GDC2009 Session Confirmed: Sell Social Networking to your Publisher

My GDC 2009 talk is up on the site – How to sell social-networking pitches/concepts to your Boss … and to your Publisher.

Now that the submission / selection process for GDC 09 is coming to an end, here’s a few thoughts on the new process (CMP / Think Services substantially reformed the conference-submission process this year):
(if you haven’t been following, I periodically write something about ways we can improve the games industry conferences)

  1. About this time of year I would normally be thinking “I really need to start on the details of my talk now. Given how busy I am, I’ll need 3 weeks to practice it, and do one final re-write before the conf”. Instead? I’m thinking: “my talk is already written. I have nothing left to do!”. Cool! It’s great to have one less big thing to do…
  2. …except, of course, there is something left to do: I need to add all the graphics and do a run through to make sure it all makes sense and flows. I hope the new process hasn’t lulled me into a false sense of security.
  3. …AND: usually when I get to a conference, I only got the final polish on the presentation 1-3 weeks earlier (depends how busy I was; sometimes I get fed up with it the night before, and I do some big changes a mere 3 hours before the talk. Especially true if I’m jetlagged and I wake up on the morning of the talk at 4 am anyway) – so it’s all fresh in my mind; I know this is common for a lot of speakers (we’re all busy people, and we don’t get paid for this, so have to fit it in around our day jobs). I have a semi-photographic memory, so I can usually give a talk even if I lost all the slides. This gets offset by the jetlag from flying 6,000 miles to California, and the inevitable hangovers from the GDC parties. In the end it all works out as “OK”; I wonder if it’ll be harder this year? (I wrote the whole talk 6 months before the conference!)
  4. CMP’s organization didn’t quite work this year – they missed their own deadlines for reviewing talks and getting back to speakers by 1-2 months. I’ve asked around among friends who are speaking too, from really niche talks to keynoters, and although there is some variation by “importance” of talk (the bigger name, the sooner you heard back, *mostly*), everyone got their responses much later than we were told we would. Shrug. We’re used to this :) – and this is a new way of handling the organization, so I’m sure there were lots of teething problems and unexpected holdups. We’ll just have to see if it goes closer-to-schedule next year, when they’ve debugged it a bit.
  5. The accidents that lead to CMP exposing on their website the earliest talks as they were confirmed made for a really interesting lead-up (for other speakers, who could briefly see what was appearing). I’ve already had 3 or 4 mass emails from CMP this year “announcing” batches of new talks that were “just confirmed”. This is standard marketing practice (and they do it each year). But it’s so 1990.
    • Howabout an RSS feed that shows each *individual* talk the moment it goes on the system? That would be awesome and … here’s a headsup to CMP: I would actually bother to read it!
    • These mass-emails of hilighted talks bore the tits off me: with 300+ talks, and one of your marketing dept picking 5-10 they “think” we’d all be interested in, for me as an individual, they get it wrong nearly every time … with all 10 of their picks. It’s statistically practically guaranteed! Theirs is a hopeless task, one I don’t envy. Give us an RSS feed! :)
    • BONUS: if you RSS feed it, you’ll *allow* the chance of news outlets picking up on each and every interesting talk as and when it’s announced. IMHO, you’d actually get overall more exposure. Since you wouldn’t need to “pick and choose”, you’d also be more likely to big-up the interesting talks by accident, since at the moment you just kill the news on them, instead of supporting it.

Also, this year I will once again be mobilizing every industry-insider I can to blog their own detailed writeups of every session they go to, via the Games Industry Conglomerate RSS Feed Of Awesomeness (feed will be updated nearer the time).

(FYI: we’re fed up of non-professionals reviewing conference talks, and either reporting what they’re told without realising when a developer is bullshitting them, or adding their own interesting but often uninformed opinions. We do love them for reporting it, and doing their best – but if you’ve never developed or published a game, there’s *so much* you can’t help but fail to appreciate about what you’re listening to. Sorry. This is not a marketing conference, its a development conference; we need developers reporting it (in addition to the journalists).

For a long period recently they didn’t even bother writing up transcripts of the sessions – so all the world was left with was a summary through the mind of someone who didn’t know what they were looking at. For some talks that’s fine, but at the world’s biggest game-conference for Professionals, with tons of detailed talks and subtle acts of brilliance, it’s just Not Enough.

