[Discussing the trends at last week's Nordic Game Conference for Gamasutra, Perimeter Partners' former IGDA exec director Jason Della Rocca sums up the state of Scandinavian development, as shown through the event.]
Capcom’s cancellation of Keiji Inafune’s travel plans didn’t dampen regional pride as developers from across the Nordic countries convened in Malmo, Sweden for the 6th iteration of the Nordic Game Conference on May 19 and 20.
The lecture halls and networking events seemed full as ever, with preliminary attendance estimates close to the approx. 1200 developers and game industry folks who attended last year.
The proceedings began with a welcome and intro by conference director Tom Felices of the Nordic Game Program.
As part of the introductory remarks, he welcomed the executive committee of the European Game Developers Federation to the stage.
Outgoing chair, Fred Hasson, discussed some of the EGDF’s recent successes (e.g., helping to get the French tax credit approved), before handing the proverbial baton to incoming chair, Guillaume de Fondaumiere of French studio Quantic Dream.
Tom Felices (Nordic Game Program) opens the conference.
With the brief formalities over, the opening keynote was local success story GRIN – speaking just after the release of Bionic Commando
and Bionic Commando: Rearmed
What made for a competent post-mortem style talk, however, fell flat as an opening keynote. Rather than a more inspiring talk about their Nordic awesomeness (as one would assume to get during an opening keynote), they gave a pragmatic dissection of their design challenges with Rearmed
The developers particularly concentrated on how they were able to produce something creative despite the original remit of primarily serving a promotional function for the full console title.
Per Juhlen (GRIN) covers the production goals of Bionic Commando: Rearmed.
This humility was evident throughout the conference, where, as an outsider, I sensed a certain reluctance by Nordic developers to claim or accept their place as a significant member of the global game development community.
In fact, several sessions dealt specifically with this question of regional identity and industry development. The first day proceeded with a broad range of topics and speakers. These spanned Gorm Lai of IGDA Denmark leading a demo showcase from the Global Game Jam, to Ryan Schneider of Insomniac discussing the importance of community.
The first day of sessions ended with a closing keynote from local engine middleware developer Unity. Much to my delight, what could have easily been abused as a platform for a sales pitch, the Unity exec team instead gave insight into their philosophies for success.
This included embracing openness and community, and managing risk via more evolved online business models – all the while encouraging the game developer audience to see the relationship to their own context.
Also on day 1, I ran two back-to-back “pitching” sessions: one to cover game project pitches, the other more focused on pitching for investment. Both sessions were well attended, as getting projects signed and funding committed remains a top priority for developers.
The panels covered a lot of ground (too much to recap here), with two meta-insights congealing as I left the room. Firstly, and perhaps not surprisingly, but the vast majority of developers (even the ones in biz roles) are severely lacking in business acumen and savvy.
Secondly, investors don’t give a crap about your super awesome game idea, they want to know how you’re going to make money.
Regarding that second point, one bit of advice, for example, is that your pitch presentation to investors should include 18 slides on your business model and how revenue will be generated, then 2 slides on the actual game idea, the team pedigree, etc.
As is tradition, there was a conference-wide dinner, awards ceremony and party to bridge to the second day. The following awards were presented:
- Best Nordic Game: Mirror’s Edge
by EA DICE
- Best New Nordic Talent: Skybound
by Tumbleweed Interactive
- Best Artistic Achievement: Mirror’s Edge
by EA DICE
- Best Nordic Children’s Game: Englekræsj
by Ravn Studio
- Honorable Mention: Crayon Physics Deluxe
The second day kicked off with a keynote by Media Molecule’s Alex Evans – energetic and inspiring as ever. Other notable sessions included Lars Gustavsson discussing DICE’s leap of faith innovating with Mirror’s Edge
; Suda 51 of Grasshopper covering the birth of No More Heroes
; and Ian Bowden of Rockstar Leeds diving into the development challenges of GTA: Chinatown Wars
on the DS.
Also, for the second year, the Nordic Game Program hosted a career day for aspiring students.
Kyle Gabler (2D Boy) and Petri Purho (Kloonigames) field questions from eager students
The closing panel, made up of acclaimed developers from the Nordic region, covered a broad range of topics.
There was a rehash of the Nordic identity question, along with a proclamation that a more indie/alternate approach was the key to the region’s future success – citing Sweden’s IGF Grand Prize winning Blueberry Garden
as an example.
Closing panel moderated by Tobias Sjogren (DDM): Per Rosendal (Guppyworks), Jonas Antonsson (Gogogic), David Helgason (Unity), Karin Ryding (Ozma Speldesign), Jonas Eneroth (IO Interactive).
But, the best statement of the entire conference came from Unity’s David Helgason, who claimed that all our theories for fun/design were BS, and true success comes from torturing little girls. Yes, it made sense when he explained it; you kinda had to be there...
[Jason Della Rocca spent nine years leading the International Game Developers Association. Recently, he left IGDA to found Perimeter Partners, a consultancy focused on building the game industry via consulting on economic and cluster development efforts around the globe.]