Day two of the Dare 2013 indie festival took place on Friday 9th August. The theme of Convergence carried over from the previous day with an equally eclectic line-up of speakers and panels, examining issues around the ongoing evolution of the games industry.
Like day one of the conference, there were some truly inspiring speakers and some crucial information for game developers from some truly significant media companies.
Dare to be Digital 2013
Indie Games Conference
Friday August 9th
Channel 4 has been at the forefront of games in an educational context for the last several years. The broadcaster has invested a great deal of money in a number of games and has now taken things further, with the appointment of Colin MacDonald as the company’s first commissioning editor for video games. To kick off day two of the conference, Colin was joined by Jody Smith, the commissioning editor for comedy and entertainment. Eschewing a presentation style, Colin and Jody took it in turns to introduce Channel 4’s interest in gaming and interactivity across a huge range of programmes and content, from education, comedy and entertainment, to drama, news and possibly even the weather… They introduced several innovative projects which Channel 4 has commissioned in the past, including The Bank Job. This was an online game, created by Chunk in Glasgow, which was used to introduce the game mechanic before the programme was aired and select players for the actual television show. C4 continues to explore new ways to build games and entertainment into shows, with a new David Mitchell comedy panel show (because he doesn’t do nearly enough of those) Was It Something I Said, will use Twitter to create a game experience, as the show is broadcast. Colin and Jody then went on to outline what they look for in game developers. Make great games; imagination, creativity and specialism all help; communication – if they don’t know you, they’ll never work with you; tell them you’re interested; be prepared to work with non-games specialists such as TV production companies; don’t be precious/petulant/whiny. Channel 4 are, undoubtedly ahead of the crowd when it comes to convergence between TV and games, they’re pioneering in a lot of ways are pro-actively looking for new ideas and new companies. The opportunity is there, will any games companies grab it?
Neil McPhillips, a producer for Sony’s XDEV Studio spoke next. Sony too are keen to work with new developers, indie studios and games creators of all kinds. Sony, according to Neil, are interested in one thing: quality. The company is looking for developers who can raise the bar. They will then work closely with that company to ensure it is optimised for Sony devices, localised for the global market (translation into 20+ languages) and then take it out to the global market. Sony is at every significant games event in the world (including Dare, you’ll note) and are one of the most visible companies in all of gaming. They’re looking for new teams, new ideas and new games. Neil then outlined exactly how indie developers and smaller studios should position themselves if they’re interested in working with Sony. 1. Understand your game, know who it’s for communicate your vision and sell the high concept. 2. They’re looking for teams, so make sure you are all committed to the same vision, if you’re not, it will become obvious very quickly. 3. Be creative with your pitch. Show them your idea, build a prototype, use images and video. Sell it, baby. 4. Think about the platforms. You know the machines Sony makes. Use their capabilities and consider how your game fits into Sony’s output. Neil outlined one particular project he’s been working on, with a new developer, outlining how it has moved from the initial prototype, which was used to sell the concept, through to a game now being localised and updated for different markets, including Japan. It was a very useful insight into one of the world’s largest games companies.
The next session was illuminating in an entirely different way. Other is the location-based, audio-only game set in Dundee city centre. Players download the app to their iPhone, make their way to the Dundee Rep theatre and then participate in a story as the phone guides them around the town. Tom deMajo is a co-founder of Quartic Llama, the studio behind the game. Philippa Tomlin is the creative learning co-ordinator of the National Theatre in Scotland, who worked with Quartic Llama to create something genuinely new and innovative. In their presentation exploring the genesis of the game, Tom and Philippa outlined a project in which both QL and NTS worked together as partners, bringing in local artists groups, writers and musicians, to build an experience which went far beyond the normal ‘licensing’ relationship between games and film, to create a project which now stands as performance or digital theatre, set in the heart of Dundee. This talk was one of the most uplifting of the entire conference, as the excitement and enthusiasm, from both sides was genuine and infectious. These companies are both rightly proud of the project and taking games beyond the usual platforms and experiences to create something… other.
Troels Linde, the head of programme at EUCROMA, the European Cross Media Academy, spoke next. One of the most in-depth and academic presentations of the conference, Troels outlined the work of EUCROMA and the value of building a new framework and terminology, allowing creators, practitioners and producers across multiple media sectors. He outlined how different industries are slowly coming to realise that the convergence of games, animation, film, television and even literature are creating new story worlds. These story worlds allow different approaches to character, conflict and story telling, but it requires a holistic approach to the entire project, as opposed to each platform, or type of media working in their usual isolated way. The design and pre-production processes across games and the other screen industries are significant, which means the usual process of writing a screenplay is not appropriate for many types of game. Troels went on to outline several aspects of a project the students at EUCROMA are working on, which incorporates animation and gaming, to build a new and hopefully seamless experience. It was a fascinating session which showed that the similarities between film, television and games are dwarfed by the differences in process, roles and language. Change is already happening, but on a very ad hoc basis. EUCROMA is pioneering a new approach which should help everyone evolve and adapt to the new realities of converged creativity. Excellent.
