This year’s Dare to be Digital ProtoPlay featured a two day indie conference, which focused on the issue of convergence – the ongoing overlap between video games and other areas of the arts and media, including film, television, literature and music.
This was a bold move from Dare. Convergence is a topic which is normally confined to the periphery of games conferences, or specific strands within the larger programme. Yet many of the speakers within the programme gave examples of convergence projects which are already taking place in Scotland and across the UK which are opening up new funding opportunities and work for hire projects. Very valuable indeed for an industry which is looking for an edge in the saturated app stores, online markets and distribution platforms.
The conference took place over the first two days of Dare, Thursday 8th and Friday 9th of August, running 10am – 5pm both days. We’re going to split the coverage over two pieces. Here’s day one…
Dare To Be Digital 2013
Indie Games Conference
Thursday 8th August
The first speaker was Ken Hay, the chief executive of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, who was speaking for the first time at a gaming event. As the former head of Scottish Screen Ken has a real interest in the role of interactivity within the film world and the 2013 EIFF had several presentations, panels and workshops focusing on the games sector. Ken highlighted some of his experiences in the television and film sector, highlighting the growth of digital tools and technology in both sectors, before exploring some of the ways in which film is already embracing interactivity. Rather than focus on the nebulous concept of ‘transmedia’, Ken instead looked at business aspects such as distribution, marketing and social media as ways the film world is becoming more comfortable with the idea of interactivity and suggested this may be an easier route for the game and film industries to meet. It was a fascinating talk and showed that far from being a new idea, convergence has been happening since the advent of digital technology. However, the real challenge will be creating new forms of content in which both film makers and game developers have to work together equally. Ken was excellent. A knowledgeable and engaging speaker, he needs to get more involved in the games sector (we’re working on it…)
Next up was Salvatore Fileccia, the director of incubation at Microsoft’s Lift London studio. Salv looked at Lift’s unique role within Microsoft’s internal game studios, in which cross-platform gaming and new forms of entertainment and engagement are being explored across multiple devices. This is a bold move for a company which is one of the world’s major hardware manufacturers. Lift London has gone further than this and has implemented a ‘Developer In Residence’ programme, which invites a start-up studio to locate themselves within the Lift London offices and receive help to bring their next project to market. This is valuable new initiative for both sides, since it allows a dev team to explore and experiment with a little more freedom, knowing that they’ll have excellent marketing, platform support and a route to market for their project. Salv was a great speaker, knowledgeable, passionate and charming. A great ambassador for the studio and MS itself…
It’s probably no surprise that Ian Livingstone, the life chairman of Eidos and Chairman of Playdemic Ltd drew the day’s largest crowd. Ian’s talk covered his own personal history in the games world, from the foundation of Games Workshop and the creation of the Fighting Fantasy game books, through to the early days of Lara Croft (who was initially going to be called Lara Cruz, fact fans) and the enormous growth of the brand into a major multi media phenomenon. It was a very well put together and effortless presentation in which Ian made several excellent points for developers and those interested in creating games for a living. Think beyond a single game, build a brand, use analytics to understand what is working in your game, do not imagine you know your game better than your players. All great, all entirely sensible and all too rare in the indie sector, despite indie gaming heralding a new ‘golden age of gaming. A class act, Mr Livingstone and a difficult one to follow…
However, the next speaker not only held her own but won the Scottish Games Network award for Talk of The Day. Gina Fegan, the founder of the D-Media Network gave a talk entitled Where’s The Money? An exploration of less traditional sources of finance, looking at the film industry and other related opportunities. It was truly inspiring stuff. Starting from her work in the film world and then taking games as something more than the usual entertainment-only-games-you-play-on-console, Gina looked at how to monetise and productise games, pointing out that Angry Birds is now the top-selling soft drink brand in Denmark. Gina then discussed the value of content and stated that if developers don’t value their game, then how will they convince players there’s value in it? The use of games as part of education or healthcare was also discussed as a way in which developers can move beyond the recognised funding channels and start working with entirely new partners, creating different experiences. The differences between the film and television sectors then came under the microscope, with their attitudes to gaming. The film sector is interested in interactivity as a marketing tool and various participants in the business chain have money to spend. TV on the other hand (with notable exceptions) seems to consider interactivity as a distraction, removing attention from the TV screen and therefore somehow devaluing the experience. Gina exposed a lot of interesting data and highlighted a wide range of opportunities and new approaches to gaming that could radically transform the way many development studios work. It was a truly information-rich talk and highlighted information that we know the games industry in the UK needs if it’s to move beyond the current app-store lottery.
