Game Conference Virgin Tales

Game Conference Virgin Tales

Being a fairly recent add to the game developer scene, I went to my first game conferences in begin June. Every newbie is excited about those, right?

There were two conferences quite conveniently in Helsinki within two weeks, Games First 2014, hosted by Reaktor and Supercell, and PG Connects, hosted by PocketGamer. GF14 was for free, so I though why not check it out, if nothing else, for the Hello World Open finals. And they treated everyone with lunch, dinner, and beer. Not a bad deal. PG Connects was not free, but the early bird ticket of $150 or so for a two-day conference was certainly not expensive, if you compare it to GDC or E3, or something like that.

GF14 was, as the name implies, more geared towards the game developers, while PG Connects was much more about the media, the stories behind already well established game studios, and services to game studios by third parties. The PG Connects setup felt very balanced.

A quick executive summary for the impatient

As a newbie, don’t attend game conferences. Unless you’re pitching your game there.

What gives? Let me elaborate on that a bit.

The talks

Well, let me immediately break that summary and add one more reason to attend the conference: if the tracks they provide are really interesting, you should go listen to them, especially if the tickets are as cheap as these were. GF14 was more about the networking – I suppose – as the talks were limited to one panel talk and one F2P evangely by Supercell. PG Connects, however, had really interesting tracks, and to sit there in the dark rooms sipping Angry Birds lemonade made it already worthwhile to attend.

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Slides, slides, slides. But they can be good, as well.

They had several tracks each day at PG Connects; in day 1, “The Finnside Track”, “Trends, Investments, and More”, and “The Very Big Indie Pitch”. Day 2 continued with “East Meets West”, and “The Indie Rockstars”. The trends & investments and east meets west caught my eye the most, as the rest of the talks seemed to be about reminiscing Finnish game studio success stories. Those are naturally fun to listen to, but they give you
squat if you’re attending for the same reasons I did – looking for pointers that can help my small game studio take the next steps. Listening how awesome everyone else is, and how awesome everything else was ten years ago, can’t really be applied to today. Plus, it makes a newbie feel outside. And poor. Poor me. But fun and entertaining, as I said, perfect if you want to take a day off from your game developing.

The quality of the talks varied, but overall the quality was high. The 10 – 15 minute keynote-style presentation format was very audience-friendly, it kept the pace high, and the classroom narcolepsy I’ve suffered from my whole adult life, was nowhere to be seen.

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Hilarious coincidence – a talk about IP rights and compare that slide background to Oggipital’s Game Over screen background… 😀

Some of the talks were by service providers to the game industry, and those sucked the most, because when the talk suddenly morphs into a disguised sales pitch for your service, my annoyance level goes up. I’m not there to buy anything. That stuff I could get from a company video on a web site on my spare time, if I’d be interested. “This API provides…has 50 million users…hot right now…everybody should sign up now…” blah blah blah, yeah yeah yeah. Boring, next! There were naturally also good talks from service providers – you can fit many 15 minute talks into one day. The talks by game studios, and market researchers (especially for the Asian market), were the most interesting ones, generally.

OK, good talks is a good reason. Would I’ve attended if I knew how everything else was at the conferences, the talks notwithstanding? Nope. What? Still not?

The Stands

The stands at a conference can be anything, I guess it depends a lot on the conference type and style. GF14 had essentially no stands, except for a few bigger companies which probably supported or sponsored the event. A tip for these (I’m looking at you, Ericsson): trying to recruit developers to a boring communications technology firm at a game development venue is probably not going to be very successful. But your table soccer was great. 🙂

The stands at PG Connects were without exception by service providers to game studios, either of business- or networking kinds. I had no expectations about the stands, so they weren’t neither a positive or a negative surprise to me. A few were interesting to me, had a chat with a service provider for a fan products store which is integratable to your games, and with a couple of guys at Unity, as well as with some Finnish networking thingies.

Most of the stands were by various “app discovery” service providers. Zero interest for me right now to pour money into something like that, but this could change when my game studio is running in a bigger gear.

The networking

“How do you recognize an extrovert Finn? -He’s staring at your feet, not his own.” This chapter might seem a bit harsh to a non-Finn, but hey, we Finns are straight-shooters. And being a Finn myself, I know Finnish people.

