The 2012 LA Games conference

Last week we hit the LA Games Conference for their 6th year of the event, there are tons of panels and events setup each year for new entries into the realm of gaming. This year of course kept the tradition going with some extra twists with the CEO of Trion delivering a keynote and many popular figures from the industry continuing to join up and meet and talk with the press and developers.

For those curious on what the magic entry fee delivers it's a few things.

  • 3 Tracks of panels covering gaming, marketing, development, trends
  • Food and events for socializing over (Breakfast buffet, Lunch buffet)
  • An after party event for everyone to unwind after taking in a ton of hard information from the day.

    The tracks are in depth and have open mic opportunities for attendees to voice their mind and get feedback on their direction or the direction of the panel at any given point. It's a dynamic energy driving new minds to veterans in the field. Worried if your new app is really going to hold up to the test of time? Sit in during the mobile panels and find out how the trends tend to work and how to extend the longevity of your product. Learn what your consumers are leaning toward in the analyst panels and feel out the field of gaming as a whole with new technologies like streaming and cloud storage.

    Here are a few panels I hit for Neoseeker this year as samples, please excuse me if they're slightly rough.

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    Panel 1: State of the Industry

    Panelists:
    Jesse Redniss - USA Network
    Jack Buser - Playstation Digital Platforms
    Matt Hulett - GameHouse (Real-Networks)
    Mark Spencer - Rumble
    Baudouin Corman - Gameloft

    Moderator:
    Mark Friedler - Worlds and Games Consulting


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    The Los Angeles Games Conference kicks off the first panel with a simple question, where is the state of the industry at for your respective companies, where do you see the tides going in the future?

    Jack Buser brings a very interesting development Sony and their side of development. While we've heard investors ask Nintendo to consider other platforms but the same was never requested from the other mobile developer, Sony. Playstation Digital is working on a new platform of Playstation Certified devices powered by Android to cater to this space. The idea is that binaries written for Vita can run without porting on devices that meet the requirements to get approval from Sony, the program is currently in beta right now and the development entry cost is their lowest yet at $99 to get into this new ecosystem. The idea of course is the Playstation experience can eventually reach HTC, Motorola and other devices through their development investment right now and that richer experiences will make their way to the consumers.

    Baudouin supports the movement from Playstation Digital, mentioning this should help the continued growth in emerging markets by making widely accessible content. Also noting that new IP's are still just as viable as ever in the mobile space and that Ice Age Village has moved over 5 million downloads in 7 days time. Matt Hulett stepped in to note that IP development is on a rise again with old genres coming back into the mainstream again. Bejeweled and even poker games coming into the fold again, the market around them has gone from 2 primary IP's in to 6 in the past year catering to these areas.

    Jesse Redniss explained that while many feel the industry is coming to a head for developments that room still exists to expand as a result of those genre revivals and new approaches to them are always coming. Even with that, there will be a convergence in his mind, understanding the market and users and eventually seeing focused and driven content make its way into syndication for that global market. Mark supported this noting that developers are coming through with reduced complexity in input to meet the current market already so a high quality experience is coupled with ease of use, LA Noire being an example of this movement.

    Jack was able to follow-up with other examples for Playstation in this field with Dust 514 being a complete F2P experience for PSN soon. The focus being all the testing done in Playstation Home coming full circle, they've tried so many things that they understand social isn't just a chat log and much more for a core player and they feel Dust 514 will act as a demonstration of this analysis.

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    The panel moved forward to a sensitive question of Hype, what's overused or stressed in the industry right now?

    Mark was first to bat noting Play Anywhere is a huge buzzword for those in the industry right now, the reality is that while a nice idea that devices are not universal. The focus should be on the experience and developers would be wise to act carefully about the experience they end up delivering to the users or they'll lose them from those bad ports. Baudouin was able to chime in with the issue of quality, can it be retained across a field with so many levels of division. The feeling is that developers need to mature how someone experiences a game and that it can't just be a simple control adjustment. Jack stepped in after with Cannibalization of the market, noting that while core gamers may feel threatened that a strong reality is the group isn't going anywhere in the market. The demise of the core group of gamers is just a hype sensation and that essential products will always exist in the market to meet those needs.

    Baudouin noted that even Gameloft has faced harsh reactions from the public but once the fans were able to give it a shot they could see it wasn't a threat directed at them and an enjoyable experience could be had. As a whole gaming isn't being diluted in his eyes, it's just growing outward and the pool that it attracts is vast but it's a new audience not a breakdown of the current core culture.

