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Spilt Milk's Smith on how to make the most of game conferences

Spilt Milk's Smith on how to make the most of game conferences
Andrew J Smith is CEO of Spilt Milk Studios, a two-man indie developer that recently released its first game Hard Lines.

I attended the Develop conference in Brighton this year. It’s the second time I’ve been, but the first time I’ve had a ticket and the first time I’ve spoken.

Those last two might be intrinsically linked, if I’m completely honest!

For those who don’t know it, the conference is split into several tracks over the course of three days: Evolve is all about new business models and practises; while the core Develop track has a more traditional focus on skills, tips and tricks applied to the current development conundrums we face across multiple disciplines.

The Indie track on the Thursday was ... well, no prizes for guessing what that one was all about.

Fast-forward

I enjoyed my time there, and even learned a few things, but certainly not from the Indie day, nor the main track. The problem with the conference as a whole is that it’s not moving forward as quickly as the industry.

I like that there was an day dedicated to Evolve, with talks from Mind Candy founder Michael Acton Smith about Moshi Monsters, and even a keynote from EA Sports about the way it looks to the future of games (hints: social, platform, games as a service are the way forward), but frankly in an industry that is as fast-paced as this - and especially with the state of the markets right this minute - I’d have liked to see the whole conference given over to those forward thinking topics.

Fortune telling

For me the real reason to go to these events (other than PR in the form of sitting on a panel or doing a talk – oh, and meeting people face-to-face you’ve ‘known’ on Twitter for months and months) is to look ahead.

I’m not interested in the latest techniques for audio composition in an FPS. I want to know what I’ll have to be doing in a few year’s time, when both audio and FPS games have changed completely.

Similarly, with regards to business, I’m not terribly stoked to sit in on talks about the best games that came out this year, or what mobile devices today offer us as game developers.

I’m trying my best to focus on the horizon. I want information and educated conjecture on what we’ll all be chatting about in a year’s time, and the main track at the Develop conference (admittedly, any conference I’ve attended) didn’t really offer this.

Just Google it

Similarly the Indie day was aimed at people who were just starting out; business advice for those of us trying to set up a company; tips on how to design a game from scratch and deliver it to your platform of choice. Besides the fact that I could look up any of this information on the internet – and again this applies to most talks at most conferences, not just Develop – if I didn't know half of this stuff already I’d be dead in the water.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not decrying conferences like Develop as irrelevant or useless. They’re a brilliant forum for spurring talk and debate. But they could (and should) be much more for us independent and mobile developers.

The best advice

My advice to anyone reading this is; attend as many as they can afford to. Note down what you don’t know and learn from what’s on offer. Then make sure that next year you’re not scribbling notes – you’re the one asking awkward and probing questions because the speaker has glossed over a key point, or maybe because you disagree.

That’s the ideal – know what you want to take away from Develop, GDC, GDCE and the rest before you go, and make damn sure you leave knowing you’re ahead of the game.
You can follow Andrew via Twitter or web.

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