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Indie video game designers success and sales pitch

Chaos Industries CEO Humberto Cervera, center, explaining a game at the conference

They do it in their hotel rooms or in front of everyone across a cavernous convention hall.

They even try it on street corners.

In almost every spot imaginable last week at the Game Developers Conference, indie designers touted their latest creations in the hope of becoming the next Minecraft or #GoneHome.

The biggest challenge facing the growing number of independent video-game creators — those who self-publish their quirky titles — isn’t making, distributing or even funding their creative visions.

It’s persuading people to buy the games.

“There’s just something about human interaction,” said Chris McQuinn, a designer at Toronto-based indie developer DrinkBox Studios. “The ultimate goal is to meet someone who might champion your game — a fan who will go off and tell their friends about it. There’s no more powerful message about a game than when it comes from a fan.”

McQuinn attributed much of the success of the company’s Guacamelee! to the gamers the studio befriended at various gatherings, including the fan-focused Penny Arcade Expo. It is one of several grass-roots tactics that indie game makers are employing to stir up hype.

The majority of developers at the conference, the largest annual gathering of the industry in the United States outside the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, classify themselves as indie.

Advancements such as crowdfunding, easier-to-use development tools and digital distribution services have made way for a swarm of indie creators crafting content mostly for personal computers and mobile devices.

For every hit, though, dozens of other games get no buzz.

Despite the rise of self-publishing, most indies lack the marketing budgets and promotional prowess that big-time publishers such as Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard use to hype expensive-to-produce titles such as Titanfall and Call of Duty.

Instead, indies typically rely on word-of-mouth to persuade gamers to click “Download.”

During the past five years, it has worked in many cases — and the industry has taken notice.

“Making sure that a game can get discovered is the new challenge in game development,” said Chris Charla, director at [email protected], a program that Microsoft recently launched to attract developers to independently publish games for its Xbox One console. “We’ve already solved a lot of problems in terms of creating games and distributing games.”

After making it easier to fashion games for their latest hardware, the industry’s three major console makers — Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo — reached out to indie developers at this year’s conference with dedicated talks and events.

The message is clear: They don’t want indies only on PCs and smartphones.

“One of the things we’re really proud of at Xbox One is that all of the games are sold in the same marketplace,” Charla said. “Any of the games in this room are going to be in the same place as Titanfall on the Xbox games store. We’ve also got things like Upload Studio and Twitch streaming, which are really viral ways of discovering games.”

Ultimately, an indie’s success comes down to the same query vexing all forms of entertainment: Is it any good?

Reblogged from: dispatch.com

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Upcoming Steam Dev Days game developers conference

Upcoming Valve Steam Dev Days game developers conference

Half-Life studio Valve is launching its own conference. Today Valve announced the #Steam #Dev #Days conference, to be held in Seattle, Washington in January 2014.

The two-day event is aimed at bringing #video #game #professionals together in a “relaxed, off-the-record environment” to share advice, participate in discussions, and attend lectures by other professionals.

A schedule will be posted as the conference approaches. Media are not allowed to attend.

Lecture topics include game economies, virtual reality, Linux/OpenGL, and user-generated content, among others. Developers who attend will also get to try out #SteamOS, prototype Steam Machines, and Steam Controllers.

Developers can register for Steam Dev Days through a special website for the event. Registration is $95.

Reblogged from: gamespot.com

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FTL and Spec Ops: The Line talks coming to GDC

Indie dev Subset Games to discuss how and why it took the strategy title to Kickstarter

”ftl-talk-coming-to-gdc”

Talks covering the post-mortem of indie hit Faster Than Light (FTL) and Spec Ops: The Line’s narrative have been revealed for the Game Developers Conference 2013.

FTL creators Justin Ma and Matthew Davis of Subset Games will discuss how and why they took to Kickstarter to fund the title’s development, as well as looking at the player experience of running a starship and keeping gameplay structures, mechanics and genre secondary.

The talk, titled ‘Designed Without a Pitch – FTL Post-mortem’ will also explain to developers “the hows and whys of separating one’s expectations from preconceived notions about games, genres, settings, and other previous experiences when designing”.

