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Game Connect Asia Pacific GCAP 2010 Wrap-up
Post by MikeBantick @ 02:55pm 18/10/10 | Comments
GCAP 2010: Optimistic future based on quality and community.

As delegates settled in for the final session at Game Connect Asia Pacific 2010, I overheard a fresh faced youngster; “I was looking forward to GCAP for so long and now it’s over.” At the same time, in Brisbane and Melbourne, Krome Studios, at one time the largest games developer in Australia was shutting its doors.

In many ways the enthusiasm of a new breed of game makers coupled with harsh realities of the video-game business encapsulates the way this still fledgling industry is travelling in 2010.

If 2008 was the rise of the casual gamer, and 2009 was the rise of mobile gaming, then the theme for 2010 in many ways was the rise (or return to) the independent game developer.

Whist the theme of GCAP 2010 was ‘The player Experience’ it was a focus on making a success of independent game development that was the conference’s kernel.

Two days of generally excellent presentations bore this nub out for the 250 delegates drawn from Australia’s enthusiastic game development community.

Greg Short, CEO and founder of EEDAR the interactive entertainment research firm, set the tone with a positive crunching of industry number. Examples included the fact that within 48 hours of going on sale, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 made enough revenue to have paid for the Sydney Harbor Tunnel project. Similarly, the last 5 years revenue returns for the Madden NFL franchise could have purchased enough AFL grand final tickets to fill the MCG for the next 105 years (that’s at least 5 more Collingwood flags).

I missed David Edery, director of the International Game Developers Association, by all accounts excellent, keynote address that mapped out the pitfalls for any prospective independent game companies foray into business. But the theme continued in other presentations, such as Simon Joslin from The Voxel Agents’ (upcoming indie studio) ‘Start an indie studio right now!’

Nathan Martz from respected Double Fine Productions (Psychonauts and Brutal Legend) ran delegates through an entertaining overview of just how successful and respected a development studio can become if, with a smattering of luck and a big tub of ‘hard work’, they remain agile despite inevitable personnel growth, and stick to a clear set of core principals.

Microsoft supported this conference well, and though, for me, the development restrictions imposed by the companies recently released Windows Phone 7 (Check this out here) was disappointing, the discussion around the development challenges, but also the opportunities for working with the Xbox 360 Kinect device was enlightening.

As one would expect the conference’s final session summed up two days of gabbing pretty well. So while big decisions were being made by those in charge of Krome Studios, the rest of us nodded along sagely to Paul Callaghan (freelance writer, developer and co- director of Freeplay in Melbourne) as he chaired the panel discussion.

Consisting of Eedar’s Greg Short, Activision’s Director of Developer Relations and Acquisitions, Bob Loya and can-do-no-wrong CEO of Halfbrick Studios (Fruit Ninja), Shainiel Deo, the panel contained very broad experience and opinions upon the interactive entertainment industry.

But generally, all panellists seemed to agree about the current state of play for both the international and Australian industry.

Conceptually the panel spoke about a number of key areas, many again centring on independent games development. A big hurdle for the indies being lack of managerial experience. This fundamental business and project management skill is in short supply industry wide.

Another fundamental for the future of the industry was Quality. All panellists agreed that with added competition comes the need to raise the bar on the product quality. Short admitted that sometimes an aimed for level of quality simply cannot be met given budgets, whilst Loya was more pragmatic with the experience of a giant such as Activision behind him; “Quality is the number one factor in a Green Light decision for any prospective Activision publishing project.”

Passion was a key requirement for work in the Australian video games industry. A Passion for being involved in an industry that is, with the advent of the Nintendo Wii, Facebook gaming, KInect and Move, now touching every demographic market possible. If you want a career in this field however, you will need motivation that goes beyond treating it as simply a job.

As Deo points out, his team at Halfbrick harness their group energy to great effect, and much of the motivation comes from moving away from contractual outsourcing work to their own original IP: “Making games for other people is great, but making games for yourself is so much better .”

Surprisingly, Loya backs this thought up; “You don’t need an Activision to make a game, self publishing is so much more and option today.”

Other sessions at GCAP 2010 touched on this new shift back towards garage based development, but at the same time returned to the unique Australian interactive entertainment industry’s gift of community. Everything from the 48 hour Game Jam run by self confessed IGDA (International Game Developers Association chapter auntie, Truna (able assisted by the ‘brains’ of the outfit Lubi Thomas) to the drunken exchange of ideas and information at the Epic Games sponsored piss up, it is clear that this small but important industry is unique because of the attitude and willingness to share that has been fostered amongst companies that should really be competitors.

The road ahead for the Australian interactive entertainment industry is an unclear one through 2011. Encapsulated in that moment where for all the upbeat talk, Krome Studios closure signals the realities of doing business, but as Short points out potential is everything, and everything is potentially a game waiting to be made. At any moment, one or more of those fresh faced uni-graduates could be riding the success wave of another BioShock, Flight Control, Fruit Ninja of Total War, it just takes a bit of luck, nous, passion and community.

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