conferences education photos

The audacity to believe

Do you live in San Francisco? Or, have you ever been there, for a conference, perhaps, or a holiday? (since the games industry’s biggest annual conference takes place in downtown SF, literally adjacent to and physically underneath the memorial)

Have you been to the Martin Luther King memorial?

No, not the famous one(s) elsewhere that are all over the web in arguments and rantings about costs etc. I mean the small, quiet, semi-secret one hidden in the heart of San Francisco, in the Yerba Buena Gardens.

conferences games industry international iphone massively multiplayer

5-year predictions (2009 to 2014) for the MMO/Online Games industry

Last week at the LOGIN conference I sat on a panel with three far more smart/successful/famous people than myself entitled “Online Games 2014: Twelve Spoilers for the Future” (I think I was there as “the argumentative one” ;)). The real value of the panel was the four of us arguing^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hdiscussing each other’s predictions, and the audience suggestions afterwards, but the predictions themselves were pretty interesting alone, just to compare and contrast.

I couldn’t liveblog this session (obviously) and it looks like no-one else did, so – until the slides go up on the conference website – here’s what I can remember of the predictions (I may get some of these wrong, apologies!):

  1. There will be tonnes of cheap rackspace; anything that uses Cloud Computing will be very successful thanks to low cost base
  2. iPhone will become the dominant gaming platform
  3. We’re heading into a big recession that may do well for the MMO industry
  4. Browser-based MMOs will disappear in favour of iPhone/SmartPhone-based MMOs
  5. South Korean MMO Publishers will vanish as a major player in the MMO industry, eclipsed and swallowed by Chinese and SEA MMO Operators (“non-publishing” backgrounds)
  6. Europe will get its first successful Europe-wide MMO publisher, and that company will quickly rise to dominance over the more fractured USA MMO publisher market
  7. Advertiser-sponsored Virtual Worlds will be huge in number and variety
  8. A small percentage of advertiser-sponsored VWs will succeed – but will dominate the mainstream MMO market, since for them “profit is optional”
  9. Traditional game developers will be blindsided by the advertiser-sponsored MMOs
  10. Most PC MMOs (IIRC “90% or more”) will become F2P
  11. Console development-studios will become dominant in the MMO market since they are best at “polish” and very high quality user-experiences
  12. …and one more I’ve forgotten (!). Actually, some of the above I suspect I’ve misinterpreted – have to wait for the slides to be posted to check…

I’ve never before engaged in these kinds of generic future predictions, because I have so little confidence in either my own ability to describe them, or in my ability to understand other people’s ones in a useful fashion. I joined this session because the opportunity to argue them against other people was a lot more interesting. As stated above, I think our conversations on the panel were a lot more valuable than the actual predictions themselves.

Of course, when it comes to more narrow, specific predictions, well … if I really knew the answers there, I wouldn’t be telling you, I’d be making billions out of knowing :). And anyway, at that point you’re effectively asking me what the precise strategy is of my current employer (whoever that may be), which I’m generally not going to be able to reveal :).

FYI the speakers on the panel:

  1. David Edery, previously Worldwide Games Portfolio Manager for XBLA
  2. Charlie Stross, author of Halting State, Accelerando, etc
  3. Tarrney Williams, previously General Manager of Relic Entertainment
  4. + me, of course
conferences GDC 2009

I have no voice and I must speak (tomorrow, at GDC)

This is going to be, um, … interesting. Darius lost his voice this week (some throat infection cominbed with lots of drinking, nonstop talking/networking, and then aggresive partying each night). Poor guy, he was totally inaudible yesterday.

And this morning I could hardly talk too, so I’m on a diet of “not speaking” and hoping it will clear up enough for my talks tomorrow, especially the midday “how to sell social networking to your publisher”.

Although … it would be awesome fun to have to do a talk without speaking a single word (I’ve seen it done before, deliberately). I think it would probably need a LOT more prepartion though than I have time for :(.

So … I’m not at the conference today, I’m chilling in SF and resting my poor beleaguered voice.

conferences GDC 2009

A Flying Start

4 hours sleep or less?

The main 8 hour event I’ve come for today “not listed” on conference programme?

