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Ask Gamasutra: What GDC 2013 meant to us
Ask Gamasutra: What GDC 2013 meant to us Exclusive
April 2, 2013 | By Staff




Ask Gamasutra is a regular column that takes issues from within the video game industry, and poses them as a question to the editorial staff. For this edition: what last week's Game Developer Conference meant to the Gamasutra staff.

This year's GDC has come and gone, and if you've been following along with Gamasutra's extensive coverage, you'll know that there were definite key takeaways.

Of course, each attendee is going to go back home with varying thoughts, feelings and inspirations compared to everyone else, as is the nature of the wide-ranging topics on offer at the conference.

With this in mind, the question for this edition of Ask Gamasutra:

What were your main takeaways from GDC 2013, and what did those ideas mean for you and the video game industry?

Kris Graft
Editor-in-Chief

Twitter: @krisgraft

Looking back on the week, the clear recurring theme was the rise of the individual. This goes deeper than just the "rise of the indie" that has been happening for years now. GDC this year seemed so much more about the individuals than the corporations. And even the corporations are realizing that the video game industry is about the people who make video games.

You see this with Sony and Nintendo's developer-friendly iniatives, you see tools for game development improve, making the art of game creation accessible to people of all kinds of backgrounds. New platforms offer new opportunities for creatives. Kickstarter has also opened so many doors since last GDC, too. (Itís kind of crazy to think the Kickstarter video game boom really only started a little more than a year ago with Double Fine Adventure.)

This industry is back in the hands of the creators, and that's a net positive for the players, and for the art (and business) of video games. The artistic, creative undercurrent has become the overcurrent, and Iím more optimistic about the future of video games than I have been for a long time.

Patrick Miller
Editor, Game Developer magazine

Twitter: @pattheflip

My takeaways:

Indies are in: As Andy Schatz said during the IGF, indies are culture now, and everyone's a little bit punk rock. PS4 details, Metal Gear Solid 5 reveal, whatever - all eyes were on the folks doing creative things in games, whether they're indie in practice or in spirit (read: Journey). Whether the money will follow is another question entirely - but it's nice to know that when you put on a show devoted to the people who make the games, it doesn't look like last year's E3 or the PS4 reveal.

It gets better: As a longtime advocate for more discussion of race/gender/class/sexuality in and around video games, I was heartened to see that gender issues were front and center at GDC this year. Yes, some unfortunate things happened, but the sheer number of people willing to speak out about them is much, much higher than I remember in the past, and that made me happy.

Still no love for competitive games: Never mind that organized competitive games are blowing up thanks to a wider global audience and easily-accessible live video streaming tech, or that Riot Games's careful nurturing of League of Legends's competitive community was integral to its success over the last few years; they're practically absent at GDC. (Weirdly enough, I hear more people talking about eSports at tech shows than I do at GDC or E3.) It seems strange to me that taking games seriously as Art is a sign of maturity, but actually taking games seriously as a venue for skill development is seen as somewhat immature by comparison. Hey, commenters: Would you attend a competitive game design summit?

Leigh Alexander
Editor-at-Large

Twitter: @leighalexander

For me, the most important takeaway was that the conversation about diversity and respect for new creative voices -- especially those that have previously been in an underserved minority -- has become terribly important to the broader professional conversation about games.

I spoke on the #1ReasontoBe panel along with a number of amazing women, and we received an emotionally overwhelming response from the audience. Brenda Romero's resignation as co-chair of the IGDA in a condemnation of scantily-clad dancers at the Yetizen-sponsored IGDA party was a meaningful and much-discussed gesture, and I will never forget hearing Anna Anthropy give a powerful reading: Her adaptation of Cara Ellison's poem "John Romero's Wives", which deals with the issues of discrimination and diminishment women in the games space have had to face. She received a standing ovation, and that meant so much to me.

As an outspoken women on games myself, I've often felt a little anxious or alone at GDC, but this year I was surrounded by a chorus of empowerment. I was less afraid to be seen, and so were many women I met in development, from those making small, personal games about their own experiences to women who've been at big studios for years. We still have a long way to go, but to see diversity considered as among the most important issues at a professional game development event was incredibly powerful. I see the possibility of a more inclusive, safe place to work on the horizon!

Christian Nutt
Features Director

Twitter: @ferricide

I went into GDC expecting the question to be: What platform will really matter later this year? With the PlayStation 4 and next Xbox on the horizon, the potential popularity of Android consoles, tablet controller solutions, and indies focusing on PC, I expected this question to be on everybody's lips. Turns out that the platform holders and publishers are really the only ones who care: everybody else just wants to make games, and they're doing their best to wade through the platform muck with no compass.