No more! We transcript, and we comment, and some of us even like to bitch (and praise) quite openly about what’s being put out by the speaker.)

GDC08: Hottest Jobs at the Hottest Companies


Speakers: Karen Chelini, SCEA; Jason Pankow, Microsoft; Matthew Jeffrey, EA

I didn’t stay more than about half the session – my laptop battery ran out, so I couldn’t take any more notes. I’m writing this up really only because there was one key point that came up which illustrates something that CMP and their do often which hugely angers me, and I want to see changed. They not only spread a rumour that is blatantly not true, but I keep meeting undergraduates and students wanting to break in to the games industry who are in danger of having years of their lives wasted because of this misinformation.

Which is a real pity, because other than that I think is fantastic. I wouldn’t have written an article for them if I didn’t believe in them and in what they do (generally).
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GDC08: Alternate Reality Games group gathering

(re-posted here from the main IGDA ARG SIG blog (, because the IGDA webserver is too weak and crappy to allow image uploads, which I needed to do :( )

The 2008 GDC Group Gathering went well, with approximately 20+ people turning up. We had a quick discussion about SIG activities and then broke out for the standard mingling and networking. Photos + discussion items below.
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GDC08: The BioWare Live Team: Building Community through Technology


Speaker: Derek French

Given the title, this talk came far short of my expectations. At the end of the talk I also felt extra annoyed that it felt like half the talk was just waffle, mostly towards the end with lots of repetition of the same vague opinions over and over again.

HOWEVER … when I came to clean up my notes and post them here, I realised that there were a lot of concrete good points, and it was just that it got waffly at the end.

If you don’t bother reading everything below, there’s one thing I want you to read (NB: I have cut out big chunks of the talk where the speaker waffled too much, so the reading below should be information-heavy).

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GDC08: Virtual Greenspans: Running an MMOG Economy


Speaker: Eyjolfur Gudmundsson, CCP

I want a full-time economist working for MY company.

And: CCP staff should give more of the GDC talks, they’re good. And entertaining.

In the midst of a week of depressingly dumb comments (on the topic of economy: what possessed Matt Miller to argue against microtransactions because accountants like to see x million players times y dollar per month and find microtransactions unpredictable?), it was a joy to go to an intelligent, extremely well-informed, rational talk with valuable lessons for the future.

EDIT: photos now added inline; better quality images of almost the same graphs can be found in the official Eve Online newsletters (2007Q3 and 2007Q4)

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GDC08: Raising Venture Financing for your Startup


Speaker: Susan Wu, Charles River Ventures + panellists, see below for details

EDIT: just finished an editing round; I’m about 2/3 through cleaning this up. That’s why it all goes a bit funky towards the end. I promise I’ll clean up the rest of it ASAP…

Excellent panel, probably the most informative one I’ve been to at GDC (I usually find they wander too much and have too little concrete info. Nabeel, if you read this, I’m not counting your moderated session as a panel ;))

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GDC08: SQL Considered Harmful


Speaker: Shannon Posniewski, Cryptic

I was expecting something shockingly naive and/or stupid from the title of the session. The first thing the speaker said was that the title was completely wrong, so I ran with that. With that out of the way, the talk was fine, although small things kept coming out during the talk that were hard to believe or worrying claims.

So it was going OK, until … right at the end, just before the Q&A, and partly during the Q&A, the speaker dropped some serious shockers:
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GDC08: Thinking Outside the Virtual World


Speaker: Michael Smith, MindCandy

Another half-hour-long introductory topic talk from the Worlds In Motion summit. Short but sweet. A nice overview of lots of different things going on in the use (and sales) of real-world goods as part of online games / virtual worlds. Misses out plenty of things, but does a good job of giving a taster of the sheer variety that’s going on right now.

Like Adrian’s talk from yesterday, I would have loved a second follow-on talk – now that everyone’s been brought up to speed – that explored where we could be going with these, and looking at how these have been used in more depth / detail.
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Liveblogging GDC 2008

In case it’s not obvious enough, I’m tagging all my session-writeups this week with “GDC 2008” (HTML | RSS).

Mostly I’m covering online-related and social-networking related topics, but jumping around between GDC Mobile, Serious Games, Worlds In Motion summit, Independent Games, and the Game Design, Production, and Business tracks.

