Big in Brighton: 5 things we learned at Develop 2014

Our guide to happenings at the Hilton Metropole

For developers in the UK – and, indeed, beyond – the arrival of July means only one thing: a trip down to the English south coast for the arrival of Develop in Brighton.

Develop rightly has a reputation for being one of the most friendly conferences on the circuit, in part thanks to its location: right on the Brighton front, the Hilton Metropole isn't your typical games conference venue.

It's full of holiday makers, for one, and boasts an attached bar that, at certain points during the day, is more popular than either the talks or the expo.

It's also one of the events on the calendar where as much can be learned from simply chatting to people en route or at one of the parties afterwards as it can from the presentations. If you're new to the industry and you're looking for a first event to take the plunge with, Develop should be high up on your list of candidates.

Brighton's Hilton sits opposite its abandoned pier

And if you need any more convincing, check out the five things we took away from this year's event by clicking the button below.

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Transparency is key to winning the indie game

    During his talk detailing how indies can find success by being more like Mike Bithell, Simon Byron, journalist turned PR wizard, explained that now, more than ever, is the right time for indies to cut the bullshit and share their games with the world from the word go.

    "Share share share," explains Byron. "Show everything. Use the internet to share everything, because being open and honest can get you coverage. If in doubt, share it.

    "Win over the press, be opportunistic, and keep your eyes open for any opportunities. Make sure you appear on all radars."

    The internet affords small developers the chance to grab a big audience if they play their cards right, but that brings with it some potential pitfalls.

    It's great that Twitter and Facebook make it easy for indies to plug their games in new ways, but they also make it easier to become the next social media controversy.

    That, suggests Byron, must be avoided at all costs. After all, you don't want to become the next Peter Molyneux.

    "Create personality, but don't dominate. Be careful how you air your opinions, don't become bigger than your products," warned Byron.

    "The landscape is changing. People are picking up more via social media. Don't be afraid to try something different. Mike isn't and he consistently outperforms other institutions."

  • 2 Sales pitches don't work

    It was somewhat disappointing that, after giving a sterling talk on user behaviour last year, Amazon's Daniel Winner resorted to plain sales tactics during his presentation this year.

    It was, perhaps, a logical approach from Amazon's point of view. The firm has enjoyed success with the Kindle Fire, it has recently unveiled Fire TV to the world and has the Fire Phone gearing up for launch in the US. Understandable, then, that the company would seek any opportunity it could to bring further developers on board.

    What followed, however, is unlikely to have ingratiated anyone to Amazon's platform. Yes, the fact that, in certain respects, Amazon's Appstore is a more potent alternative to Google Play is notable, but having facts and features about Amazons' Fire Phone – all of which could be found in seconds via a quick Google search – rolled out one after another did not make for an engaging presentation, and sat in stark contrast to the majority of talks at the conference.

    The lesson learned is not a new one: People don't part with their cash for tickets to events to listen to a sales pitch - don't waste their time. Don't abuse your power as a speaker to push your product. If your presentation is good enough, you may well find your audience seeks your services out of their own accord.

  • 3 Hail to the chef

    If there's one thing that defines a conference, it's the quality of its lunches. While GDC has a reputation for serving up nosh only suitable for a last minute picnic in the park, Develop is usually a comparative tour de force.

    This year was no different. Lasagne, risotto, banoffee pie, chocolate eclairs...even succulent roast potatoes lightly garnished with garlic – simple but damn tasty stuff.

    The real icing on the cake came when, less than 24 hours after having a enthralling debate about the true king of lemon based desserts, the caterers wheeled out a tray of criminally good lemon meringue pies.

    The bar, of course, has been raised for all those that follow this year, though GDC Europe's dedicated press room chef gives it more than a fighting chance...

  • 4 Free-to-play remains as toxic a subject as ever

    Free-to-play is the marmite of the games industry. Some can't help but fall in love with the model because of its proven track record at turning games into goldmines, while others avoid it like the plague, rueing the day it swept across the land crushing 'real games' like a child stomping on ants.

    Of course, both sides must agree that the debate isn't going to disappear, because there isn't a right way to monetise, free-to-play isn't inherently good or evil, and for every pro, there will be a con.

    That, however, won't stop people from voicing their opinion in an attempt to sway those sat on the fence, and, according to Richard Bartle - game researcher and author of Designing Virtual Worlds - the toxic nature of free-to-play, at least in its current form, means it simply can't live forever.

    "Free-to-play is a great revenue model at the moment, but it will tail off. There's a fixed number of people who are willing to spend a large amount of money," offered Bartle.

    "It'll also tail off because the kind of games that people want to play will change: people will want to play more sophisticated games.

    "If you're selling things to people that helps them beat other players, then you're starting to pollute your products."

  • 5 Developers are ready to fall in love with publishers again

    One of PocketGamer.biz's most interesting encounters at Develop 2014 was an interview with Chillingo GM Ed Rumley – and expect to see the resulting article on our page shortly.

    Of note was Rumley's reaction to a question on just who he considers Chillingo's competition in the modern mobile era. It's not really the answer he gave that matters, but rather the fact such a question can be asked in the first place.

    In the last year or less, Rovio, Unity and Backflip to name a few have all announced and launched publishing programs. The increasingly competitive nature on mobile – even amongst indies – means that publishers are somewhat back in vogue. This isn't a return to the ways of the old days, however.

    As Tilting Point's Giordano Contestabile pointed out on Develop's last day, developers no longer need to beg, steal or borrow to grab a deal, however. They now have the power.

    "You have much more options now – you don't need to take the kind of deals you had to take until a couple of years ago," he detailed.

    "You should always be in control of the IP – you created it, it's your right to be in control of it, and the market is such that there's no reason for you not to be. I believe the best relationships are relationships with mutual respect."

    You can read all of our coverage from Develop in Brighton 2014 here.

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