Wednesday, 17 July 2013

GUEST BLOG: My best meeting at the Develop Conference

After returning from the Develop Conference in Brighton this week, Mike Bithell - Develop Award-winning developer of Thomas was Alone - wrote this magical blog for Develop Online about his chance meeting with an ageing coder.   

The conference, well, it kinda rocked for me this year. The volunteer stewards kept recognising me. I got to hang out with a ton of awesome journos, devs and the charming as hell Pewdie. I won a hefty award. I ate donuts on a beach. It was a good three days. But one meeting stands out.

On the Wednesday morning, I wandered into the restaurant at the conference's venue bleary eyed. It was later than I'd like, and I knew I'd missed the Cerny keynote. I was gutted. I'm a bit of a Sony fan. I queued, surrounded by holidayers and pensioners, looking around for anyone I knew to chat with over buffet scrambled eggs and single serving jam sachets. Nobody. I was, alone.

Except I wasn't. In front of me in the queue stood a short, elderly lady, politely waiting her turn to be seated. We bonded, mocking the complexity of the breakfast buffet's seating arrangements, and the manager's insistence on precision. I think the manager may have overheard my giggling, as she came over and suggested that as we were 'getting along so well, maybe we'd like to sit together to take up less room'.

And so we did. I saw a couple of chuckling industry folks as we sat down for our breakfast date (and a fair few more nodding approval at me for keeping the lady company) but we got on well.

I went through the predictable small talk list when confronted by a woman of extended years. "Do you holiday in Brighton often?", "What do your children do?", "Have you met any interesting people on the coach trip?". We had a laugh, and I grew less and less concerned about missing the keynote.

And then she asked it, the question I fear from anyone over 50, the question that instantly turns me from 'charming young man' to 'peddler of filth and innocence corruption'.

"What do you do?"

I explained that I made games, not the ones with guns, but more artsy pretentious fare. She talked about her grandchildren's love of iPad games, but how she never could work them out, despite really enjoying animation growing up (she equated games to animation, which I liked). We chatted a bit about that, but then, conversation dried up. Searching, I tried a question that I was surprised hadn't occurred to me earlier..

"What did you do before retirement? Before having a family I mean?"

"I programmed architectural simulations"

I was astonished. Turns out the woman I'd pigeonholed as an 'old lady' was creating programs to balance bridges and ensure scaffolding held up in the early 70s. She was a physics programmer. At this point, I may have freaked her out a little with my enthusiasm. We chatted more about the systems she created before marriage and children whisked her off to the gender expectations of her day. She confided the many times she'd snuck out of the office to watch Popeye cartoons in the cinema. She was a fan of two things in her early 20s, programming and animation.

I leaned in, and in a staggered whisper I murmured, "If you'd been born 50 years later, you'd be an indie game developer like me".

She chuckled at this and nodded, we then had a 10 minute conversation about how character move speeds in games are calculated. She promised to pay a bit more attention next time she watched her grandchildren playing games.

Best meeting ever. And a story to tell the next idiot who tells me women 'don't get' games programming.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

GUEST BLOG: Vive la punk!

As much as I don’t like to admit it, I’m an old bastard, having been in the industry in various forms for 20 plus years and working with the team at Sports Interactive for 19 years.
Miles Jacobson

In that time, I’ve seen a lot of changes. 20 years ago, hardly anyone was using email for a start, let alone high speed interweb that many people take as a human right nowadays. We’ve gone from bedroom coding, to being told that the only way to survive was to be a huge multi-project, multi-studio indie, from indie being the only way, to publisher owned being the only way, no studio IP ownership to Angry Birds toothpaste, from console being the only way to go, to mobile being the only way, and pretty much everyone up until a couple of years ago claiming that the PC was dead (for the record, we’ve done pretty well on PC constantly through this period).

It’s all been pretty exciting. We’re very lucky to be part of a constantly changing industry – the only stable thing being the entertainment we provide to people who play our games. But right now, for me, it is the most exciting the industry has ever been.

Effectively, we’re going through punk.

Barriers to entry have, by and large, been removed.  You can now make a game using one of the many platform tools available for next to nothing, and publish it yourself for Windows, Linux, Mac or Android with no barriers at all. Getting onto some of the digital retail platforms is harder, but in Steam Greenlight’s case, democratic. There are a few hurdles to cross on some of the others, but none of them unsurpassable. Unless you want to be on Xbox, but I expect that’ll change.

People making games in their spare time, and having hits. People able to make games around themes that they want to work on, rather than what the market tells you will sell. I’m very lucky in that, at SI, we’ve always made the games that we want to make with little interference, but I’m well aware that most in the last 20 years haven’t had that luxury.

Of course, this new punk isn’t utopia. There are still huge problems with discoverability no matter what platform you are on. I can name a lot of games that I thought would be a lot more successful than they have been, and others that have simply not been picked up on at all. When you have tens of thousands of games coming out a month, not all can be successful. But at least people are trying.

I see in the press a lot of the woes the industry has been through and still faces. But I don’t see enough celebration of the success stories, such as the dozens of teams that have gone from being made redundant to releasing their own creativity, the tools that give the power to the devs, the new IP so desperately needed to push the industry forward (hey – sports games are immune to criticism there, OK!)

What’s been really great for me to see has been the camaraderie amongst the new breed, particularly in the UK. I’m lucky to have met many of the devs and teams, both socially and via my work at UKIE, and it’s brilliant to see people helping each other out with discoverability which is the key to success – let’s not go the way of punk and let jealousy get in the way of getting creative work recognised. Or spit on each other. That would be bad.

Some old school publishers are learning, too. Those who aren’t fixated on next gen consoles and hundred million dollar budgets have either worked on their future business models already, or, well, just like so many record labels in the punk era, they won’t survive. They can certainly help with marketing, PR and finances for those projects that need it and, in many cases, will get extra sales on titles – but the best have learnt that they are not the talent who makes the games.

You, the developers reading this, are the talent. Make great games. The rest will follow. Vive la punk.

This blog was written by Miles Jacobson, managing director of Sports Interactive and Develop Conference advisory board member. Contact him on Twitter @milessi