The big posters-sized signs don’t list any of the summit locations?

The map claims that the giant room where the first session takes place “doesn’t exist”?

No coffee and breakfast today?
Check (argh!)

I guess it must be the first day of a conference, then :). Bring it on!

EDIT: Darius has set up the RSS aggregator for all GDC talk liveblogging, parties blogging, etc – only this year with Twitter integration –

conferences GDC 2009

GDC 2009 Parties

Lots of news sites and blogs have reported that the recession has affected GDC this year, with lot of cancelled parties and a big drop in attendees. I wouldn’t be surprised, given all the redundancies (although … wouldn’t that mean more people looking to recruit / be recruited?), but the first round of evidence – the volume of parties – shows no signs of recession so far:

conferences GDC 2009

Don’t go to GDC; listen to “industry heavyweights” instead!

For a mere $600 (yes, that *is* going to double the cost of the GDC ticket that you already bought), you can go to this competing event on Tuesday next week:

“VentureBeat is teaming with industry heavy-weights.”

Ah, hubris, how we love you.

“You’ll learn how one of the most successful and rapidly growing sectors in the high-tech industry will be critical in the development of every major computing platform, including web, mobile and social media technologies.”

The thing about making such grandiose claims is that you’re going to look particularly stupid if you can’t live up to them. I read this far with interest, perhaps even a little excitement – what were they doing that they felt bold enough to go head to head with the world’s largest and most important games-industry annual event?

Hmm. Well. Let’s look at what these Industry Heavyweights are going to be saying:

8:45: 5 different Venture Capitalists talk about new business models, and which companies are going to “win” going forwards. This would be cool, except that VC’s love to say “if I thought I actually knew, I’d quit and found my own startup”. Probably a good session if you’ve not been to these guys’ VC panels before, just so you can get a bit of insight of how they think. However, the lack of anyone who would force them to be honest takes away most of the value of having them there; VC panels *always* need someone on them who’s post-funding, or a super angel, and not afraid to cry BS on them. Where’s Nabeel, or Susan, or one of the other bullish entrepreneurs with no iota of fear of VCs?

9:30: the man who was so unpopular at the ION conference last year he almost got booed / dragged off the stage is back to take credit for creating an MMO 12 years ago which his company has failed to equal since, and to claim to “launch a new breed of online games” that as we all know is is just a clone of other, bigger, games that came out 8 years ago. Colour me not impressed.

10:00: Someone from PlayStation Network is going to talk about how tough it is to focus on your consumers, and what you should do. This will be a short one; I predict she’ll say “just don’t do what we did, we’ve screwed up on every decision we ever made”. There’s also someone from Nokia, That Failed Mass Market Wannabe Game Company Who Never Saw What Was Right In Front Of Their Faces (as if nGage weren’t enough, they had to make another one to really seal their FAIL title). And a publisher trying to make a play for control of one of the “new platforms”, who’s probably going to be a teensy weensy bit biased. I’d say that Neil Young is going to be the one here worth listening to, bias included, because he might well reveal some interesting things about life as an iPhone publisher. I don’t think there’ll be much on-topic of value, though.

11:00: “Are the barriers to entry just too big with giants like Activision Blizzard using World of Warcraft as a continuous revenue stream to reinvest?”. This will be another short session, we – all – already know the answer: “yes”. That is why no-one sane is attempting it. Wasn’t Hellgate: London enough of a lesson for you? Although it would seem implicitly that at least two of the speakers on this panel are going ahead anyway. What I’d like to know is just where do those guys find the pants big enough?

12:00-16:00: these sessions seem mostly normal, the right kind of people speaking for the topics. Although I’m not sure exactly of the value of e.g. a 30 minute session with a non-game-developer talking about his dream game development studio. Great for him, if he knows what he wants and is getting it, that’s cool. But … what does that have to do with the “industry heavyweights”? Surely it would make more sense to get someone who’s made a whole series of studios answering that question? Maybe I’m missing something here, but IIRC he … hasn’t?