Twitter is not used in Finland very much, a thing very noticeable especially during GF14. You could more or less count the tweets about the evening on two hands. Some of them were praising what an awesome evening it was, wow, what networking! Well, I have to say that if that was good networking happening at GF14, I don’t want to know what bad networking is like. To me, the place felt quite closed up, actually. People mingled with friends only – that’s not networking, as far as I know. I didn’t stay for the late evening, when the Finns have had their networking-skills-enhancing amount of beer, so perhaps I missed the best part (I’m willing to bet I didn’t. I’m not in this for the parties, I got that out of my system around 1999-2000 during the internet bubble).

I did meet the guys from Skillpixels, a edutainment game studio focusing on kids apps, also here from Pori. The game scene here is minimal so this short discussion with them already made my evening. The Hello World Open finals were another gem. GF14 was, for me, some gems found in a otherwise big, dark, fairly boring pudding.

PG Connects was a lot more international, as you could immediately tell on the amount of smiles and polite greetings once in the door. However, most of the networking outside of the talks were around the stands, and those have that annoying he’s-trying-to-sell-me-something feel. Once again it felt like you should have already known someone to engage in an interesting discussion that hadn’t a commercial tough to it.

PG Connects was, to my liking, a bit too much about the already established game studios, with one exception, which needs a chapter on its own – the pitching.

I gotta save my future career in the game industry and say that half of the “failed networking” I experienced was due to me and myself in the end. I’m one of those somewhere-between-intro-and-extrovert Finns myself, after all.

The pitching

Both venues had pitching sessions. GF14 had 30 3-minute pitches, where you just entered the stage, hooked up your device to the beamer (if you needed to), and gave a precisely 180 second long pitch about your company or your game. PG Connects had a complete track, “The Very Big Indie Pitch”, for this, where you got either a table where you showcased your game, or then you walked around to media/investor tables to do a short pitch. Everything in a big room, lots of fun hassle, as it seemed. With hot dogs and Angry Birds lemonade. I think I saw some beer, also.

The pitching of your game is the stuff you want to do at a game conference, if you’re a newbie.

I hadn’t signed up for any pitching sessions. My excuse is that a) I didn’t know what it was like, and b) I didn’t have a version of Oggipital which would have suited well for pitching. Both of these are quite bad excuses.

Alright, hold your hat, here goes. Even if some tweets gave the impression the pitches at GF14 were awesome, I won’t hesitate to say that about 70% of them were crap. Finns are, in general, crap on the stage, and not rehearsing your pitch won’t make it any better, I’ll tell you that. The rest of the pitches were either alright, some even great, mostly due to the fact that the pitched game was great. There’s a strong relation between the game quality and the pitch quality, but with work and practise you can make a good pitch even if the game is not appealing to everyone right there, right now.

This is where I had that Homer Simpson “d’oh”-moment, when I realized I could have done a better pitch with no preparation, just get on the stage there and then, and showcase my game. This is why I recommend for newbies to attend to game conferences just for the pitching. There’s a great opportunity to do a great job. Everything else at the conference is bonus, even the talks.

Because the pitching at PG Connects was more closed, in the meaning that you had your reserved spot and/or the short meetings, I didn’t eavesdrop the pitches too much. I recon there were also good and bad pitches in that room, but doesn’t matter. Probably better ones than at GF14, as everyone had prepared themselves better due to the format of the pitching. Just my guess.

The conclusions

I still stand by my first impression – don’t attend to game conferences as a newbie, unless

  1. You want a day off from game development. Only valid if the talks are good at the conference. Usually small indies can’t afford to have a day off, so leave it.
  2. You prepare a good pitch for your game and go there just for pitching.

Actually, I should turn the point of view around. Instead of “don’t attend unless”, do make a great game, do prepare a great pitch, and do go to a game conference, and pitch your game. It’s a part of the game business. A fun, learning, interesting, rewarding part. The pitching is the dogs bollocks.

Why? Because as a newbie, you want to get exposure. For you, for your game studio, and primarly for your game. That’s the only thing that matters. Otherwise you’ll get that sub-$100 sales curve for your game for sure. And pitching is a great format for exposure – a direct contact to a highly engaged audience (i.e. the 3-minute on-stage pitch), or personal contacts to media and investors (i.e. the PG Connects format of sitting down and having a mano-a-mano discussion).

If I wouldn’t have been such a chicken, and would’ve known a bit more how the pitches usually are, I would’ve gone in with a totally different mindset and agenda. Pitch first, all that matters. It wasn’t a complete waste now, either – many talks were good. Tickets were cheap. And now I know how those things go. This suits my personality, I’m usually the silent fly in the roof when something’s going down for the first time. Then I have no excuses for doing a crappy job when I do it myself for the first time.

Now I know what to do for the next game conference. But I’m not hurrying to the next one, neither should you. Need to polish a game first.