Five takeaways from GDC Europe 2013
The GDC Europe conference is over for another year (Gamasutra's full coverage here
), and as partner event Gamescom begins to wind down on the press front, I've been collating the various tidbits that I've taken away from this week.
There was already plenty to think about with regards to the various talks that were given over the last several days, but numerous conversations I had with developers, publishers et al also cemented a number of key points that appeared to brim to the surface on multiple occasions.
Here's the five main talking points that I seemingly couldn't escape from throughout the week.
1. Mobile is a massive market, but it's not the be all and end all
There were, of course, hundreds of developers all eager to show off their mobile games during the show, and a good portion of the talks at GDC Europe centred around the mobile market.
But there was also notable unrest. Many developers I talked to, some who had dabbled in mobile and others who had not, were quite frankly feeling a little sick and tired of the sentiment that if you're not making a game for mobile platforms, you face being irrelevant.
The team behind Nintendo 3DS game SteamWorld Dig
, for example, had previously released a mobile game -- and while it provided decent enough sales, the studio wasn't really all that happy to eventually have its game lost to the destructive tide of mobile games that land on the iOS App Store every day.
The 3DS eShop has been a different story entirely for the Image and Form team. While there clearly aren't as many potential consumers to hook, the fact that the team's game was one of only a handful of titles that was made available during its launch week meant that visibility was high, and a feature on the front page of the eShop meant even more sales.
I heard a similar sentiment from plenty of other developers too, including Shadow of the Damned
director Massimo Guarini. The industry veteran (who founded the studio Ovosonico) revealed his PS Vita game Murasaki Baby
earlier this week, and he too doesn't see the appeal of launching a game onto an online store where he'll be battling against hundreds and thousands of other titles to rise to the top for a brief space of time.
Massimo Guarini's Murasaki Baby
This isn't anything new, of course -- just last month Thomas Was Alone
creator Mike Bithell noted that "the middle ground devs all ran off to mobile, and left the door unlocked for us." He too announced a Sony partnership this week, as his upcoming game Volume
will debut on PS4 and PS Vita.
But whereas these sorts of musings have been going on for a while, I really got the impression this week that, for many more developers, there's acknowledgement that mobile isn't the answer to everything.
2. The confusing indie console message
Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll know that console manufacturers absolutely adore indie devs all of a sudden.
Jump back just a year ago, and The Big Three were touting their massive AAA releases on a regular basis. Throughout this week, there's a notable indie movement, as there has been throughout 2013: Sony's conference was packed full of indie games, Microsoft revealed its ID@Xbox self-publishing program, and Nintendo was bigging up a number of its indie games on Nintendo 3DS, including the aforementioned SteamWorld Dig
But while it all sounds fantastic on the surface, I came away from this week rather confused about whether it's all for show, or whether these console giants are truly positioning indie games as a main selling point.
Take the contrast between Sony's conference and its Gamescom show floor display, for example. I'd set out to play as many of the indie games coming to Sony consoles as possible, but when I arrived at the massive Sony booth, it was rather difficult to actually find the indie games.
That's because while the triple-A releases had each been granted massive space with a handful of monitors each, the indie games had been relegated to the edges and corners of the booth, with barely any signposting at all.
Now, I'm not suggesting that Sony should have thrown OlliOlli
stands up right next to the potentially millions-selling triple-A PS3 and PS4 games that Sony has on the cards -- I'd personally love if they'd have done so, but I'm not naive enough to expect that would have been the case.
But when I say that the indie games appeared to be a complete afterthought of the booth, I'm not exaggerating. You had to essentially skim around the outskirts of the Sony booth, away from all the main games, and then peer down at the scattered Vitas to actually find the games you wanted to play.
Multiple times I had to choose a landmark somewhere else in the room -- "Let's meet just next to the massive The Last of Us
booth, then we can walk to my game from there" -- because it was so difficult to find any individual indie games. Numerous of the devs that I talked to weren't very happy about it either.
To be fair, at least I could find some indie games at the Sony booth. Perhaps I was looking in the wrong place, but I didn't see a single indie game at either the massive Nintendo or Microsoft areas. Again, I stress that I wasn't hugely surprised by this at all, but it does seem to clash somewhat with the indie pushes that appear to be happening online and during conferences.
From my perspective, it's clear that these companies are well aware that indie games aren't going to sell consoles to a certain segment of players, hence why the triple-A showing is still very much front and center. Still, it's discouraging to see one message being pushing in one area, and then seeing an entirely different message in another.
3. Exciting and quirky new hardware still brings in the masses
People are always happy to queue up or stand around to see something a bit different, and this year was no different.