So I found the focus to be on games, which makes sense for GDC. I don't think Andy Schatz's comment that "everybody's a bit punk rock now" really encapsulates what's going on; there's just games now; the truth is, many indies are making commercial work, the equivalent of clever pop music - or appropriating mainstream games as part of their creative process of collage. Dys4ia uses the design language of WarioWare in an ingenious way to give you an instant understanding of someone else's identity.

The conversation at the show was all around inspiration and creativity - even when it was about its inverse -- and that's a conversation that I was happy to hear happening.


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Comments


David Paris
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I'd love to see more attention/acknowledgement of competitive gaming but I think the main problem is just that it remains a very small field. More importantly, I don't think you can easily predict that you'll be hitting the level of success that makes it a real possibility for your product ( unless you happen to be Blizzard ). LoL is the poster-child for this clearly, but also think of all the other MOBAs that really want to be an eSport but just can't make the cut. I think perhaps it is a solid growth path for a very successful multiplayer title, than as a first step target.
rn
rnBut yes, it definitely seems silly not to see more attention paid to this pretty amazing path right now!

Addison Martinez
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I think as the lack of attention for competitive gaming comes from the general trend of casual/ older female gamers emerging as a key demographic containing the most purchasing power with less risks (costs) associated with targeting this group. It's likely only major developers will be making MOBAs and they will tend to go the Hollywood rout. Sequels upon sequels upon sequels.

Bruno Xavier
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There are just too many platforms nowadays.
And all of them invest everything they can to deliver better graphics while all other things game are lacking behind such as AI, better animations, better physics simulation and so on.
Sometimes I feel like AAA games industry is just like the fashion one; It's all about who is looking better.
Isn't graphical level already enough? Are we going through all this circus once again?

Jay Anne
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Console hardware cannot do much to improve AI, animation, physics. And improving those things are not the solutions that will fix the problems of console gaming anyway.

Mathieu MarquisBolduc
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I wrote a lengthy reply, but somehow it got lost when I submitted. sigh.

Basically, AI, animation and physics *have* been improving. Tremendously. However, graphics advances are easier so explain and demonstrate, more "in your face" if you will, so its gets the spotlight.

Its like a movie trailer. Its kinda hard to show that a movie has great character development in a trailer (or a poster...). Or pacing, etc. So you put the special effects and the one-liners and the wide shots in the trailer to sell the movie, but that doesnt mean that the rest is crappy. Play 10 minutes of the 1st Uncharted, then 10 minutes of the last, and tell me that the animation hasnt improved. Same for most IPs this generation.

@Jay

I dont agree completely, in both AI and animation, the very limited RAM on current gen hardware is a big issue. Free just 1.44 meg of memory (one floppy!) for the animation budget and your animation lead will name his first-born after you (almost slightly exagerated, but you get the point).

Jay Anne
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@Mathieu
Then will the PS4's increased RAM cause an epidemic of strangely-named children? ;-)

While I would agree that RAM has been a factor in animation quality, it seems the much larger factor has been production time and capacity. Though I suppose the next big leaps in animation quality will likely come from much larger joint counts and additional animation simulations like cloth, hair, muscle, which need CPU/GPU power. So maybe console hardware can actually help there. Though once again, the limiting factor with those simulations may come down to the cost of hiring people to write and create content for them.

Mathieu MarquisBolduc
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Now what do you mean by "strange" ^_^

Ive been doing AI exclusively for a few years, but I look back at all the mocap data we had to throw back then because we couldnt fit it in memory... now in theory we can get more variety, less compression, more definition (bones)... and if your tools are good it wont take any longer to setup than it currently is. Thats a bif if. Tools are everything.

The other (very likely) possibility is that you'll get the same quality in animation and physics, but you will get more characters around you. (more epic battles and less storming a city with an army of 8.). Or likely a mix of both.

Jay Anne
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@Mathieu
I meant that people would name their children after their PS4 devkits :-)

That's a good point. If easy improvements come from just increasing the existing resource limits, then maybe the hardware will do a lot. That was a point made by environment and character modelers too.

Wylie Garvin
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I agree with Mathieu here. Current-gen games with lots of animation have to brutally compress it to make it all fit within their RAM budget (which might be as low as 30 MB for all of the gameplay animations in the entire game -- tens of thousands of them). Quality will be noticably better on next-gen platforms where you can afford to have hundreds of MB of animation data in memory.

