Festival of Games, Or: The Day I Met JP Vaughan

Kia Ora!

You may wonder why that greeting. Well, I know it’s been a while since I posted, but I have good reason (beyond the usual, like work and general life). I took a day off to volunteer at NLGD’s Festival of Games, held this year at De Overkant in Amsterdam. FoG is a matchmaking event for executives, companies, and the heart and soul of the industry, the talent (developers, freelancers, designers, etc) to have the opportunity to mingle with one another in a fun but professional setting. I thought the concept was pretty neat, sort of like speed-dating for gaming and gaming-related companies and potential employees. Most impressive for me was the presence of Ilja Linnemeijer, a Partner at Pricewaterhouse Coopers in their Dutch Technology sector with a specialization in the Video Gaming Industry. How awesome is it that this is how far we’ve come? A decade or two ago, any one of the Big Four might have sneered at the thought of paying active attention to the gaming industry. Now they’ve got partners speaking at conferences and annual reports on the state of the sector. Gotta love what money does to attract attention.

I bet Ben Franklin was a Peggle fan.

I bet Ben Franklin was an RTS fan.

 

I was a volunteer for the talent section, so I was handing out badges and disseminating information with those attending for either the job-hunt potential or as an invited guest for an exhibitor, speaker or exhibitor. It was a pretty crazy rush of people once the doors opened at 9 AM, which was to be expected. Having woken up at 5 AM, I braced myself and managed to survive until about 12 PM, when the flow turned to more of a trickle and we were able to take our breaks, get some lunch and check out the festival. Since I had not been able to take the following day (today) off to attend the last few conferences (since my badge granted me access), I took advantage of my break by inhaling a sandwich and heading out to mingle. Now, earlier in the day I’d retweeted RocketRainbow Studio’s tweet about heading into Festival of Games. An awesome Kiwi (aka someone from New Zealand for the uninitiated) named Lucy Morris replied to both of us saying it would be cool to link up with another indie. Now, I’m no developer; I’m more marketing/writing, and I stated that, anticipating the usual brush-off that I’ve received from the gaming industry. To my (happy) surprise, they wanted to meet regardless. We exchanged a few more tweets, trying to figure out where we all were, and towards the end of my break, I posted up at the Guerrilla Games booth, told them where I was and waited.

The first to approach me was Lucy, who I discovered was a Kiwi as soon as she started to speak. We chatted a bit about the festival and how she had come over from Germany to Amsterdam to attend. We bonded over the waning creativity in the AAA segment of the gaming industry, the lack of female developers present at FoG, and the fact that both our dads had discouraged our interest in gaming at an early age, but that we both had never shaken the passion. And then, behind us someone goes “Melissa?” and my brain flickered, like in that moment when you think you know someone but you can’t quite place them. The newcomer introduced himself as JP Vaughan and then the light-bulb went off: PopCap! Plants vs Zombies! Peggle!

Inner fan girl probably looked like this.

Inner fan girl probably looked like this.

 

I forced my inner fan-girl back into the room she was trying to claw out of and shook the man’s hand. We talked about his move to The Hague and what his plans were now for RocketRainbow Studio, which he’s co-founded here in The Netherlands. Anybody who followed the closure of PopCap Dublin last year knows that the majority of us learned about it from Vaughan’s twitter account. As a fan of Plants vs Zombies and Peggle, I had read his interviews on the development of the latter game, so meeting him in the flesh was pretty cool. I had a short break so I had to say goodbye relatively, but we linked up via social media, so hopefully in the future, I can look forward to a drink somewhere in The Hague. The most awesome thing about Festival of Games was the dominant indie vibe it carried throughout the day. You could feel the impact that Torchlight, PopCap’s efforts and Telltale’s The Walking Dead have had on an industry that, as I’ve discussed before and as Lucy and I chatted about, is suffering from a tragic lack of imagination. It was thrilling to feel the energy of those gathered, whether they were speakers, exhibitors, or just visionary devs looking for someone to give them a shot. By the time the last few exhibitors left at 5:30 (I’m looking at you, Guerrilla Games), I was exhausted but satisfied and, even though it may sound corny, pretty hopeful. And that’s my story of the day I met JP Vaughan.