GDC08: Gaming’s Future via Online Worlds


Speaker: Jeffrey Steefel, Turbine

IMHO, Jeffrey hereby strengthens the weight of evidence that Turbine is genuinely turning the corner from making poorly-guided foolish games to doing cutting-edge stuff and doing it well. Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO) has gone some considerable way to burying the failings of Asheron’s Call 2 (AC2) and Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO), but it’s still far from certain that it’s a sustainable direction for them. In that context, Jeffrey speaks very convincingly and with a lot of apparent understanding about what they’ve done well and where they’re going with it in the future. Frankly, all of the incumbent MMO companies need to be doing this, and pushing at least this far and fast ahead, so it’s great to see someone senior at Turbine pushing this so strongly.
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GDC08: Social Media, Virtual Worlds, Mobile, and Other Platforms


Speaker: Peter Marx, Analog Protocol/MTV

Good to hear about virtual worlds and MMOs from the perspective of a mega content / media company. Several interesting ideas and explanations that are well worth reading if you haven’t already been tracking the way that Viacom et al have been approaching the online socializing space.

Nothing fundamentally new, but the ideas presented were clear and consistent – and I’m kicking myself for not having tried VLES sooner, it sounds fun.
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GDC08: The power of Free to Play (Adrian Crook)


EDIT: Slides + voiceover on Adrian’s site now –

A good introduction to people wanting to start paying attention to what’s been happening in MMO industry for the last 5 years. Didn’t delve into the recent changes in the last 1-2 years, more dwelling on the fact that the last 2 years have seen the cash-cows of the first wave of changes (F2P itself) delivering revenues that were no longer just “bestseller” status for a normal game, but were actually now much bigger even that that.

So, for instance, apart from a brief outline of FoodFight, there was no coverage of the way games have been colonising social networks, or where this seems to be heading next.
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GDC08: Scattershots of play – potential of indie games – 3


A very broad range of ideas on what should shape game design at a fundamental level. I greatly enjoyed this for the way it jumped to a bunch of related but competing ideals and perspectives.

Also very interesting for including a 20-minute section on How to Design for Alternate Reality Games (not billed as such, but that’s what it was: a theory on how to think when designing ARGs).


Section 1: Flow, and how to evaluate games
Section 2: Games break down into inputs and outputs
Section 3: Theories of design for Alternate Reality Games


[1] Kellee Santiago
[2] John Mak
[3] Pekko Koskinen

My own occasional commentary is in [ square brackets ]

Section 3: Theories of design for Alternate Reality Games

This presentation is a personal design path, because the topic is in daner of leading to too abstract things, so personalising will make it more concrete, and secondly using concrete example will probably help explain.

I was working in university game research lab in finland, then tried to get projects going between old traditional forms of art and games.

One project from last fall was a reality game that will take place in finland next fall (2008???).

Background of game mechanics, but also a choreographer, a few dances, some actors, a video artist, and theatre director. These are all controlled by background game structure.

Basic premise is that everything you see around you is actually fictional. We’re pretending you’re living in a virtual disney land, your life is part of a museum exhibition, you’re a token citizen in this piece.

We insert fictional elements into the streetlife, give roles to players and use this to nudge people out of their normal daily routines.

I had to recalibrate my game design principles, because this needs some big changes to things I’d normally done. We’d made mainly experimental computer games before, and although I had a background in roleplaying this was still pretty new different design requirements.

Games can be designed for any medium, you can make games that are sound-only, text-only. Any medium at all you can come up with a game for. Why is that?

I think that’s peculiar because other forms of expression are rooted in the medium, e.g. painting is defined by it’s being a visual medium, music is an audio onee, yet that games are simply independent and can apply any medium that they choose.

This leads to the question: where do games reside, where do they stem from?

[this is part of their uniqueness: they’re part of what we are as humans]

I have a couple of ideas…

1. Games are essentially systesm: structures and operations. The structures, and the operations that are based on those strucutres. The medium’s features are there to make the structures apparent, and make the operations sensible / understandable.

e.g. learnign chess: you can learn it many ways, physically: in your head, on paper. but what’s important is that you’re devleoping a mental-model in your head, and then you can play it in any medium.

This is true of all games, I think: the game is not part of the medium, it just uses a given medium to show the structure that the game is comprised of.

If this is the case … doesn’t that mean that the whole game ultimately resides and plays out within the player’s own mind?