The difference between the player and the player character was the topic for the next presentation. Simon Meek, the creative director of The Story Mechanics, took the audience through the dichotomy between the player his or herself and the character that player ‘inhabits’ when playing a game. Are you making the decision you yourself would make, or the decision you think the character in the game would make? How do game creators resolve the difference between this? The role of the player/reader/viewer/listener is something which happens in each form of media but has a particular problem in games. Many designers/developers want the player to identify with their character as ‘I’, but then break that consistency with decisions or choices which are more appropriate for ‘he/she’. Simon took the audience through a number of examples of establishing character and the role of that character, pointing out in passing that players can identify with roles they understand, while more esoteric roles – Super Hero Horse was the rather splendid example used – can create more confusion (unless you happen to know a super hero horse…). Simon’s final example was Mario, who is a vessel for play, not role play. The player is not asked to be Mario, there’s Mario on the screen, you’re just… helping out. Story telling was a topic touched up in different ways by many of the previous speakers over the course of the indie festival, but it’s an issue which is often misunderstood, relegated to context or flat out ignored in the interactive world. It was wonderful to have a really in-depth exploration of the whole subject, from a speaker who clearly understands the area at a fundamental level.
The final session of the conference was a big one. BAFTA Games Question Time has become a notable event at the organisation’s London HQ, pulling in high profile guests and industry pioneers to participate as panellists. For Dare 2013, BAFTA invited Imre Jele, the creator-in-chief of Bossa Studios, Salvatore Fileccia, the incubation director for Microsoft’s Lift London studio, Philippa Tomlin, the learning co-ordinator and creative director of Other at the National Theatre Of Scotland and Sophia George, the co-founder of Swallowtail Games and the new game designer in residence at the V&A museum. The whole shooting match was chaired by BAFTA’s very own Dave Green. the panel answered questions from the audience, from social media over the course of the previous week and explored topics currently relevant to the games industry. Are the next generation of home computers vital to the ongoing growth of the games industry? The ‘toxic’ environment in the games sector right now (the media tearing itself to pieces, trolling and abuse of developers by ‘fans’, the treatment of female gamers, developers and journalists) were all discussed, as well as the notion of ‘transmedia’ and ‘convergence’. The consensus of the panel on the last topic was that there’s a lot of scope for new experiences and convergence to happen, but there was also agreement that not every experience can or should be cross platform. Time went by far too quickly, with the hour long panel only scratching the surface of the questions being asked. More of these sessions outside London would definitely be of benefit, bringing many relevant topics out of the media and encouraging open, honest and frank debate.
Like the first day of the conference, day two introduced some little understood topics and produced some genuinely new information for developers working in the rapidly evolving games sector. Major companies including Sony and Channel 4 were live on stage, asking for developers to approach them. New approaches to gaming were discussed by Quartic Llama, The National Theatre Of Scotland and Story Mechanics. The BAFTA Question Time panel brought together a diverse panel to discuss topics that are not commonly debated outside the pages of the media.
It was an event which is to be commended. If we had paid a few hundred quid for a ticket, we’d count it well spent. If we ran a development studio, we’d have made several incredibly valuable new business development contacts and learned about a lot of new funding and project opportunities which could help identify partners and ways of working with people beyond the usual confines of the games industry.
The audience numbers over the two days of the conference didn’t reflect this. The largest crowds were for Ian Livingstone and the women in games Q&A, both of which filled around three quarters of the room. Jesse Schell filled the same room easily on Saturday afternoon (pictured). Most of the industry participants in Dare were attending as exhibitors, judges, or simply playing the Dare and Indie games. The conference also took place on two working days. A very quick straw poll on social media threw up a number of other reasons for a low turnout. The event taking place in Dundee, no awareness of the conference being part of Dare, no relevant speakers for the indie market…
There’s clearly work to be done. However the Dare team created an event within the larger Dare programme, which focused on a fascinating topic, which created a programme and pulled in speakers of real excellence and which delivered some very valuable information. For that they are to be congratulated.
Whether the indie conference remains part of Dare to be Digital, could be revised to fit more comfortably within the ProtoPlay structure, or becomes something stand alone, remains to be seen. However, the 2013 indie conference showed that an industry event, focusing on topics relevant to the predominantly indie development scene in Scotland, can be done, can pull in world class speakers and deliver valuable information on topics which the major global gaming events have so far yet to include.