Sophia George and Erin Michno then took to the stage for a Question & Answer session on Women In Gaming. Sophia is now the first Game Designer In Residence for the V&A Museum. She previously co-founded Swallowtail Games, which took part in a previous Dare to be Digital competition and winning the BAFTA Ones To Watch award. Erin is also a Dare winner, co-founder of Quartic Llama and Prototype fund recipient, who worked on the critically acclaimed Other game with the National Theatre Of Scotland. They are both incredibly good ambassadors for the industry and passionate about helping other women discover that working in video games can be a great career. They got one of the best crowds of the day and it was genuinely wonderful to see so many families and girls of all ages taking part. It was a lively session, with young people, students and parents asking questions covering a huge range of topics. How can kids learn more about making games was a recurring theme, as was roles within the industry. Code clubs, science technology and maths in school, the type of degrees recommended all point towards a growing recognition of games as a potential career. This can only be a good thing. Other topics included the #onereasonwhy campaign on Twitter several months ago, as well as the treatment of female gamers online and the coverage of the whole issue of women in gaming within the games media. The 60 minutes vanished quickly and it’s a theme which needs far more support and recognition within the games world. We can’t pretend it is not an issue, or pretend that since we don’t do it, so therefore it’s all solved. The games industry needs better than that. It deserves better than that. Both Erin and Sophia were inspiring and spoke to many families after the session, encouraging, recommending and advising. Awesome…
The day’s final session featured Philip Long, the director of the V&A Museum in Dundee, along with a special guest, Morna Hinton, the head of galleries, interpretations, galleries and access, who flew up from London especially for ProtoPlay. Philip discussed the museum’s focus on design, specifically British design and the value of recognising and celebrating design in a way which makes it accessible and understandable to all. Morna then took to the stage and introduced the Artists In Residence programme. This brings design and creation to life within the museum, taking the focus away from curating ‘dead’ exhibits and turning the museum into a studio with multiple up-and-coming artists working on new projects. It’s a bold move from a museum which is noted as a leader in supporting British artists and designers. The V&A’s appointment of its first ever Game Designer In Residence (Sophia George) shows an understanding and acceptance of digital media that seems to have been missed by the more regional creative and cultural organisations in the country.
To summarise, it was a fascinating day, which included a wide variety of speakers from a very broad range of backgrounds. Some of the information highlighted was incredibly valuable for indie developers and established studios alike.
Did it work? In some ways, yes. At any other event, the speakers, the topics, the overall theme all worked very well. The quality of the speakers and the programme for the day meant there was a good mix of public sessions (Women in games Q&A), mainstream games topics (Lift London, Ian Livingstone) and more cutting edge or ‘indie’ focused sessions (Ken Hay, Gine Fegan, Philip Long & Morna Hinton).
However, at Dare, the conference was a little lost in the wider event. While 30 indie games studios participated in the Dare indie games showcase and Dundee is home to around 40 development studios, very few came to the conference.
There are arguments to be made on both sides why the turnout was so low: the conference took place on two week days. Everyone is busy. The topics were irrelevant to developers currently working on mobile/social/casual platforms…
Yet, a major games event took place in central Dundee, which pulled in a wide range of excellent speakers and entirely failed to secure any real support from the local industry.
Is Dare the right platform for this sort of event? This is now open for debate.
We were present at every session and were genuinely, hand-on-heart impressed. It was an excellent conference, the speakers were well chosen and deserved a much larger audience then they received.
Kudos to Dare for putting together something so well structured and fascinating and trying something new to help the whole Protoplay event grow and evolve.