I’ve got a lot of tasks swamping me for the next couple weeks, but considering Microsoft’s announcement of an XBox event on May 21, I’m going to set aside some time to post about that. It takes place at 10 AM, and so I will still be at the office but that’s what headphones were invented for! Until next time, stay frosty.

Advertisements

Adam Orth & The Prisoner of Always-On DRM

Good morning, web surfers! The temperature today is a frigid 7°C and we’ve got slightly heavy fog rolling in from London or Norway or whatever. If for some reason you don’t have the Internet because you either can’t afford it or live somewhere that still tends to use smoke signals as a communication method, then you are more beast than human and I don’t have time for you.

That’s basically the message these days, right?

This post isn’t going to focus on Adam Orth. There’s enough on him going around the web, and if this week’s reports are true, he’s out of a job for failing to realize that a public Twitter profile is available to, well, the public. Did Orth come across as a jerk in his Twitter exchange with who was then revealed to be a friend, as well as those who picked up on the back and forth and subsequently voiced their own thoughts? Yes. But then, it’s the Internet, where 140 characters paints the most unflattering pictures when not used properly. Forget Orth, forget his sarcasm and the reports of him being an insufferable muppet by former colleagues from a plethora of companies. At the end of the day, Microsoft hasn’t denied or confirmed the issue behind his tweets: that the next-gen Xbox would host an always-online DRM feature that requires a consistent internet connection in order to play.

Always On

I’ve briefly mentioned this before, but requiring a console to be constantly connected during play is one giant nail in the coffin for many existing and budding gamers in this world. Let’s face it: there are still countries, and areas of various countries, that have shoddy connectivity, if they’ve even got connectivity at all. The ignorance behind Orth and many others’ comments of “we’re all always connected” is so blatantly obvious, I’m surprised someone didn’t just pat him on the head and direct him to visit somewhere other than a big city. It’s amazing the statements people make when they haven’t experienced the other side of the coin.

I’ll be honest with you. The island I hail from has one of the most frustrating internet connectivity ratings within the entire Caribbean region, at least in my opinion. The challenges that I face when trying to have a simple Xbox Live match with my friends still living there are ridiculously frustrating, to the point where many a controller has been flung across a room in dejected defeat. Does this limit the growth of the gaming community there? No, because luckily, an internet connection is only required for online play, and most of us just tend to set up separate monitors and system link our consoles to get some rousing matches going. The community grows as a result, and that should be the goal here. But requiring a consistent connection to play even the non-online features of a game? Then we run into a problem.

Because let’s be honest: despite coming incredibly far, internet access for the true masses is still a work in progress. Even CIA World Factbook statistics should be considered slightly unreliable, because internet connectivity in certain countries is based off multiple sessions by possibly the same user and is muddied by measuring and lumping in mobile device access. In Orth’s home-country, the USA, there are areas that have weak or practically non-existent connectivity levels. His own friend pointed that out to him, mentioning Janesville, Wisconsin and Blacksburg, Virginia.

We dare you to find bandwidth here.

We dare you to find bandwidth here.

Perhaps the best response to comments like “deal with it” regarding always-on DRM is to just be silent and point to Diablo 3 and SimCity. I have a friend who took the day off to thoroughly enjoy his copy of SimCity on launch day. You hear that? He took a day off of work, his source of income, to enjoy a game he’d just spent money on. And his reward was…zilch. I don’t believe we should just learn from our own mistakes; we should also try and learn from others’ errors, and make damn sure we don’t imitate them at their worst.

I wish Orth the best of luck in his future endeavours, but his part in this story served its purpose. It exposed the apparent lack of insight by some in the industry and highlights an overall ignorance of the larger world. If the idea here, as it is in most businesses, is to keep existing customers while attracting new ones, well, requiring players to maintain internet connectivity throughout a session for NON-ONLINE features isn’t the way to go. Couple that with an increase in micro-transactions, and a host of other nickel and dime tactics, and an industry that some say is already struggling seems to just take pleasure in shooting itself in the foot.