    The big question then was simple, is this sustainable? Will a CPM model hold up in these developing markets or will a new shift be required to keep these alive.

    Jack was first to catch this question, bringing up investment figures from players in Playstation Home, average user sessions hit 1 hour at a time and the 3D engagement of the world and campaigns allows for complete immersion during the play experience that 2D struggles to keep up with in comparison. For Playstation the idea of integrated experiences makes for a fluid presentation while they feel that 2D will just erode over time without the same level of immersion to the player.

    Jesse was able to chime in on developing content around that issue, moving from CPM to connections, getting a transcending movement isn't so simple though as it takes a dedicated and detailed partnership to commit to these plans. CPM still stands as king in the TV space for content publishers / stations but companies like USA are looking to the next evolution of experience like Defiance by Trion. What happens in-game shapes the TV show and users are constantly engaged on both sides of the story, content partners in this case are integrating products by thinking ahead 30 years into the future to be part of that landscape.

    Mark as the newcomer in the bunch felt that advertising was only a small piece of the puzzle and micro-transactions will play a larger part in the future of the industry. Prove the value of the game outside of just the aesthetic perks seen today, sure you can buy some cool clothes for your avatar but what happens when it fades? Instead the focus for Rumble is helping not only the player but their group or guild as well, by involving a greater pool there's a reward and longer term delivery for users.

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    The panel closed on a final outlook topic, where is development changing and what is happening?

    Mark noted the increase of F2P and live gaming is a shift for teams that are used to traditional development cycles, in the console world a game is produced by a team and a month out as it enters testing the team retires on vacation and comes back to start on their next task after launch. In these new live worlds a game is released but what rests ahead is the next update and in that period there are hundreds of thousands of users actively engaging those games. It's a difficult shift but it's something that developers learn, marathon and sprint as needed, remember the game is a service not a product anymore and the adaptation comes from there.

    Matt was quicker to talk about the technical side of all these devices on the market, controlling memory footprints and technical delivery to the user. With so many devices out there from Apple and Android the best products require a firm understanding of universal limits.

    Jack noted that while Playstation has one of the largest development pools out there, they're still cutting their teeth on these concepts and the generations of developers are exchanging their histories. The most prominent example coming to mind was the issue of new developers caught up in the business side of development, making a game that follows the metrics to sell or go viral with ease. The older developers from the console side had their own injections though, while you can have a formula game that delivers on basic points you still need to make something fun for the player or it's a waste of time.

    Baudouin felt that with new power coming in the next year to the mobile arena that developers face the challenge of keeping games as a service instead of a single experience. Processing power will add incredible opportunity but the potential needs to be controlled so it streams to any platform with the same care for delivery over all else.

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    Panel 2: From Console to Cloud: Exploring today's multiple distribution possibilities

    Panelists:
    Nanea Reeves - Machinma
    Joel Resnik - Redbox
    Jon Estanislao - Activision
    Chris Donahue - Onlive
    Brad Hisey - Nexon America

    Moderator:
    Ted Cohen - TAG Strategic


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    Ted put down a quick question to the panel, will players still be on consoles are will things evolve to streaming for content?

    Chris was first to respond, noting we're in a digital content boom right now, you have streaming experiences coming to all platforms in at least some form, you can be on a tablet and stream Netflix or on a Mac and Stream PC games to play through. The idea of gaming going away from the TV is another story though, noting that gamers will always reach out to experience their titles on the biggest screen they have no matter how content is delivered, as a result it's hard to say that streaming means getting away from a console.

    Nanea followed in quickly noting that Millennials are proving to be a digital generation, not focused on physical media in her experience.

    Joel was quick to include device experience is also a factor here, how a developer controls the lines for experience on each device will also dictate how consumers react.

    Jon was able to step in with the experience from Activision, they had a simple question on going digital, "How can we deliver values to the consumer?" the factors considered were improving how they interacted with customers and how to connect and engage them before trying to monetize on that experience. As a result they've favored creating big brands as a way to support that pursuit.

    Nanea expressed a factor in the cloud will be ownership, do consumers own the bits and can they access them offline somehow, if the publishers can overcome the hurdle they'll simply have technology pushing platforms away.

    Chris followed up on this noting that platforms are already fading with technologies like Onlive you can now have PC game experiences on a Mac, Netbook or a Tablet that were exclusive to those gamers without needing a hardcore PC to power it. All users can share the experience at any time and from a publisher side, it makes it harder to cheat the system in the process.