The starting point for any move in the game is in my head; first I play the move in my head, to decide what to do in reality, what action to actually take in the game outside my head.

2. If these reside in the player, aren’t games ultimately “systems of behaviour”?

If I play something, I’m behaving differently from my normal self [because I’m using that custom proprietary mental model to shape my thinking and actions].

Can’t we think of game design as you coming up with a pattern of behaviour “that would be an interesting way to behave, to live, to act” and then turning it into a representation of structures and operations that forces that way to behave.

3. If we adopt this design premise, then can we design a player the same way we design a game?

[on a basic level, you would expect a definite resounding yes: this is mathematical matching at play]

I think we can.

Sturucturally the approach I used was to think that games are environments in which we play. But…we could also design games as lenses, not as environments, but as esomething placed between you and your environment, that shape how you view your environment.

This gave me the approach I needed to do the reality-game design.

I could get someone doing something that looked game-like. Then I could get some other people to walk into the room and tell them that this was an artist doing an art piece.

I could then get more people to come in, and tell them that it was a religious event.

These are three different lenses of the same activity that is occurring.

Looking to the future…

This model of lenses cuts out some thing that games can do much better than just be lenses, so it’s not perfect as a model.

Are games as we see them now the last stop in development of understanding of what a game is, and of examples of genres, or just the beginning of a fundamentally different way of looking at them.

If you look at games pre-computers, they haven’t changed for thousands of years. But it’s changed so much in 20-30 years that this suggests its still a long way away from slowing down, if you look at historical cultural changes.

I think games are the best way to take control of life: we can design our lives, we can design the reality we want, how we live our lives.

People talk about how mmorpg players are losing their personalities to another online personlity. I think this is a reflection of the fact that games have a baheriovurla background, so they ALWAYS tie up with identity they ALWAYS cause you to adopt a new identity in order to play them.

That’s one development that’s only just starting at the moment, and in the long run I think we’ll come to see it as a general thing.

GDC08: Scattershots of play – potential of indie games – 2


A very broad range of ideas on what should shape game design at a fundamental level. I greatly enjoyed this for the way it jumped to a bunch of related but competing ideals and perspectives.

Also very interesting for including a 20-minute section on How to Design for Alternate Reality Games (not billed as such, but that’s what it was: a theory on how to think when designing ARGs).


Section 1: Flow, and how to evaluate games

Section 2: Games break down into inputs and outputs
Section 3: Theories of design for Alternate Reality Games


[1] Kellee Santiago
[2] John Mak
[3] Pekko Koskinen

My own occasional commentary is in [ square brackets ]

Section 2: Games break down into inputs and outputs

Graphics over gameplay, AND gameplay over graphics don’t actually mean anything

Games break down into inputs and outputs. The game doesn’t exist without outputs, nor without inputs, so it’s meaningless to ask which is “most important”.

[Adam: I think you need to play ProgessQuest more… :P. Although I innately agree with this, or used to for many years, PQ eventually persuaded me that this was more of a personal self-delusion than a truism. Useful, but definitely NOT the full picture.]

You need to recognise that it’s not a game if there’s no ownership of inputs; you see something happen, and feel that’s it because of something you did.

Guitar Hero (GH) sucks because pressing a button when you have to isn’t owning any outputs, only owning an input. But … by giving you rock music when you press the butons, it DOES give you an output to own.

I had a sucky game that I was prototyping, and thought it was just really boring, I’d never pay for it, and then I added some cool graphics, and suddenly …it actually became really enjoyable. So I realised that graphics are actually essential.

I did a simple test where you could just jump high and low (small red ball on white bg).

All I did next was map every interaction to some kind of output.

Jumping made you squish narrowly, and when you move left and right a propeller on top rotates. Landing makes you squash out as you splat. Exponential decay on the animation of propeller.

All the gameplay rules are EXACTLY the same, but somehow it’s suddenly more compelling, and that’s what’s been blowing my mind.

[c.f. freecraft – try the early releases where no-one had created copyright-free art yet, so it was all just magenta blobs versus green blobs, and although the ruleset was standard Warcraft 2, the game itself sucked ass] [c.f. Pixar’s very earliest animation work, the mini-story of the angle-poise lamp – look at how much inferred meaning humans can get out of the simplest of graphics, but they need SOME clues as to intent; in the pixar animation, the angle of the lamp, the speed of movement, and the direction of the light beam give you just enough to anthropomorphise it]


Its interesitng because I’ve seen a lot of designers wrestling with this, they feel the publisher isn’t creative, and doesn’t “get” the vision, and it’s because they’re showing the plain simple boxes and lineart version.

