Angel of the north: 4 things we learned from GameHorizon

Knowledge from Newcastle

Angel of the north: 4 things we learned from GameHorizon

For so many events there's an almost indescribable quality that draws developers to part with their cash year after year in order to pick up a ticket. Until you've taken that risk and attended the first one, however, you're utterly blind as to just what that quality is.

It's not something that you can determine from talk titles, parties sponsors or even the attendee list – we can all think of conferences that were packed full of the industry's brightest and best and yet, for whatever reason, proved to be utterly irrelevant to the concerns of those sat in the audience.

For GameHorizon, the quality that greeted attendees that doesn't feature in the event's press blurb is a genuine sense of community.

It was both my first visit both to GameHorizon and its host city Newcastle, yet pretty much every face I encountered was either someone from the UK development scene I'd encountered before or a friend of a friend of a friend.

Like Pocket Gamer Connects, for most attendees making connections seemed to be as much of pull as learning from the speakers. Though we can't recreate that aforementioned sense of community on these pages, however, what we can do is pass on some of what we picked up during out stay:

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Even the big boys make mistakes

    There was a refreshing feel to the talk by Jagex's CEO Mark Gerhard on the second day of GameHorizon, though it's unlikely the man himself would have referred to his company as a 'big boy'.

    Indeed, though the studio has achieved notable success with RuneScape, his presentation detailed Jagex's previous attempts to make a name for itself away from its most favourite IP, with mobile the firm's tool of choice.

    To cut a long story short, while all of Jagex's mobile releases enjoyed a spell at the top of the charts, you'd be hard pressed to describe the venture as a success.

    "The truth is most of us are guilty of resistance of change – it's human nature," he detailed.

    "The most dangerous words in the English language are 'we've always done it this way'. While we said we were innovating and changing at Jagex, actually we weren't. We weren't brave enough.

    "We were still resting on the foundation of previous knowledge – previous things that had worked. If you hear 'we've always done it this way', be very afraid, or do something about it and build an environment that frequently embraces change."

  • 2 If you're going to party, party like it's the end of the Premier League

    "What's the score? What's the score now, then?"

    For this intrepid editor, much of Wednesday night – the night of the GameHorizon party – was spent nervously hitting refresh on my phone's browser. Man City were playing Aston Villa in the penultimate game of the season in a must-win game in the race for the title against Liverpool.

    As a City fan, then, it might have been somewhat uncomfortable to have seemingly been surrounded by Liverpool fans asking what the score was, each one hopeful that City would have conceded a hat-full with half the team sent off for good measure.

    However, despite this apparent tension – quickly relieved when City raced into a 4-0 lead, I might add – few are the industry parties I've been to in recent years where people made the effort to speak to everyone in the room quite like they did at this one. It helps that, given the relative size of GameHorizon the room itself wasn't that big, but nonetheless, as a networking exercise – particularly for the UK dev scene – it was easy to see the value in picking up a ticket.

    Indeed, it helped serve as an advert for all UK-based events. We can't compete with the scale of GDC in San Francisco or Gamescom in Cologne, but if you're a UK developer looking to make vital connections to further your business, I recommend you pick up every ticket for every UK event your budget affords.

  • 3 In mobile, risk really does equal reward

    "Lots of people sniggered at it and assumed we'd be doing something pink and like My Little Pony, but in the end we went for something far more realistic," said NaturalMotion's Torsten Reil of the studio's decision to work on My Horse.

    "And I just checked before I got here – My Horse has 35 million downloads now, and none of them were achieved through user acquisition. They're all organic."

    On the surface My Horse may not seem like a massive creative risk, but Reil's confirmation that NaturalMotion sidelined painting the game in pretty shades of pink in order to stay safe in favour of doing something a bit more raw and realistic proved to pay dividends.

    And taking risks is what developers need to do, he said, despite the fact that in this industry, the temptation is to do something as safe as houses so not to throw your business away on something that doesn't pay off.

    "The problem with what's happening now with games is that the games at the top of the charts stay there because they get into a self perpetuating cycle," concluded Reil.

    "User acquisition can't keep bad games high up in the charts any more – the games at the top of the charts are there because they're good, but user acquisition can also keep the good games out. It's much harder for a good game to get to the top of the charts now compared to two years ago.

    "The only way to beat that is to make really disruptive games with high quality. You've got to leap frog genres. That's what we believe is the big opportunity now. How do you do this? You have to be proud of what you're making."

  • 4 Publishers still have power

    It was almost inevitable. While publishers were being written off by developers two or three years ago (I mean, honestly, who needs them?), suddenly now their value has become clear.

    As discussed on a panel that featured Epic's Mark Rein and Charles Cecil of Broken Sword fame, amongst others, the overwhelming message from those on the stage is that developers need to realise that (good) publishers put their money on the line more often than not.

    "The thing about publishers is, they do have to take risks," said Cecil.

    "That really shouldn't be underestimated. If you don't have a fanbase then going through a publisher is a valid idea – I'm not anti-publisher in the least."

    On mobile, developers have taken that risk on themselves and, as many are learning, the majority of risks simply don't pay off. Publishers may not always be popular, but they do at least share some of the burden. The effective ones, anyway.

    "It's very hard to negotiate with publishers if you don't have leverage," concluded Rein "And there are just some risks publishers just aren't willing to take any more, but it's definitely still a viable model."

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