    Joel responded on this noting that few have attempted to embrace other streaming variations outside of just Onlive, mentioning that progressive downloads aren't facing acceptance either and to stay in the game it would help to see a game readily accessible instead of waiting hours for it to install.

    Jon reaffirmed Activision is still firm to the retail space, Asia heavily consumes physical media and they're working to develop the retail experience even more with games like Skylanders which offer hardware expansion with a wide selection of figures to collect for the game.

    Chris came back mentioning that streaming needs a focus of tailoring games to the user experience, touch controls to make it work but simplify those controls when needed to make it accessible.

    Nanea broke in for a moment noting more social games need guns.

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    The next question asked if we're there yet with the cloud?

    The general group shot quick reactions about broadband accesssibility for the country as a whole. Expanding with 4G as an alternative to cable crisis issues, but even then Verizon and AT&T have petitioned to expand their spectrum from their current allocations and wide spread availability would still be an issue reaching those customers if they're falling short in their current state.

    Joel reminisced that even with a digital catalog to flip through it's hard to beat the experience of going through the bin and picking out a title.

    Brad chimes in with Uberstrike as an example of how in regions you have games already in the system that allow for instant access without a massive client.

    Nanea notes that for her experience we're already there with digital and community has driven content like walk-throughs into digital form that you can access anywhere. The community driven contributions are growing and eliminating the need to consult a guide book anymore. From her experience the retail community needs to involve the consumer in new ways or it loses to digital.

    The panel turned to Redbox as a whole, without revealing very much the outlook was set on how the company integrates the digital experience. Users are able to trust Redbox as a community brand and use word of mouth to expand their experience. They embrace their community through social media channels and email and text so they're able to listen to the demands and react to those appropriately while earning trust. Redbox may look to the cloud but as a whole they fill that middle area where users still want their physical media on the coastal states and throughout the rest of the country.

    Jon mentions that Activision is actively learning and developing with the community to see what will work in their future plans or changes before they roll them out. (referencing COD Elite most likely) Also mentioning that Activision is always looking at new cloud models and will expand in the space as openings present themselves.

    Nanea suggested that while the cloud may not be here completely that experimenting with pricing or time based use might help expand its presence in the market to those gamers it wouldn't normally reach.

    Chris was quick to jump in mentioning that Onlive has had a large amount of success using a variable pay system or as they call it the PlayPack for $10 which gives flat access to a large library to get exposure for those companies. As companies wish to pull out of it or join in they can in a drop of a hat and get access to those users in that subscription pool. The idea is they're able to cater to the sampler players vs the hardcore who want to lay down a larger sum for a specific game and that it captures monetary value normally lost to high prices. He also went on to note that while the industry is quick to embrace new technology as it has, the retail side is still lacking as his company had experienced in 2011 (Gamestop Deus Ex vouchers, he doesn't mention this specifically for legal reasons so please treat with care).

    With the final words from Chris the panel wraps up.

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    It's just a sample and without all the action and gestures it's not the full picture of course but it's a unique event and young minds that can afford to get in or new companies looking to expand their vision should really think about what the show has to offer with so many people readily available. Being able to sit in on a panel and walk out with the hosts and talk to them at lunch or in the lobby and get that one question in for them to see how its going. Some are even more flexible and make a habit to set up shop for discussion after the event wraps.

    We have attended for quite a few years now and it's always a unique experience to gain another perspective on the growing game industries and how the landscape is constantly evolving as it matures each year. While it's not an absolute source of information it's a huge step for many, it would be nice to see some of the moderators engage other issues in the future though, one that stood out in the cloud and online debate was the current network provider issues, bandwidth caps and limits to fiber across the country to sufficiently stream over gaikai or onlive.

    gaming conference mobile developers mobile gaming web development technology gaming related
  • Responses (1)

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    walnuts May 7, 12
    The cloud stuff is very interesting, and something that we'll be moving towards in the future in a big way. I'm a religious user of Steam, and while it's very good at what it does, there's a few things I'd like to see added sooner rather than later (saved games on the Steam cloud automatically? Yes please!).

    However, and it was touched upon in the panel write up, infrastructure is holding it up right now. I live in a big city, and the internet here is atrocious compared to other nations. No way in hell something like Netflix or OnLive would be viable in Australia just yet. But, it will improve, and as such there is hope that it may all become a reality one day.

    Nice write up :>!
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