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Where the big boys go to play: 3 big lessons from DICE Europe 2014

Thoughts from a conference in Kensington
Where the big boys go to play: 3 big lessons from DICE Europe 2014
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DICE Europe is unlike any conference has ever attended.

How many other events do you know where people fly from all across the globe to spend virtually the whole of the first day go-karting?

And even when the talking starts - the event took place in a hotel in the heart of London's Kensington - DICE Europe is 'suits central'.

There's far less discussion about how you make a successful game with more time is given to talking about gaming in far more broader terms – most specifically, the themes that are likely to dominate the scene (and generate the most revenue) over the next five or so years.

The problem with talking about themes with such scope, however, is that it's difficult to be specific. Buzz words that look great on a Powerpoint slide can easily lose meaning and, in an attempt to stay on the right side of history, being loose with predictions is commonplace.

Still, there were a number of takeaway nuggets...

#1: Minecraft is Microsoft's Kinder Egg

Microsoft is a little bit excited about its move for Minecraft developer Mojang. So excited that, even though Microsoft corporate VP Phil Harrison wasn't able to talk about the deal – it hasn't yet been finalised, he said – he couldn't resist mentioning it.

The context? He asked the audience if they could think of "primitive construct enjoyed by millions of people around the world". Happily, someone in the crowd popped up with Minecraft.

"I won't be talking about this amazing and exciting deal for the purposes of this presentation," Harrison replied, acknowledging the suitability of the suggestion. However, what Harrison went on to talk about says a lot about the motivation behind the Mojang move: Kinder Surprise.

"The creativity that goes into that little capsule is extraordinary," detailed Harrison. "The Kinder Egg team delivers hundreds and hundreds of SKUs every year. It's kind of mind boggling."

Harrison went on to note that videos of Kinder Eggs being opened have quietly become a huge hit on YouTube, amassing hundreds of millions of views each. It's this kind of virality that Microsoft is hoping it's bought into with Minecraft, tapping up a growing community that sees Minecraft as more than a game, serving instead as a hub for millions of like-minded folk across the globe.

How Microsoft uses this community to make money is something that won't become clear until well after the deal is closed, but it's clear its intentions go well beyond simply maintaining Minecraft as a solitary release.

#2: Games need to grow up

It's not hard to imagine that the boys and girls at ustwo receive a fair stack of requests to speak at events such as DICE. Why? Because the critical and commercial success of the firm's latest release Monument Valley proves there's money to be made on mobile outside of free-to-play.

"At a time when freemium ruled the roost, we decided the best thing for Monument Valley was to put it out at $4 with no in-app purchases," opened the game's lead designer Ken Wong. "We broke even after a week."

Bur Wong wasn't there solely to take a swipe at the rise of free-to-play – a scene ustwo itself has been involved in, after all.

Rather, he was there to talk habits. Bad habits. Those habits could be developers falling into the trap of boiling games down to releases "devoid of character, endless clones and games about flapping birds" as well as "products so full of free-to-play features means they're basically a form of gambling."

On the other side, 'hardcore' releases need to "escape the trope of violence as the default form of conflict resolution and money the default form of reward."

In other word, gaming needs to grow up.

"Some mechanics and tropes will live on forever, getting better with each iteration, but we must also grow and mature as a culture and an art form and an industry," he concluded.

"Is it possible to create something that has mechanical, or thematic depth, but make it simple and accessible?"

#3: It's time for games to go global. Erm, does anyone know how we do it?

Perhaps the most prominent theme touched upon time after time at DICE Europe was the idea that games need to 'go global'. By that, speakers didn't mean simply release games that, with a bit of tweaking, can be exported around the globe fairly successfully, but rather games that in their native form just work in almost all territories and cultures.

Nexon America CEO Min Kim used a metaphor of multiple different restaurants (publishers) in different countries serving different kinds of food calling on the same kitchen (developer). GREE COO Andrew Sheppard simply referred to it as "scaling up" - thinking about multiple markets from the word go.

But how do you do it? How can you possibly think about games that gamers all over the world 'get' from the word go? Speakers were very keen to talk up the benefits – and, indeed, the compromises with the current system – but how your average developer can actually achieve such a goal was far harder to detail.

For Sheppard, the closest he could get to offering up a solution was to urge developers to plan ahead, in all regards.

"In the past I think a number of mobile developers have focused on building a number of different games and then finding out where the fun is, where the monetisation is, and chasing it," he concluded.

"Building for scale is a bit more like what you console guys doing – building something with conviction and going for it, picking your markets first and then going after them."