last level, which will be harder than the earlier levels, and … ”

… and: STFU. You’re boring. Do you think that I’ve never played a computer game before? Or do you just think I’m so stupid that I can’t remember what they’re like?

Some tragic outcomes

NB: this is just one example of what goes wrong with competition entries; I could give you countless more…

Some of the judging I’ve done was at the start of a competition, where the teams then spent the next 3+ months full-time actually building their games. On those occasions where a team was let through because we saw something special in their core idea, despite them waffling about a million other things, the team tended to make the EXACT SAME MISTAKE during production. They would spend 10% of their time on the cool idea, and 1% on each of 90 irrelevant distractions. They never won (surprise!).

For the times when we just judge ideas, not actual games, my distinct impression is that a lot of “good” ideas get thrown out because they’re submerged in so much rubbish that the judges either don’t see them … or assume the above is going to happen, and so they want to give the attention to other, more focussed teams.


So, I’m offering anyone (anyone!) the chance to get some free feedback on their game idea, in the mindset of a competition judge. Maybe you’ll discover holes in your pitch, maybe you’ll discover ways to improve your core game … maybe it won’t help you at all :).

Details here: Got an idea for a new Game?

Speaker Evaluations – GDC Austin 2009

Conferences don’t make these public.

But they should.

So … here are the evaluations (from the audience) for our panel session at AGDC 09.

Judge for yourself whether you want to attend any future sessions featuring us again (Adam Martin, Bill Dalton, Rick Lambright, Joe Ludwig, Marty Poulin).

Head Count: 74; Evaluations: 32 (43% response rate)

  • Overall rating of the presentation – 88% (AVG: 86%)
  • How relevant was the topic to you? – 86% (AVG: 84%)
  • How well did this class meet your expectations? – 94% (AVG: 84%)
  • Would you recommend this session to a colleague? – 90% (AVG: 84%)
  • Evaluate the speakers’ ability to communicate – 94% (AVG: 86%)
  • If there were visual aids (slides) how were they? – 74% (AVG: 60%)

All of those are above average, and I’m glad that a particularly high number would recommend the session to their colleagues.

It seems that we did particularly well on fulfilling the remit (very high number for “met expectations”), and that our speakers had an awesome ability to communicate (almost 10% higher than average for the other speakers at the conference).

Audience Comments

  1. The most entertaining session I attended, but didn’t sacrifice information value.
  2. Interesting format, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this, but it is time consuming
  3. Good stuff
  4. Slow, confused start lost valuable time for Q&A
  5. Should have done middleware
  6. Only 3 topics covered. Expected others

Comment 4 – yeah, something I’m unhappy about too, (it wasn’t our fault, it was the people running the conference), but there was nothing for it but to grin and carry on. Someone screwed-up the radio microphones, and we lost a lot of time at the start waiting for them to fix it. There was nothing we could do – they had connected the mics from a different room to *our* speakers. We didn’t find out until the person in the other room started talking, and it all came out through our speakers :(.

Comment 6 – we covered 4 topics (oops, audience can’t count :P). We all wanted to do more, but at GDC conferences, the organizers only give us 1-hour slots. With 4 speakers + moderator, I think that was pretty good, especially considering the time we lost at the start.

Perhaps someone will clone this format for a future conference (seems a good idea), and try to get a 2-hour slot for it?

GDC 2010: I (probably) won’t see you there

Last month, I ran a novel panel session at Austin GDC, which was well-attended and (apparently) well-liked.

I came up with the format myself, very different from normal panels, and spent a couple of months fleshing it out with the panellists, discussing different ways we could improve on it, different approaches, etc. I made a lot of mistakes with it, but I was pleased with how it went for a first attempt.

We filled about 1/2 of the room, I think the capacity was around 200. I’d hoped for more – but … we were scheduled on the second-to-last slot, on the last day of the conference, when lots of people had already gone home.

We were also scheduled at the same time as Nicole Lazzaro, and Damion Schubert. They are both exceptional – and exceptionally popular – speakers.

So … I was pretty happy we got the crowd that we did :).

It all went so well that I thought the organizers of the “main” GDC – the one in San Francisco – might like something similar. So, I contacted them (not exact email, some details snipped):

I just ran a really good session at Austin GDC, and thought that something similar might work really well for GDC 2010. And several people who want something like this at GDC have asked me to at least try :).

It was a novel format that I came up with originally, and then hammered out the details with the panellists over a couple of months until we were happy with it. Now we’ve live-tested it, I could do it even better next time :).

Is it worth me taking this further? I’d have to find a new set of panellists, and work out a new topic appropriate to GDC (as opposed to AustinGDC).

Here’s the salient part of the response I got:

Thank you for your email. If you’ve already done this session I would advise against a repeat at GDC, especially if it’s a panel proposal because panels are very hard to advance to Phase 2 and get accepted.