Adam Alexander
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While at GDC, I heard a couple of individuals talking about asking UBM to make the recording of the #1ReasontoBe talk available to everyone, rather than just those who would normally have GDCVault access. I think its a great idea, and a chance for UBM to help spread an important message!

Kris Graft
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No guarantees, but I totally agree and am working on it! Maybe you heard me talking :)

Elisabeth Beinke-Schwartz
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That would be amazing! I wasn't able to make it to GDC this year and I am disappointed I missed this talk in particular.

Geraldo Perez
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I find a lot of parallels with what everyone is saying here mimic my own experience at PAX East this year, so clearly it is indicative of the gaming zeitgeist of the moment. While some AAA offerings never fail to provide some interest and at least technical eye candy, I found myself returning to and genuinely more interested in the Indie Mega Booth and its participants. Even as many of us continue to bemoan the state of the games industry and what appears to be a downward trend in hiring\studio sizes, the reality is that a lot of talented people, either left homeless from studio closures or those never allowed to get to bat in the big show, are making the games they want to make.

Jay Anne
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Then I'd find it disappointing that the games they really want to make are mobile endless runners and 2D platformers. I may be alone in this opinion, but I don't believe most of these people actually have the financial capability to make the actual game they want to make.

Geraldo Perez
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I can only speak to my experience at PAX and the Indie Mega Booth, so your generalization doesn't apply to what I saw in person. Which conference were you at that all you saw was mobile endless runners and 2D platformers from indies, or is this just a general feel you're getting?

Jay Anne
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What is the actual state of indie development? Some breakout outliers, and some "traditional studios-publisher model" companies, and a large group of laid-off developers maxing out their credit cards to self-publish a game? I don't think of that as "having arrived" yet. I look forward to the creative potential, but the business side does not look rosy.

Addison Martinez
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I agree with you Jay. What is the point of the indie company? To make games? Sure, but unless the developer lacks business sense entirely, the indie developer is likely to have an exit strategy of what to do with there game company. More than likely this involves an IPO or selling the company (likely to a bigger developer). If they are unsophisticated they may go bankrupt. Yes, there is the occasional success like Braid and Fez, but those developers had there struggles. So will the "indie" ever truly arrive.

I think a better business model, which will allow creative games to take chances while staying in the black is the one of That Game Company. An Independent Company backed by a major publisher. Of course not every one has this opportunity.

Patrick Miller
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Thatgamecompany went bankrupt shipping Journey, so I'd hardly call that a great example.

Addison Martinez
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Journey had lots of issues that I blame on the developers. I was looking more at it from the initial 3 game deal they had straight out of USC. It was a valid formula for success.

But the fact they went bankrupt proves my point more.

Addison Martinez
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Although, I soppose you could also argue that the multi deal with Sony also caused part of their troubles, preventing their games from going multi platform.

Jed Hubic
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I don't know that indie development is a state? It's just someone or a company that makes games outside of the standard large publisher backing. I know tons of indie developers all with varying stories and different metrics for success. Your generalization shows a lack of education on that side of the industry, and possibly a large bias for some reason.

Jed Hubic
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I don't know that indie development is a state? It's just someone or a company that makes games outside of the standard large publisher backing. I know tons of indie developers all with varying stories and different metrics for success. Your generalization shows a lack of education on that side of the industry, and possibly a large bias for some reason.

Addison Martinez
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Sure if you want to generalize it that way. But each game, whether developed by an independent company or a kid in his room, is a business product made with labor and capital. Many of these companies are created as passion projects with no business sense and subject the developers to personal liability. All I am saying is having the support of big name publisher helps.

But you're right. There are many different stories of success. But there are also many stories of failure. Maybe I am just biased in the sense that when a developer fails I would rather they fail on some one else's dime.

Always down to learn more Jed so feel free to enlighten me.

Addison Martinez
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I think its great that the industry is starting to recognize individual developers and offering new outlets for creation. However, I am concerned with crowd funding leading to legal ramifications for creatives. The last thing we want is the next great developer, who doesn't have the joys of in house counsel, to be guilty of violating labor laws, IRS codes, and IP infringement. I think there needs to be substantial guidance offered or we could see a set back.

Matthew Downey
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@Patrick Miller

Assuming it's affordable and near the east coast, I would easily go to a competitive game design summit.

I've always loved the competitive gaming crowd. I also love design/theory even if I try to focus on learning mathematics/programming more often. Thus a summit on game design and competition would be a no-brainer for me.

If there is such a summit it'll probably happen on the west coast though.

Filip Lizanna
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I would definitely add a competitive game design summit. I'm also going to follow all of you right now.


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