Sun, sea and...the games industry: 5 things we learned at Gamelab 2014

Lessons from Barcelona

Sun, sea and...the games industry: 5 things we learned at Gamelab 2014

I had two big worries as I prepared to jump on a plane to Barcelona for Gamelab 2014: How was I, a ludicrously pale human being, going to survive the relentless Spanish sun, and would the big names at the conference live up to the hype?

Now, there's no need to worry, because you'll be incredibly pleased to know that I managed to spend a week in Barcelona without picking up so much as a tan line, and, more importantly, all of the big-hitters stood up and knocked it out of the park.

The likes of Tim Schafer, Peter Molyneux, Dong Nguyen, and Jade Raymond managed to thrive, rather than wilt, in the intense heat, and even World Cup fever couldn't convince people to miss out on some of the biggest names the conference circuit has to offer.

Even though some of you might not have been able to make the trip due to flight difficulties - I'm looking at you French air traffic control - you can sleep easy, because we've brought together the most important lessons we learned during our stay in Spain's sunshine state. 

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Digital love: Human speakers are overrated

    When Peter Molyneux didn't turn up for his talk on the second day of Gamelab, I don't think we were alone in fearing the worst.

    Due to a "studio crisis", Molyneux was still in Guildford, and attendees were left starting at the pixilated face of the 22Cans head honcho as he attempted to deliver his keynote through Skype. Hardly the most elegant solution, I'll admit.

    Barely two minutes passed before the connection dropped, seemingly without Molyneux, who pushed on with his keynote, realising. The problem refused to go away, and the talk was cearly becoming a laborious task for everyone involved.

    At this point it seemed like we'd be left disappointed. The internet, usually our greatest ally, was letting us down, and finding a stable connection seemed impossible.

    However, to the organisers, and Molyneux's credit, they persevered and the problem was eventually smoothed out for good. What followed was one of the best talks I've ever attended, and it was given by speaker who was sat at his desk, at work, in another country.

    Molyneux managed to give an insightful, clear, and captivating talk without even being in the room, and the Fable creator put the digital icing on the cake by giving us all a tour of the 22cans offices, introducing us to the team, and peeling back the curtain on his latest project.

    It was spontaneous, entertaining, and, above all else, unique experience, and I'm sure it'll be a conference moment that will live long in the memory.

  • 2 Android users won't pay for games

    There might not be a 'console wars' style divide on mobile, and while, at first glance, you might think that Android and iOS gamers are identical, you'd actually be wrong.

    See, one of the more controversial lessons I learned at this years Gamelab was that Android gamers don't like to pay for games.

    Developers on the 'Indie Awesomness' panel at this years Gamelab in Barcelona, all agreed that selling a premium title on Android is a near-impossible task.

    "We want to port [Nihilumbra] to Android as well," explained BeautiFun Games' Kevin Cerda.

    "We don't know if it's going to sell or not though, because Android gamers don't want to pay to play. I've got an Android phone, and I don't want to pay to play.”

    Frogmind needed F2P to make Badland a success on Android

    Creda's sentiment was shared by Johannes Vuorinen, who revealed that Frogmind didn't feel it could release a premium version of Badland on Android, forcing the studio to change tact.

    “Android is really hard for premium titles. We saw some examples before we launched, so that's why we changed the approach a bit," said Vuorinen.

    “On Google Play Badland is free to download, but we have video ads in levels if players don't want to upgrade.

    “In that sense it's F2P, and we have about 8-9 million downloads on the platform so far.

  • 3 Don't believe the Flappy Bird rumours

    Flappy Bird creator Dong Nguyen is an illusive man. During Flappy Bird's rise, and eventual fall, the internet was awash with rumours, both good and bad, which ensured that no-one knew whether the Vietnamese developer was a money-hungry lone wolf, or a humble developer who just wanted to stay out of the spotlight.

    It was no surprise then, to find Gamelab's movie theatre turned conference hall overflowing with curiosity as attendees waited to lay eyes on Nguyen for the first time.

    When the .GEARS boss finally took to the stage, he quickly proved that he wasn't a man trying the conquer the mobile world, but simply a honest developer who'd been swept up in a media storm he couldn't control.

    Dispelling rumours, offering advice, and giving us a few hints about his next "big game", Nguyen was biological proof that we shouldn't believe everything we read on the internet: a sentence I'm aware is incredibly ironic given what I've just written. 

    "I can confirm that Nintendo haven't been in contact with me about any lawsuit. They have never complained about my games,” explained Nguyen, who added that some rumours don't die because he simply prefers to “avoid the press”.

    “I am making a big game now, and I see it as many small games put together. My job is to synchronise those components in order to create one unique experience.

    “My new game will focus on competitions between players who can see each other in the game. I will also introduce new obstacles while maintaining the simplicity of the gameplay that Flappy Bird has."

  • 4 Mobile games lack an innovative ingredient

    Mobile games might be pre-schoolers compared to their adolescent console counterparts, but that doesn't mean they're exempt from criticism.

    You see, the kids are the future, and, according to Ubisoft's Jade Raymond, if mobile is going to lead the charge into the unknown, it needs to start living up to it's potential.

    “Mobile has attracted more people to gaming, but there hasn't been such a creative boom," offered Raymond.

    "What passes for innovation on mobile is the recycling of 40 year old game design, with real world gambling and money stuck on top of it."

    It might sound a little harsh to suggest that mobile games are falling drastically short, but Raymond offered the advice with the best of intentions.

    She herself is a big mobile gamer, and she firmly believes that mobile will lead the way, and take gaming to a new reality. She just wants developers to realise they're holding the future in their hands, and, like any good parent, nurture it, love it, and treat it with care.

    “These days I'm spending a lot more time on mobile games than I am on consoles. The form factor of mobile games is much more adapted to modern life. It fits our reality," explained Raymond.

    “Mobile gaming will become more integrated into our way of life as time goes on, and I like to call this transition 'ambient gaming'.”

  • 5 (Bad) free-to-play hurts gamers

    Peter Molyneux is a man who understands the potential of mobile gaming. There's a reason he left Microsoft in order to found 22Cans and bring new experiences to mobile: he believes in the platform.

    Of course, awareness comes at a cost, and knowing that mobile is doing a lot of things right, also means knowing where it's going wrong. Molyneux is well aware of the problems suffocating the mobile industry.

    The biggest issue for Molyneux, comes in the form of F2P. It might sound like something ripped straight out of a Star Wars movie, but F2P has fallen to the dark side. What once had the power to be good, innovative, and ultimately, pure, has become twisted by developer greed.

    22Cans' Curiosity was the studio's first foray into mobile gaming

    F2P games are hurting gamers and monetising addiction, while app stores are suffocating the very developers that help them thrive. It's a problem, suggests Molynneux, we need to tackle together.

    “For me, mobile gaming, and especially the free-to-play mechanic, which should be the most brilliant innovation for people to play for a game, is being abused. They monetise addiction,” said Molyneux.

    “They confuse their audience, who can't decide if mobile games are casual, or for gamers. Lots of games in the App Store are also being defeated by discovery.

    "If you go hunting on the App Store you can find some wonderful little experiences, but the world never sees them.”

What do you call someone who has an unhealthy obsession with video games and Sean Bean? That'd be a 'Chris Kerr'. Chris is one of those deluded souls who actually believes that one day Sean Bean will survive a movie. Poor guy.