Three things we learned at the Zurich Game Festival

At the end of last month, Ludicious took place in Switzerland, and here are our track highlights…

Three things we learned at the Zurich Game Festival

This is the third year that Ludicious has been held in Zurich, and 2017's ended with record attendance for the Swiss event.

680 game professionals attended and 4997 visitors visited in total - the doors were opened to the public for the Family part of the festival once the Business days had closed.

It was organized in cooperation with the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, which curates summits on serious and applied games and on VR/AR.

The festival was dominated by European indie and student games and there was great showing from the mobile sector. One of our favourite 2016 mobile games, Nerial's Reigns, won the International Competition prize.

"The jury loved the humour, the unique combination of storytelling and new mechanics, along with the memorable visual style and sounds," says Dominik Marosi, festival director.

"Industry professionals from all over Europe were amazed by the quality of the exhibited games and the speakers. We are very happy with the amount of positive feedback we got on the conferences and exhibitions – it shows us that our focus on showing and connecting the industry with emerging talents is appreciated."

There was also a dedicated auditorium where speakers and panels ran across three days. So what items of indispensible industry info did we learn there? Here are our top three:

1/ Think like an independent entrepreneur (Jason della Rocca)
2/ Games can make us better people (Eric Zimmerman)
3/ The narrator should be more than just a task-giver (Chris Solarski)

Click on the link below to get started.

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Think like an independent entrepreneur and a marketeer

    Think like an independent entrepreneur and a marketeer logo

    Jason della Rocca of Execution Labs spoke about making your development studio into successful business. In particular, he explained what investors are looking for when they check out a studio.

    Primarily, it's important to realise that if you're asking people to invest in your games business, you need to behave like a business. Understand the market and have a plan for what you'll be selling.

    He told the audience: "There are developers who want to create games for the joy of expression, for the act of creation, and that’s wonderful and important for the maturation of the industry – but I am not going to give you my money, ever."

    It's also important that when you pitch to an investor, you pitch an opportunity, not a list of problems.

    "Somebody's like, 'We're behind schedule and running out of money to pay our art contractors and we forgot to put aside any marketing dollars so we can’t go to Pax or Ludicious or GDC. Are you interested?!' Interested in what?! Your budgeting problems?!" he joked.

    The perfect pitch must outline to an investor how things are going to work, and that includes audience research, marketing, travel.

    "Nine times out of 10, developers don’t do that properly," della Rocca said. "They go to an investor and say, 'Here’s my problem. Can you help me fix it?'"

    Developers often think "marketing" means PR or advertising that happens once the game is finished, but della Rocca urged attendees to think about how to market their game right at the start.

    "It’s about creating a product for selling in a marketplace, and that means thinking about the four Ps right at the start, right when you're thinking about your game: price, product, place, promotion."

    So planning the game is part of marketing – you can’t just make a thing and then let somebody else worry about how to sell it. "As an indie, you are be default marketing people," della Rocca told the crowd.

    At the very least you must understand your competition and who your audience is and how you’re going to satisfy them.

    "And don’t leave the business side too late" - you need to be at trade shows and conferences, building connections and hanging out with potential investors, and getting your roadmap (what is your next game going to be? And the next?) in mind early on, if you want a career as a successful developer.

  • 2 Games can make us better people

    Games can make us better people logo

    Eric Zimmerman is a game designer and CEO of New York's Gamelab. As well as delivering the awards keynote speech, in which he talked about Trump, Gamergate, the environment and other contentious topics, his main talk at Ludicious was called "Being A Games Designer: Principles For A Thoughtful Practice."

    His take? That gaming reveals "a whole psychological space" about how we understand people. Games design, he posited, is all about putting yourself in the role of another person, imagining what the player will learn and see.

    "We have to put ourselves in another’s shoes just to be a games designers," he insisted, and this means those working in the games industry are uniquely positioned to understand human beings.

    "As we learn to cultivate a sense of meaning, our eyes become accustomed to seeing the world from the view of others," he told the crowd. "We become deeper, more sympathetic people."

    He tied this in to current events. "As I see the news this morning about Trump and about religious tests to enter the US, I think games become about more than just games, they have a wider significance," he said.

    "There are people in the world who fear The Other, fear strangeness - and there are others who embrace it. The principles of game design should be about making us each a better person. Design principles are about the world at large - seeing the hidden connection between things is part of my practice."

    He spoke about the need to flip it around and bring politics, art and culture into our understanding of games too.

    "We should be gluttons for culture, and look outside games," he said, talking about inspiration. "Go bigger even than music, films and TV. What was the last paperback you read? Do you know the name of the architect who built your house?"

  • 3 The narrator should be more than just a task-giver

    The narrator should be more than just a task-giver logo

    Chris Solarski is an author, artist and game designer. His talk highlighted the way that stories are told in games.

    In particular, he covered the relationship between the player and what they're being told to do - what the point of the experience is. "The Unreliable Gamesmaster: Increasing Immersion In Story-Driven Games" was its title.

    He drew comparisons with movies and spoke about what makes a meaningful objective for the player (and how that increases immersion).

    "Stories are about the difference between what a character wants and what they need," he said. "Their want is materialistic, but they usually discover that what they actually need is something spiritual or emotional."

    He called on the example of Wreck It Ralph who starts out by thinking he needs to win a medal in order to be a hero, but actually learns that he has to help another person succeed in order to be a good person.

    The "plot" of early games were very basic - take Pac-Man: it's about earning a high score. Is there any deeper need on behalf of the player or Pac-Man?! "Perhaps just to overcome the obstacles, to master the game."

    But we've moved on since then, right? In fact, Solarski posited that Halo 4 is basically the same as Pac-Man, albeit more sophisticated. Cortana delivers very straightforward, materialistic objectives.

    She is the gamesmaster, telling you what the character's immediate want is, but it's just a modern wrapper for a very simple set of objectives.

    Many games, like Uncharted 4 for instance, give the illusion of deeper character development, but in truth that happens in the cut scenes - the player has a very simple set of materialistic choices while actually playing.

    So what are the alternatives? Solarski suggests that modern games developers should look at how far storytelling has come on the big screen, and consider how the narrator, the task-setter, the gamesmaster and scorekeeper, can be made more human.

    If the voice of the game is unreliable, fallible, more than just an audio equivalent of the Pac-Man scoring system, then the game becomes more immersive.

    Examples of immersive games that are more sophisticated in their use of the narrator include: The Stanley Parable (2011), a critique on gamer choice; Gone Home (2013), where there's a lot of misdirection and the game goals become secondary to the need to empathise; The Beginner's Guide (2015), a game that questions the choices game developers give you; Firewatch (2016), a game that becomes about the dialogue and relationship between yourself and the narrator rather than the actual on-screen missions.

    Although these aren't mobile games, Solarski's tips are applicable everywhere: if you’re designing narrative games, avoid simplistic objective/reward-driven systems and make the storyteller a co-conspirator, misleading or even silent - it’s better for making the player use his or her imagination.

    The Ludicious festival will return in 2018. Visit the website for more information about previous events and links to the Swiss game community.

COO, Steel Media Ltd

Dave is a writer, editor and manager. As our COO, he gets involved in all areas of the business, from front-page editorial to behind-the-scenes event strategy. He began his career in games and entertainment journalism in 1997 and has since worked in multiple roles in the media. You can contact him with any general queries about Pocket Gamer, PC Games Insider or Steel Media's other websites, conferences and initiatives.