I think I see that there’s a certain amount of graphics that you need to even show your basic vision.


If you can’t see it, then it isn’t there.

The game developers are sort of projecting the gameplay, the feedback especially into the game that they know is going to be there, but isn’t there yet, because they have a library of this stuff in their head and know what it will be.


I’m wondering what is the level at which skinning the same mechanics does lead to a different experience, a different game.

What are we innovating on, how much is actually necessary innovation.


We talk about games as expression, and then go into the technical stuff. But I think a lot of the expression is simply “what you see and what you hear”.

Rez has very simple gameplay, not much expression, but the expression in fact IS how the visuals and audios all come together.

What if Call of Duty 3 (COD3) had Rez graphics? I realised that I would go from thinking it was boring and dull, to thinking that it was all about outputs, and that was when I started.


Much of the gameplay is seeing the difference between what you expected to happen when you did something, and what actually happened.

If you see exactly what you expected, then it’s dull.

If you see nothing like what you expected, then it’s ??? pointless??? [didnt hear this clearly]

The audio-visual are part of this feedback, they actualise the feedback. That’s the only way we get to see into the [FSM] of the game to see how it’s reacting to our actions, and to what extent.

GDC08: Scattershots of play – potential of indie games – 1


A very broad range of ideas on what should shape game design at a fundamental level. I greatly enjoyed this for the way it jumped to a bunch of related but competing ideals and perspectives.

Also very interesting for including a 20-minute section on How to Design for Alternate Reality Games (not billed as such, but that’s what it was: a theory on how to think when designing ARGs).


Section 1: Flow, and how to evaluate games
Section 2: Games break down into inputs and outputs
Section 3: Theories of design for Alternate Reality Games


[1] Kellee Santiago
[2] John Mak
[3] Pekko Koskinen

Section 1: Flow, and how to evaluate games

How do we measure games?

Katamari Damacy (KD) valued as “a few hours of short, sweet entertainment”, but also “something you go back to again and again”. How does that makes sense?

I spent more time playing KD than God of War (GoW), but the latter was $60 as opposed to $20.

Is time the way we should be measuring the value of a game?


Tried to design Flow as something you COULD play over and over again, but would potentially play very differently every time. Many players didn’t notice this because of the strong simple central gameplay.


Play value may be more important in terms of “how much longer afterwards you continue to remember / think about it”, like books and films that make you go away and think afterwards, long after you’re no longer experiencing the entertainment.


How you’ve been changed by reading a book is a way of measuring its value/effect, but this is something we don’t do with games.

This is sad, as games have much more potential to affect players.

Maybe its necessary to talk about the number of horus of gameplay, and the replayability, to market and sell game, but I don’t think it has any value for the design of games.


You play a game differently by knowing what’s going to happen next, so replayability actually is very important, potentially. e.g. why are you able to study and re-study a great book over and over again, how do you not get bored / seen it all after the first few times?


KD made me think how even we in the industry don’t place enough value on the “meaningful content” – the fact that we only set a price of $20 suggests we’re not thinking it ourselves.


If we approach the player as “was he entertained? Was he feeling good afterwards, was he taking anything in?”, with design I think we have to look sometimes at the ACTUAL effects that took place – what skills did the player experience, what did they learn while playing?


I don’t think about the player too much when I design games, but that’s because I guess I just design for myself, mostly.


It’s an interesting thought that you can make world design part of the game design. Designing the game-world so that the rewards are integrated into it. World could be small-enviroment, I mean it abstractly.


It’s just another tool, non-intrinsic rewards. It gives some extra meaning to the game. e.g. Geometery Wars (GW) uses points to show that it’s about perfecting a certain skill.


Extrinsic rewards either tap into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or into competitiveness.

If that’s what you WANT to tap into, go for extrinsics, otherwise you have to think more about what exactly the rewards are encourgaging in the player.


We don’t actually think how many rewardlike elements there in the game. For instance, in GW the size of explosopns., the graphic effects, are rewards in themselves. The glorious mega explosions are a special reward too.