The conference itself was great; it was small (about 700 people, compared to the ~30,000 at GDC) which meant that you actually have the time to have real conversations with people, without having to leave to say a quick 'hi' to twenty more people. You have time to actually play games with other game developers. You get to meet the people for the first time who you've previously passed a dozen times in the hallways of GDC, like ships in the night.
Some quick thoughts that I wrote down from all of my various side discussions with people, in no particular order:
- There's a common pattern in teaching game design: many students start out wanting to make a copy of their favorite big-budget game; as students, they have this huge gift that is the academic freedom to innovate, and they just want to make Something of War-something. After they get in the industry and the novelty wears off, then they want the freedom to create and innovate that they no longer have. The professors from industry are already at the point where they value creative freedom and we're setting up our classes to provide what we wish we had when we were students, but we forget for a moment that we didn't appreciate what we had at the time. I'm not sure if there's a way to fix this, other than to treasure the few students who are exceptions and set them up as examples for everyone else.
- The term "independent" (or "indie") as applied to game development is vague, because it can mean any combination of three different things: business model (not owned by a publisher), money (low-budget, not AAA), or experimental gameplay (not just a derivative clone). It might be better to abolish the term "indie" from our vocabulary, and be more specific about what we're talking about.
- Women and minorities are still being horribly marginalized in the mainstream game industry (okay, no news there). But, most of the efforts to fix this so far have focused on attracting more of them to the industry. I'm thinking that an equally important piece of the puzzle is raising awareness within the existing industry that this is a major problem. In the past, I've suggested that every game designer should take Women's Studies as a class; I should add Minority Studies to the list. And I should specify that these would not be electives or suggestions, but required coursework for anyone seeking a game degree.
- Since the beginning of time, some games have been designed with technical constraints first. Today, it's something like "point-and-click is easy to implement in Flash, so what games can we make where the only player action is point-and-click?" A couple hundred years ago, it was "we have all these maps, what games can we play that use maps?" Three thousand years ago, it was "we have all this wood and rocks and pebbles, so what games can we play with wood and rocks and pebbles?"