Some would consider the idea of creating a massive virtual world beyond the reach of the independent game designer. The attendees of the first annual Indie MMO Game Developers Conference held on April 14th and 15th at the Minneapolis Convention center didn't get that memo.
Speakers and attendees took part in a two-day dialogue that explored history, philosophies and techniques of massively multiplayer game makers working outside the commercial realm. Keynotes from Dr. Richard Bartle, co-creator of MUD, and Josh Williams, CEO of GarageGames set the tone each day.
The event, though modestly attended, was marked by the notable enthusiasm of participants. Each day offered two tracks worth of panels and round table discussions. The game design track focused on the creative side of world making. The free-for-all debate in “Class Systems Versus Skills Systems” found many designers seeking ways to sidestep MMO orthodoxy.
On the business track, the discussion entitled “The Real Life of Indie Executive Producers,” led by Rhea Studios' Eric Rhea, helped clarify the roles of the producer – details that proved informative to designers who wore nearly all the hats in their development team.
Most speakers attended many of the talks, making the dialogue day-long. Dr. Bartle piped in a horror story when the subject of bad player behavior came up during Kelly Heckman's “Community Management” talk. One of the more well-attended round tables was the “Sex in MMOs” discussion hosted by Black Love Interactive's Kelly Rued.
While most game makers conceded that sex would occur in their games whether they liked it or not, few could muster the courage to make it a key game play element. Many cited public perception as the main deterrent, claiming that they had a hard enough time explaining to family and friends that they spent their time making a video game, let alone one that could be considered pornographic.
Bartle too moderated a well-attended round table entitled “Slaughtering Sacred Cows,” in which the influential designer invited the audience to examine the idea of persistent worlds, understand why certain game mechanics have become gospel and try to find new ways to achieve similar goals.
The two day event was organized and hosted by Minneapolis game developer Last Straw – best known for Simian Escape, one of XNA Challenge games from GDC 2007. Sponsors and attending vendors included Dream Games, Multiverse, 3spadeFX, Brown College and GarageGames.
Read on for more in-depth coverage of IMGDC panels and keynotes as well as an interview with designer Celia Pearce from Georgia Tech's Emergent Game Group.