Tuesday, March 18

Games Developers Conference - San Francisco

A little late, but here are my thoughts on the GDC conference I attended back in February.

One of the first things I noticed was the lack of Flash Lite content at the event. Adobe had a small stand during the mobile conference, which gained some attention from delegates, but I was disappointed that none of the speakers were from Adobe, nor that there was any key figures from the Flash Lite world speaking at the event. There were plenty of people talking about Flash Lite, and whenever it was mentioned; at least people had heard of it, which is contrary to events I’d been to over the last few years. However although it was on people’s radars, no-one talked about using it on current projects, or had any immediate plans to do so either.

There weren’t any really exciting revelations, or new thinking that I heard. There is certainly lots of scope for improvements in the mobile industry, but progress appears to be slow and difficult for all those involved. The industry in Korea is a lot more mature that the US and Europe, and this was made even more apparent with a speaker from ... who joyfully spoke about a number of projects they have worked on. I realised how far we have yet to go, when models that are only pipe dreams in the US are already second nature to the industry in Korea such as complex social multiplayer gaming and micro transactions.

Distribution and porting were the two most discussed topics over the course of the event, unfortunately with little being said on what the solutions might be for developers. Porting is an ever increasing issue, with more and more devices available, and the insistence of carriers to support all devices. The estimated costs of porting pretty much double the initial development costs for a game, and it doesn’t look like improving any time soon. Everyone is fed up with this situation, and yet as an industry we continue to follow this route blindly where there is clearly an opportunity for a disruptive change in this field. Obviously Flash has an advantage here, and as we reach a milestone of ½ billion Flash Lite devices shipped, and with Microsoft signing to ship Flash Lite on Windows Mobile devices, this advantage is always increasing.

Advertising was probably the third topic of choice, with the general consensus not being very positive to the money making potential for a sustainable business model. The large cost of development for current games has a negative impact on the ability to offset this with advertising alone. However this may be different in the casual space, it will have to been seen.

One thing that concerned me was that the mobile industry appears to be heading for a very hard core gaming audience, looking at advanced graphics, and complex 3D game play. Coming from the console industry I have seen what this means for an industry, and it isn’t necessarily a good thing. It worries me a little that we haven’t learnt anything from the success of the Wii, and the casual games, especially as the mobile platform has the potential to reach a much wider audience than consoles due to its penetration. However with download statistics at measly figures like 6% of mobile owners downloading a game it is worrying that as an industry we are targeting even a small percentage of this market with future technologies.

I believe that there is still a strong case for disruptive technologies in the mobile space, that either revolutionise the gaming experience or the distribution and from what I’ve seen Flash Lite has this potential. In the mean time, there is definitely the opportunity for companies to do conversions from current Java based games into Flash, whilst the Java development studios haven’t got the capabilities to do this in house.

Another point of mention is the undeveloped area of position aware and social games that are being developed. This seems like a very under tapped market and has huge opportunities for developers. This area has been talked about for years, and yet the most interesting games I have come across are Geotracking, with a bit of storytelling behind them, not exactly revolutionary.

Overall the Conference didn’t have much of a buzz about it, which was probably due to there not being many major announcements and the consoles being mid cycle. The two major areas of the main conference that were receiving a lot of interest were input devices and motion capture. Input was a hot topic on a number of fronts, including the Wii Fit, numerous different controller systems and even a mind reading controller. Mobile had its revelation, the Zeemote. This is a Bluetooth analogue controller for mobiles, which has great potential, but again it’s positioned to the hard core games, not the casual market. Other interesting mobile development lie in the areas of using the camera, accelerometers and touch screens for better input solutions, and as long as they are used in the right kind of applications, they offer plenty of opportunities. There were plenty of stands promoting motion capture all competing on ease of setup and cost, with some very cost effective solutions now available.

It was a really interesting conference, and I got to meet some great people. There is a lot of hope for the mobile industry, and I hope over the coming years we will see some fantastic developments and advances that really open the space up for more universal and disruptive mobile games and applications.

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