4 Things We Learned at Gamesforum Seattle 2019

Co-development, China, LiveOps and more: last month we were at the multi-format industry conference

4 Things We Learned at Gamesforum Seattle 2019

As well as heavyweights like Microsoft, Epic and Valve, Seattle is home to a thriving indie development scene. That’s why we hosted our own Pocket Gamer Connects conference there earlier this year. We’re not the only event in town, though, with PAX West and Gamesforumtaking place in the city. The latter ran at the end of October and we were there.

Gamesforum is the modern incarnation of Mobile Games Forum which has been running for many years. It took place at Bell Harbor Conference Centre in Seattle. It ran for two days and welcomed 600 attendees. We went along to check out the state of the industry, and here are some core lessons we learned from the headline speakers.

There were a total of six tracks, three on each day. Our focus was on the Design And Development Forum on Day 1 and the Games Business And Strategy Forum on Day 2, as well as a cursory look at the Games Monetization Forum. As one of the more intimate events in the video game industry, speakers and attendees were very easy to approach during networking breaks. There was a solid variety of speakers, attendees, and staff, all willing to have a conversation and share their wisdom.

Here are four observations we made from our time absorbing the b2b panels.

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 China remains a difficult market for US companies to enter

    The Gamesforum keynote presentation was a State Of The Industry panel. The attendees were Ron Segev (Partner of Segev LLP in Canada), David Bluhm (Managing Director of Agnitio Capital in the UK), John Peterson (VP of Jam City in Los Angeles) and David Chang (EVP of Corporate Development of Asmodee, France).

    The takeaway was that China is still a difficult market to break into. There are a number of factors responsible for this, but primarily it’s still down to Chinese legislation: games are under a great deal of scrutiny. Games have either been censored or banned, and this has caused potential investors and publishers to be very wary of the space.

    The panel also spotlighted eSports, not just in Asia but around the globe. The big secret in eSports is that companies really don’t make a lot of money – there’s not enough profit at the moment to stimulate investor interest, anyway. Influencers appear to be the exception and not the rule here.

    In the closing minutes, market trends were discussed, and despite the panel taking place in America it seemed Europe is a major focus of interest. Investors and publishers in large quantities are looking at companies who are blending physical and digital products in interesting ways (board games with companion apps, for example) and continuous content was a key factor here. There was a healthy dose of discussion on the return to subscription-based games and their ability to keep pumping out content.

  • 2 Co-development was 2019’s buzzword

    In the Crystal Ball: Predicting the Future of Game Co-Development panel, co-development was described as the latest buzzword in the industry. It’s an evolution of outsourcing, licensing, and partnerships at their best, all wrapped into one.

    Top companies have begun to work together in new and inventive ways. In the event’s keynote presentation too, content creators in video games were presented as a possible entry into the subscription market with publishers, Netflix style, and co-development in outsourcing and licensing could turn into potential acquisitions as relationships are built and change over time. Overall there was a sense of more cooperation happening in video games than there has been in the past, but the consensus was that it was too early to tell how this would play out in emerging markets, like AR & VR.

  • 3 The top 100 games on app stores make 96% of the profits

    In the other panels, we learned that the top 100 games on app stores make up 96% of the profits.

    Perhaps surprisingly, $100 billion dollars was spent on mobile advertising in 2018, but only $70 billion dollars in revenue was generated that same year. Despite these numbers in the mobile market, there are those who still want to invest in games. There was an informative panel called What Every Company Should Know About Partnerships, Funding, and Exits among the more on-the-nose group sessions like The Funding Panel and The Publishing Panel. In What Every Company Should Know, David Chang of Asmodee spoke about how developers should be thinking about business, and not just game making. He touched upon topics like deciding if you should work for hire or with a publisher, what happens to your IP if you sign it over to someone and that company changes hands, who owns the rights to future titles, understanding that both parties have the right of refusal (no one loses a job if they turn down a developer, they lose their jobs on making bad business deals), and pre-negotiating an acquisition. The audience was reminded that potential business partners do not look down on those asking questions like these.

    The Games Monetization Forum part of the event boasted a panel called Why Game Systems Work – An Explanation of Live-Ops Success and Failure, covering the business of multiplayer gaming, live-ops and events. When building a multiplayer experience, we learned, cross platform development is essential – Fortnite being the best example. For developers building for multiplayer, testing and scaling for an increasing number of players (and designing for streamers with your user interface) were highlighted. Every way your players can network with each other can be an opportunity for you to network with them as well.

  • 4 Developers need to be mindful of their cultural references

    In Building Better Worlds through Game Culturalization, Kate Edwards (CEO of Geogrify) has made a career of being a consultant ensuring developers and publishers are as culturally sensitive as they can be. She shared humorous examples of real-world faux pas, but also examples of references in games that lacked sense, for instance crucifix markers on graves in an entirely inappropriate jungle setting.

    The moral of the story was to think about where you’re selling your games and what your choices say to and about that audience. (See Blizzard and the recent conversation around Hong Kong for more free speech examples.)

    Full disclosure: our own event Pocket Gamer Connects is a media partner of Gamesforum and we have run promotion for each other’s events during 2019. The next Gamesforum event is a one-day Laser event on 21 April 2020 in Barcelona. Gamesforum Seattle returns in October 2020. Pocket Gamer Connects will return to Seattle in early May 2020. Before then, join Pocket Gamer in London on 20-21 January 2020 for talks, panels and international business meetings.

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