(NB: the wording is “I would advise”, but the email itself didn’t provide any of the details or info I’d need on how to submit this panel, so I read this as a polite but fairly strong: “no”).

My first reaction was that I’m quite relieved NOT to spend all the time and effort it takes finding another 4 top-class speakers, persuading them to speak, working with them on format and content, and organizing everything in the months leading up to the conference.

(for which – unlike most industries – GDC speakers get nothing in return. Oh, you do get an invite to a party. But it’s just like the 15 other parties that all the non-speakers get to go to. So … not a huge benefit, really)

I’m not going to hassle them to try to change their minds.

But then I thought a bit more, and wondered why it was that the conference organizers aren’t biting my arm off, demanding that we do this again? (assuming the session was as well-received as I thought it was). They’re always deflecting criticisms of “poor” sessions with “we’re dependent on the quality of what gets submitted”. In the past year, I’ve also seen a couple of friends get some of the highest-rated feedback from past GDC’s and yet seemingly the organizers don’t want them back again.

So, I’m left wondering what the strategy is here. There must – surely – be *some* strategy for a money making machine like GDC (this thing is making 6-figure profits each year). I’m just confused as to what it is.

Also, as an aside, since I rarely go to conferences these days unless I’m speaking at them, I probably won’t be at GDC next year. This year, surprisingly many people asked me why I was bothering to go to GDC at all (despite the fact I was a speaker :)). By the tenth time of being asked, I’d realised that my justifications owed as much to nostalgia and socialisation as to a useful use of my time. I was already feeling dubious about turning up next year, even before I heard my proposals had been rejected. So, just to be clear: I’m not skipping it because of this response from the organizers, although if they’d been keen for me to give the talk, it would have forced my hand into going.

AGDC-2009: Killing the Sacred Cows of MMO Technology

Slides for our panel arehere: “Killing mmo tech sacred cows.pdf”.

Final panel was myself (moderating) and speakers: Bill Dalton (Bioware), Rick Lambright (Gazillion), Joe Ludwig (Valve), Marty Poulin (Shady Logic).


What talk do you want from me at GDC? (you have 12 hours to reply!)

A bit late to be asking, I know, but … If you’re (considering) going to GDC next year (the worlds biggest game development conference, in San Francisco), is there any topic in particular you’d like me to speak on?

The deadline for proposals has been extended to today. I’ve submitted something about iPhone development, because its useful and IMHO generally applicable enough to be of interest to much of the GDC audience. but I’ve no idea if they’ll decide to take me up on it. Quite possibly not.

Whatever I speakabout, obviously all slides will be posted here, and the conference organizers will record full audio and let anyone purhase it for a few dollars IIRC.

so… What would YOU like to hear/see?

If its sane and I can actually talk meanIngfully on it, I promise I’ll submit a proposal today, just for you :).

The process requires – amongst other things – a shortlist of what “new skills or knowledge” the audience will gain from the session. Bear that in mind if you reply (either in comments field below or jsut email me directly)

EDIT: OK … it’s done … a talk on Entity Systems for MMO engines. It’ll take a few months to find out what they think, I’ll let you know how it turns out…

Brighton: 3 free iphone talks + networking, tomorrow

If you’re in Brighton this week for the Develop conference … there’s a few places left at the free networking/talks event we’re doing tomorrow night:

(if you can’t make it, I’ll get all the slides on-line afterwards, so long as the speakers don’t mind)

…although we’re getting very close to capacity. Some people probably will change their minds and not turn up, so it might be worth coming along anyway, even if there’s apparently no space left (and the venue have said they can make room for up to 10 more if they have to, althoguh it’d be a real squeeze, apparently).

PS: the organizers of the Develop Conference manage to be arrogant, rude, ****s for the third year running. They didn’t even deign to respond to my offers to schedule this event at a time that would be least conflicting with their evening schedule for the conference. I am constantly amazed at how many people they manage to piss-off every year, and rather sad, because I suspect it’ll gradually erode more and more of the value of the conference (all the people who refuse to come back, or refuse to speak in future) – and that would be a huge shame, because a summer conference in Brighton is great thing. If they can manage to stop being such ****s and doing their best to screw it up. Sigh.

PPS: FWIW, my reference to “third year running” is based on the things that I know they did / said to friends and colleagues in previous years. I learnt early on to expect nothing but rudeness from them, although I’ve been studiously polite each year, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps foolishly – but I hoped they might, you know, learn some basic courtesy at some point. Not yet.

</rant> ;)

Everything you need to know about being an awesome MMO Tech Director

Really? O, RLY?

Well, no, probably not – but this is the kind of opening statement I often make at industry-conference parties. In this rare case, at LOGIN this year, I was showing something on my laptop at the time and happened to *type* my opening salvo, rather than just say it.
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