Five things we learned from Unite 2012

#unite12 Never lose the fear

Five things we learned from Unite 2012
What's in a location? Having based itself in North America during the last few years, Unity's annual conference – better known as Unite - ventured across the Atlantic to European shores last week, setting up shop for three days in Amsterdam.

It's hard to imagine a better venue, in truth. The Dutch capital is undoubtedly one of the friendliest cities on the planet – a suitable host for an event that prides itself on being all about community.

It's hard to argue with that angle, too.

For all its bright lights and slick presentation, Unite 2012 had the feeling of a school summer camp throughout: 'pupils' voluntarily giving up time to come together and share all they've learned over the past 12 months.

PocketGamer.biz was more than happy to soak up a bit of said knowledge itself. Here are the five things that, days on, remain top of mind.

1. We know nothing about mobile

So often developers look to existing successes in the mobile market to serve up all the answers as to what works and what doesn't.

Peter Molyneux, however, is willing to admit that he knows nothing. In fact, we're all essentially firing blind.

So new is the smartphone market and the digital marketplaces that supports it in comparison with all that came before that it's a a fallacy to think we have the ins and outs of it defined.

Indeed, such thinking is dangerous, risking developers merely imitating what's come before rather than innovating, falling back on what's believed are tried and tested models rather than taking advantage of these fresh platforms and pushing them for all they're worth.

Finding out the exact borders of the smartphone industry, the in-app purchases that fuel it, and its other intricacies is what Molyneux's 22 Cans studio is about.

Molyneux during his keynote

The firm's experiments – the results of which will be published – could serve as a blueprint for all the games that follow, even if Molyneux's own titles fail to raise revenue aplenty themselves.

"It would be a sorry state if I glimpsed something, but didn't act on it and someone else did," said Molyneux, "but it would also be a sorry state if only I could use it.

"It's a fantastic feeling to be part of an industry that evolves and changes, whether that in a tiny way inspired by something I've done or not."

2. Unity's expansion a matter of pride, not profit

Having sat down with Unity CEO David Helgason shortly after his keynote speech – bizarrely by a chicken pen – the overriding impression I got was this is a man determined to get Unity in the hands of as many developers as possible.

However, call me naïve, but I don't believe his motivation is money.

Don't get me wrong – as a company, Unity clearly boasts a rather healthy bank balance. Every element of Unite 2012 – from the accommodation for us press packers to the venue itself – smacked of class.

But talking with Helgason, you can feel the frustration that many developers are currently going their own way to hit highs that they could reach in far less time with Unity behind them.

This is a matter of pride, and as impressive as the engine's stats may be already – an estimated 53 percent of all mobile devs having plugged into the platform to date – it's not hard to imagine Helgason and co. pushing for a greater and greater share in the years ahead.

If Unity continues to listen to its community via the likes of Unite, however, then that may be no bad thing.

3. Kickstarter shouldn't be the be all and end all

If there was one talk that felt slightly out of touch with the fair play that otherwise purveyed throughout, it was day two's keynote by inXile's Brian Fargo.

There was nothing wrong with the talk itself – indeed, Brian's video detailing why he'd had to take to Kickstarter to fund the development of Wasteland 2 drew plenty of laughs.

Nonetheless, the suggestion as to the role he sees such crowd funding platforms playing in the future may not have sat well with many.

Fargo on day two

It was all summed up in one line, where Fargo suggested that unknown indies currently only able to raise a few hundred thousands for their titles now may in the future be able to pull in $2 million for their next game, $4 million the game after that, and $10 million the game after that.

The idea of studios that have amassed such hits taking to platforms such as Kickstarter time after time, however, is not an easy one to digest.

At the moment, Kickstarter and Indiegogo are primarily used for projects that, by and large, publishers aren't interested in.

To start using them almost my default to generate an extra layer of pre-funding for games that are proven hits, however, seems less palatable, and risks the model as a whole losing consumer credibility.

4. Developers looking to dive in with Windows Phone 8

One thing the entire ensemble of press noticed during Helgason's keynote speech was the crowd reaction certain new features unveiled during the presentation got from the crowd.

The biggest 'whoops' of all came for the unveiling of Unity support for the forthcoming Windows Phone 8.

Windows Phone 7 may not have amassed a userbase capable of taking on either Android or iOS, but the warm reaction afforded Microsoft's platform suggests developers are already on board with its successor.

5. Fear is an indie dev's best friend

By his own admission, Peter Molyneux didn't get any sleep the night before his keynote speech at Unite. Not that you'd have known by his performance.

Such an admission came out during his chat with PocketGamer.biz. Indeed, before I'd even sat down, your humble editor had been quizzed as to exact how I thought his talk had gone down with the audience at large.

It's not hard to understand why Molyneux, even after all his success, is nervous about the reception his first post Microsoft project is being afforded. Having switched from a position of absolutely security back to the often perilous life of an indie, Molyneux has every right to be a little bit nervy.

But such fears are healthy.

Complacency leads to sterile, static design, Molyneux suggested. The knowledge that things could go wrong at any time actually leaves developers more reason to experiment and, in theory, leads to better games in the long run.

"To go out and start all over again, and not to have backing and not to have a team that is fully funded, not to have desks and computers and relationships with Apple is a mad thing to do, but the time in your life when you get the most out of life itself is when you take on something incredibly hard," said Molyneux.

"That's when you get that sense of achievement."

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.