2K Games lead writer Walt Williams meanwhile will be taking to the game narrative summit to detail the story behind FPS Spec Ops: The Line.

In his talk, ‘We are not heroes: Contextualising violence through narrative’, Williams will discuss how creating the title’s narrative around shooting mechanics “led to a more immersive and emotionally impactful experience”.

Another speaker added to the conference’s roster is the University of Waterloo’s Karen Collins, who will detail a number of interactive exercises and examples from a 12-week course to teach students how to make game audio.

GDC 2013 will take place between March 25th and 29th at the Moscone Centre in San Francisco.

Develop will be out force at the event to cover all the latest and breaking stories as they happen. The March issue of Develop will also be available throughout the conference.

Reblogged from: develop-online.net

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Best and worst of times for games, Valve vs. Apple

It’s the best of times and the worst of times for the game industry, Ed Fries said during the game panel at the WTIA TechNW conference.

Fries, who became an investor in games companies after leading Microsoft’s game studios, said games are becoming the leading entertainment platform.

The Seattle area has more than 160 game companies, including several working on titles with budgets over $100 million, Fries said.

At the same time, retail sales of games are on track this year to be 40 percent below their peak in 2008.

So, Fries asked panelists, best of times or worst?

Gabe Newell, owner and president of Bellevue game giant Valve, said, “It’s a very interesting time.”

“Our business is growing very rapidly both on the content side and on the service platform side so in that sense, business has never been better,” Newell said. “The challenges we see looking forward are very rapidly evolving model for how value is created for customers.”

After broad pursuit massively multiplayer online games, the free-to-play model is emerging as “a really interesting opportunity,” he said.

But there are dark clouds forming, Newell continued, raising concerns about the closed-garden approach of platforms such as Apple’s iOS.

“On the platform side, it’s sort of ominous that the world seems to be moving away from open platforms,” he said.

Platform providers that used to use their role to enable developers “instead view themselves as more rent guys who are essentially driving their partner margins to zero,” he said.

“They build a shiny sparkling thing that attracts users and then they control people’s access to those things,” he said.

Newell said that “very large structural investments and structural changes” are coming over the next few years that will threaten people who create value bulding things like the open Internet.

After a quiet pause, Fries moved on to other topics.

Has the console business run its course, for instance.

Samantha Ryan, senior vice president of development and production at Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, said there’s plenty of life left in the console business and triple-A titles are still selling well.

“There is a very strong console business and it’s going to be around for awhile,” she said.

Newell said there are four platforms, including the Internet, mobile, desktop and the living room.

The living room is the domain of the consoles, and it’s ability to exist independently from the other platforms is gone, Newell said.

Newell expects Apple to disrupt the living room platform with a new product that will challenge consoles, although he doesn’t have any particular knowledge of that new product.

“I suspect Apple will launch a living room product that redefines people’s expectations really strongly and the notion of a separate console platform will disappear,” he said.

Newell reiterated his concerns about a closed model being the “wrong philosophical approach” but one that people will emulate because of the success of Apple and Xbox Live.

“I’m worried that the things that traditionally have been the source of a lot of innovation are going – there’s going to be an attempt to close those off so somebody will say ‘I’m tired of competing with Google, I’m tired of compeitng with Facebook, I’ll apply a console model and exclude the competitors I don’t like from my world.’”

Fries asked Newell to clarify whether he sees Apple as being a closed platform.

“I consider Apple to be very closed,” Newell said. “Let’s say you have a book business and you are charging 5 to 7 percent gross margins. You can’t exist in an Apple world because they want 30 percent and they don’t care that you only have 7 percent to play with.”

Doesn’t Valve’s Steam service also extract a “tax” on game companies that use the platform, Fries asked.

Newell said Steam gets a commission if games are sold through Steam, but developers can use its free tools and services and sell their games elsewhere and “we don’t take anything.”

If Valve were to make a hardware platform, it would open it up to competing distribution systems because openness is important to the future of the entertainment industry, he said.

David Bluhm, president and chief executive of game company Z2Live, finally stood up for Cupertino.

“I would argue Apple’s system is very open but very proprietary … it’s open with their rules,” he said.

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