Opinion: Too many too similar conferences are stifling industry debate

More quality keynotes, less panel talks

Opinion: Too many too similar conferences are stifling industry debate
It's part of the human condition that we spend a lot of time thinking about routine things.

What's for dinner tonight? Does my bum look big in it? When does the car need its service?

We're less good at thinking about strategic things. How can I lose 30 lbs? What's my pension fund strategy? What is it all about?

I'm not going quite that far, but given my traveling habits this year, I am beginning to wonder what's the point of industry conferences?

Check in

On the PocketGamer.biz events tab for 2012, we have 87 conferences and events of different shapes and sizes listed, of which I will have attended over 20 before the year is out.

As a journalist, it goes with the territory.

You get entry for free; meet up with the industry; make new contacts; maybe learn something from the sessions; drink too much at the various parties; take photos of people (a personal weakness).

It's a similar situation for business development folk. Meeting people face-to-face is important. It makes sense for new companies in the market to spend money to quickly gain access and insight, while many events have special areas for job seekers, whether students or experienced staff.

Each conference is also organised within its own time and space, often fulfilling local conditions.

But my issue is as the mobile industry has exploded, so has the number of conferences, and increasingly they are merging into a broadly similar grey mush.

Volume has not produced diversity, either in terms of location or content.

Back in the USA

The most recent example of this retrograde orbit is GDC Online, which started in Austin, Texas, for very specific reasons. Austin was the US heartland for big MMOG development, so it made sense to have an online games conference there.

As that industry has declined, so has the conference, which is why it's being reborn as GDC Next in Los Angeles.

Personally - unlike the rest of the industry - I don't have any problem per se with a new conference in LA. But it is another conference in LA.

In this regard, San Francisco is the extreme example in terms of popularity given that it's a major city with good transport links, people love to travel there, and it's the heart of the US mobile games industry.

So if, as rumoured, the main Casual Connect conference moves from Seattle to San Francisco, no doubt it will be for solid business reasons. But I would worry about the longterm implications for that show's individuality.

Talking shop

Perhaps more than location, however, conferences are being diluted by their organisers' approach to sessions.

Too often the big companies are allowed to turn up and give little more than a sales - or jobs - pitch, providing crumbs of useful information to the audience. That's fine when such talks are clearly labelled as sponsored sessions, but even keynotes are beginning to skate close to advertorial.

Panels are even worse.

People will agree to be on a panel because they don't have to prepare a proper talk, or get it cleared by marketing. But they do get into the conference for free, while the organisers can give the panel a sexy - or meaningless - title.

Some advice - 'The best ways to monetise your apps', or 'Solving the app discovery gap' no longer cut the mustard.

Final curtain?

To switch industries, what's happening in mobile gaming is exactly what happened a couple of years ago with European music festivals.

Before the banks collapsed, credit was cheap and students were happy to spend hundreds of dollars to see their favourites bands. The bands loved it as well. They could sign up for dozen of festivals throughout the summer, in many cases incurring little expense and often performing averagely while generating hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Of course, everyone pushed the situation too far until too many festivals had too similar a line up, too many bands were being paid too much, and festival ticket prices were reduced too low.

The whole experience was devalued. Unless you had a small, local, niche festival or like Glastonbury, you could offer something truly unique, the bubble suddenly popped.

And with 16 conferences still remaining on our events list for 2012 that's exactly what will happen to mobile games conferences and events in 2013 unless we all take some responsibility for the situation.

Yet, given our current obsession with making very similar genre-based games and relying too much on analytics and complex monetisation, perhaps event organisers are just giving us exactly the same thing we're serving up to our users.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.


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jon jordan
Was I at the War Gaming party in Austin?
Cindy Yang
ha was this the "inspiration" that you thought up while we were chatting at the War Gaming party in Austin? =)