4 things we learned at Gamescom and GDC Europe

The Cologne collective

4 things we learned at Gamescom and GDC Europe

Few weeks on the PocketGamer.biz calendar generate as much fear and trepidation as the combination of a trip to GDC Europe and Gamescom in Cologne in August.

The two events combined serve as the longest five days in the industry. For the last two years, the dual assault that is GDC Europe and Gamescom has left this editor sat rocking at the airport at the end of a packed week barely able to remember anything that didn't happen in the immediate preceding hours.

A combination of walking many miles through tens of thousands of sweaty gamers and drinking a little too liberally in the evening leave your mind as little more than an empty husk by the time you board the plane home.

But there's a reason that second week in August in Cologne is so hectic: Everybody who is anybody is there.

The upshot of that is, while your brain is recovering from the loss of many, many cells from all the parties in the evening, there's actually a hell of a lot of knowledge to soak up from the luminaries taking to the stage and wandering the halls.

Knowledge such as...

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  • 1 Always hand over your business card before doing everything else

    It's something of a social convention that, when meeting anyone new at a conference or event, the last thing you do when saying your goodbyes is exchange business cards.

    It's the equivalent of a quick kiss at the end of a successful first date: a nice way to sign off an encounter with a stranger without things being too awkward.

    But you need to stop doing it. Indeed, if Rami Ismail of Vlambeer is to be believed, handing over your card should actually be the first thing you do. Why? Because people – including this journalist right here – will often use the “here's my business card, drop me an email about it” line as a way of bringing a meeting to a quick and easy close without making a scene.

    “Exchanging cards is like a get out of jail free for the person you're pitching to – they'll be like 'yeah, that sounds interesting, send me an email' hand over their business card and leave,” detailed Ismail during his talk at GDC Europe.

    "If you've already taken that away from them, they have to stay and listen."

  • 2 You can't always plan success

    So many of the talks at any games conference are designed to convey methods of success. People who have had a hit or two – or work on the tools that help maximise them – step up and recount just how they did it.

    Attendees then, in theory, take away what the successful studio learned from their experience and, where possible, then try to utilise them in their own approaches.

    Problem is - and what few successful studios are honest enough to admit is - often the biggest studios have very little idea why their game was such a success, and even when it's obvious, much of what was done isn't transferable to another developer working in a different situation or environment.

    "I really should stress, we literally made this game up – we never had any designs or anything," said Fireproof's Barry Meade of The Room during his talk at GDC Europe. "We'd come in one day, add things, play it, we literally made it up every day. I'm a real believer in that way of doing software, but it's very difficult to do that these days. We're all being told when to make a game, who to make it for, and so on."

    In his talk, Meade was careful to explain he wasn't there to give a one-size-fits-all account of how to have a big hit on the App Store, although he did advise that relying too heavily on PR or marketing is oftena fruitless exercise.

    "We thought to ourselves, everyone I know buys games on word of mouth – this is how games work for us," he continued. "Of course the biggest games have marketing that does work, but we wanted to come up with something novel that had a quality to it. So we made the game as small as small can be, and then we can polish what we had, and I have to say, it did work out for us.

    "I have to be very careful how we talk about this stuff because I understand everyone has a different take on how success is achieved, but we just believe there was a pool of gamers looking for good stuff, and if you make it available to them they will buy it."

  • 3 Life's a beach for British devs

    There's an unspoken contest that kicks off for three days each year in the business area of Gamescom. Up in hall 4.2, national associations put together stands designed to show off the biggest and best games from their region.

    Most of the stands resemble flashy airport check-in desks – lots of shiny plastic, smart receptionists and flashy brochures galore. Two stands, however, shirk this somewhat generic approach in favour of a more open, friendly feel.

    The UKIE stand at Gamescom

    The Dutch stand, for instance, is always popular at the end of each day because it plays host to copious national snacks and bottles of free beer aplenty.

    UKIE's beach-themed British stand was also a hive of free food and drink this year, but just like 2013, the crowds are fairly constant throughout the day, regardless of the snacks on offer.

    Why? Because anyone who is anyone in the British development scene – including Pocket Gamer – had a table at the British stand. A record 53 companies made up the “British collective” at Gamescom this year, up from 45 the year before, when £18 million's worth of potential business was generated for exhibitors.

    “It is really important to showcase the huge diversity of talent to the rest of the world, and to show what we are made of,” said UKIE CEO Dr. Jo Twist of the stand. “Last year, companies on our stand did a record amount of business and made 100s of new connections and leads.”

  • 4 It's all very well being a free-and-easy indie, but sometimes you need structure

    You might imagine that going independent would give a developer the kind of time and space they need to create the games of their dreams.

    As Adriel Wallick (better known as MsMinotaur) discovered, though, creativity unchecked does not necessarily lead to all too much productivity. Sometimes you need deadlines.

    “I had a whole lot of time and a whole lot of ideas. I'd work and I'd work and I'd work, I'd wake up in the morning and I'd have all this time and ideas,” detailed Wallick in one of the very first talks at GDC Europe.

    “What did I have to show for myself? It turns out I had a lot of empty Unity projects and internet knowledge – I knew what was happening on Reddit most days. Other than that I really had nothing."

    It turns out that working within the structure of a developer has its benefits: namely that creativity fits within a schedule and forces people to have a cut off point for projects. If a game has to be out by a set date then that project has a natural end point. If there are no deadlines, then what's to stop you refining, refining and refining until the cows come home?

    Wallick's solution was to make a game every week, pushing each game out via her website whatever state it was in at the end of those seven days. And, for Wallick, it's just as important to get the bad games out of your system as it is the good.

    "We sort of create this myth in our heads that with enough time and resources that we can, bam, make the next Minecraft or whatever, but you can't just sit down and do that,” she continued.

    "These people worked and worked and worked at what they were doing until they could make those games. They tried games for years, they failed, they succeeded, and they had constraints. That was hard to struggle with – this new found knowledge that, 'hey, I don't know what I'm doing'."

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