The lines to experience the Oculus Rift VR headset were lengthy, and I had plenty of conversations about how the new HD visuals looked and felt, and what could potentially be done with the technology.
I hadn't tried the standard version of the Oculus Rift, but pretty much everyone I talked to who had sampled both the standard and HD versions said that there wasn't a great deal of difference between the two. Still, it's early days for the hardware, and no doubt numerous months before it will be made available to the public.
But it wasn't just the Rift that was pulling in the crowds. Mikolaj Kaminski's Achtung Arcade, an arcade machine packed full of smaller games from the dev, sat quietly in a corner until someone decided to pick up a controller -- at which point a crowd would gather to see what all the fuss was about.
And the Luggatron was particularly exciting. Joon Van Hove from Glitchnap, who has previously created arcade-style machines in the most wackiest of places (for example, integrated into a baby carriage) wanted to bring another of his crazy machines to GDC Europe, but could only check one bag in.
The Luggatron and Achtung Arcade at GDCE -- Vine by Joonturbo
This gave him the idea to build the Luggatron -- an arcade machine built into a suitcase, with the monitor on the outside. It's more than an impressive feat, and as you'd expect, plenty of people wanted to give it a try.
It's remarkable to see this sort of innovation with your own eyes, and it's no wonder that so many of these smaller indie shows like Wild Rumpus and Bit of Alright are growing so rapidly in popularity, when they have great ideas like these to enjoy.
4. Being an indie console launch title is not the same as being a AAA launch title
Whenever a new Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo console launch rolls around, we regularly hear the same studio names -- Ubisoft, for example, are massive fans of early console adoptions, and always make sure to have at least a handful of titles ready for launch.
It's obvious why, of course: Gamers want to pick up a small number of games with their new consoles, sometimes regardless of quality, and so having a wide spread of titles at launch that perhaps don't incur as large production costs as normal can be very beneficial. Of course, your relationship with the manufacturer won't exactly be harmed either.
And there's the added bonus that the press wants to talk about each and every console launch game. If you're launching alongside a games console, you are going to get articles all over the shop.
As it turns out, however, it may be the case that smaller indie games delivered at launch don't see such benefits. As part of a talk earlier this year, Felix Bohatsch from Broken Rules revealed that his game Chasing Aurora had not received any sort of sales spike
at the Wii U launch whatsoever.
I'm not going to pretend that Chasing Aurora
was fantastic and essential -- even Bohatsch himself admitted that the game needed more time, and it was rushed for release at launch -- but the fact that the studio saw zero sales spike at launch, while triple-A companies churn out some awful stuff for console launches and still see enough of a spike to make it worthwhile, should really tell us something.
Bohatsch's reasoning was that it was a combination of players picking up a handful of triple-A games and being satisfied enough with that, and a slightly high price point for the amount of content Broken Rules was offering. From my point of view, it does seem to make sense that more traditional players are going to be focusing on the likes of New Super Mario Bros. U
and Nintendo Land
instead of heading to the new eShop and plucking out games at random.
In fact, Bohatsch suggested that if he could go back and do it again, he'd instead launch a few months after the Wii U came out, in a bid to catch those people who had finished off all the triple-A titles, and were now hungry for me. It's an angle well worth considering for any developers who are currently crunching hard to be ready for the upcoming Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launches.
5. The emotional game uprising
Although I don't like to admit it, I regularly shed a tear or five when watching tear-jerker movies and TV shows. In contrast, I cried for the first time ever at a video game last year -- the glorious The Walking Dead
Stirring up emotion in players has never really been at the forefront of game design -- well, unless you're David Cage, of course -- but the last year has definitely seen a surge of developers talking about injecting emotion and personality into their characters.
Take the recent Brothers
, for example, which managed to stir up emotion in players simply through gameplay, rather than any real storyline. Telltale and Starbreeze aren't the only studios exploring emotion either, as plenty of conversations I had this week involved making the player feel something for the characters and their tales.
Quantic Dream's Cage was once again doling out the prize sentences as per usual
, explaining in his GDC Europe talk that "we should learn from films" when it comes to injecting emotion into games.
But there were plenty of developers talking about emotional responses to non-film-like games too. Gone Home
was mentioned numerous titles, for example, while the aforementioned Massimo Guarini is currently building an entire game around emotion, as players take his Murasaki Baby
by the hand and guide her through fear and elation.
There's still a long way to go, no doubt, until we can truly claim that video games stir up the range of emotions that other mediums have been mustering up for years. But the overall impression I got this week is that plenty of steps are being taken in the right direction.