Last month, I had the honor and pleasure of giving the opening keynote at the Montreal International Game Summit. I’ll leave it to others to assess whether my comments had any merit, but I can tell you the rest of the speakers put on a heck of a show.
This was my second time attending MIGS and it really seems like a show on the rise — just keeps getting better and better.
Attendance seemed significantly higher than 2005, the last time I was there, and the roster of speakers was stellar. Sadly, I face-planted myself on a Montreal sidewalk at the end of the first day (gave myself a concussion and everything!) and was unable to attend the second day of the show, but on the first day I attended talks by Randy Smith, Chris Hecker, Petri Purho and Laura Fryer, all of whom proved enlightening and entertaining. I also got to see a bunch of folks I don’t get to hang out with often enough — Disney’s own Michelle Jacob, NYU’s Katherine Isbister, Jason Della Rocca of the IGDA, Jon Blow and others. And I got to meet a bunch of new people I hope to spend more time with at other shows. All in all, a great experience.
Randy Smith’s talk about games as art was eye-opening — weirdly like a talk I’ve given several times over the years, about the unique characteristics of the games medium, but Randy supported the argument with data in a way I never thought to do and illustrated it with visuals that brought the argument to life in a way my word-oriented nature doesn’t allow me to do (at least not without a lot of effort!). There have been enough blog posts about the talk that I won’t recount it here but just throw in my vote for this as “talk of the show” (or the part of the show I was able to attend when I wasn’t at the doctor getting my freakin’ head x-rayed…).
Chris Hecker blew me away, too, by throwing so much data at the audience it was all a little overwhelming. His talk was about user-generated content and, at least by implication, how it will come to dominate the world of gaming. He had more amazing visuals of more amazing player-creations from Spore than you can possibly believe. The number of people uploading Spore content for others to enjoy is mind-boggling. Still, I remain sceptical.
Depending on users for content seems less than ideal to me — the example I usually cite when defending my luddite stance — that professionals should provide content and players should enjoy content — is the old TSR story. Basically, there were, back in the day around 15 million D&D players, of those, probably 10% acted as DMs. Of THOSE 10% were good DMs and 10% of the good DMs generated their own adventures. Of those who generated adventures, probably 10% were pretty good. And, finally, 10% of those were publishable. That adds up to about 150 adventures worth playing from a user-base of 15 million. And finding those good ones? Pretty darn hard. My odds are better sticking with the pros and paying for their work.
I’m probably dead wrong about this (given Will Wright’s level of success relative to mine!), or maybe I’m just trying to preserve my own job, but I remain a believer in providing tools for collaboration with players, with pros offering the things WE’RE good at and giving players power to do the things THEY’RE good at, rather than just handing over authorial control to everyone. (And, yes, before anyone throws it back at me, I HAVE played Little Big Planet, and my opinion remains unchanged on the topic of user-generated content…)
Kloonigames’ Petri Purho gave a talk about indie game development and the creation of Crayon Physics (which, if you haven’t tried it, is a MUST play you should go grab right now…). I mean, I do NOT get how the guy does what he does. Come on! (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Purho is the “game a month” guy!) The idea that any game made in a month might be any good is mind-boggling. The idea that one of them could be as amazing as Crayon Physics is, well, it’s whatever’s more incredible than “mind-boggling.” The fact that he repeatedly said of himself in his talk that he wasn’t much of a designer is just ridiculous.
Honestly, as a non-programming, non-artist with deep roots in the commercial game business, there wasn’t much for me in the talk, in terms of career guidance, but there were some ideas that seem hugely applicable to folks in my situation, specifically: New ideas are out there and need to be grabbed and played with, rather than sticking with the tried and true; and you can and should turn ideas around as quickly as possible and with as little bureaucratic interference as you can manage, to cull the good ideas from the bad as quickly as possible. Frankly, “fail quickly and leave time for recovery” is my new motto and one that a lot of developers need to embrace. Petri came on that idea earlier and more productively than most.
Laura Fryer’s talk on being a producer was pretty swell, too. I spent most of the time wishing I’d been told all this stuff when I was a producer — and wondering how I could bring back the key points to my own production team at Junction Point. She really nailed the idea that being a producer isn’t about — or mainly about — schedules and budgets and all; it’s about fostering a culture of “production.” You want to create an environment in which everyone on the team is freed to do what’s best for the project. It’s about communication and doing whatever’s necessary to remove impediments to progress. It’s about ensuring that everyone on the team does whatever it takes to achieve greatness. Amen to that.
Sadly, that was all I got to see of MIGS this year, thanks to my nose dive into concrete that first evening. (Seriously, my face looked bad enough that I scared small children at the Montreal airport a couple of days later…) Still, though, I had a great experience at the show and look forward to attending again in the coming years. For all of you who didn’t attend, web search the various speakers and read up on what they had to say. Quite an education…