16:00: “Is what sells today going to be socially acceptable tomorrow?” and “If they are indeed becoming routine, then what comes next? And, how do companies make money from it?” – well, the companies speaking at these sessions are near *guaranteed* not to answer, because they’re all betting their own futures on “them knowing, and the rest of you not knowing”. Could be a short session…

16:45: I’m taking a wild guess here that you’ll see 3 Analysts show how little they know about the industry. You’ve got someone from DFC up there, the same DFC that published a report the other week which couldnt’ seem to remember the difference between a “company” and a “product”, or at least was keen to ignore it if it got in the way of producing a vague “top 10 list”. And what’s with this factor-of-3-guesswork at revenues? I’ve got much much more detailed info than that myself!


CMP/Think Services needn’t start sweating yet. It’s going to be a heck of a lot more successful than their own attempt at something similar a few years back (“GDC Prime”), but it’s really just a sideshow, even with all the big names in attendance. They’re names, but not industry heavyweights; the heavyweights are all at GDC, IMHO.

Although … the cunning move of holding this on the Tuesday might well draw a fair few people into going who don’t have 5-day tickets for GDC (have the cheaper 3-day ones). TS has deliberately kept Mondays and Tuesdays quiet by charging an extra fee for attendance. My advice personally would be not to bother with the VB event (if you’re not already on a 5-day GDC ticket) and to instead spend the day meeting up with random GDC attendees / attending meetings.

GDC rocks. I’ll see you there…

EDIT: PS: the rampant attempts to re-inforce elitism at GDC are beginning to really wind me up. GDC Prime was bad enough, but everyone’s got to experiment with their business model from time to time. There are reasons why the elitist, coke-addled, E3 died and the developer-driven, egalitarian GDC did not (there’s a clue there to my own thoughts on at least one of the big reasons ;)), and I don’t take kindly to attempts to turn GDC into “E3 … take two”. They won’t win, so long as TS keeps their heads about them, but … it’s just tacky to watch.

conferences education games design

Serious game researchers: this is you.

Your professor tells you that you can’t study them for their own sake. However, if they’re as exciting as you say, and all the young people are reading them, then perhaps you could write an educational one? He therefore instructs you to go away and write a novel to teach addition.

For one of the conferences I was asked to speak at this year, I proposed a talk on the topic:

“Why the Serious Games movement is fundamentally bankrupt based on an idea that will never work, and what you should be doing instead, because there’s some great stuff you’re doing under that banner – but only when you undermine or ignore the classic definition(s) of Serious Games”

Unsurprisingly, they didn’t accept it. They kept on asking me to talk on something more “positive” and “business encouraging”; I kept on replying that it needs to be said, that it would be more valuable to their audience than anything else I personally could talk meaningfully on, and that if they didn’t want it, fine. Not my loss. Ah well.

(and to those of you who are doing great stuff and calling it Serious Games, but not following the foolishness of the majority – well done, keep it up, and we’re looking forward to what you come up with next!)

bitching conferences funny GDC 2009 iphone Web 0.1

Need help – anyone in SF next week with an iPhone hardware unlock?

(seriously – otherwise I’ll be phoneless thoughout GDC :( )

I’ve had no interest in cracking my iPhone, so I haven’t.

Until I discovered the other day that my incompetent network (O2) won’t allow me to make calls in the USA on the agreement I have with them, so I need to use a local USA SIM while I’m there. Unsurprisingly, all O2’s own staff openly advised this as the only sane course of action. They were apologetic that this was necessary. O2 loses nothing if I unlock the phone.

And then I discover that Apple’s undocumented 2.2.1 update which I was bounced into installing has disabled all known unlock processes except for the hardware ones. If I had bothered to do the unlock a few months ago, it would have worked perfectly. Now, with less than a day until I leave the country, there’s nothing I can do.

Help? Anyone?

(NB: I’m not on a contract. I’m not even registered with the network. I’m sure the EU commission will sue Apple’s ass over this sooner or later and force them to stop retailing locked phones in the UK. That is of no help to me *today*)

(NB2: Apple’s lack of respect for their consumer continues to impress me every year. I know *why* they did it (network operators forced them to), but that doesn’t excuse screwing the consumer without warning them what you’re about to do to them. Undocumented updates are vicious)

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Free iPhone developer meetups

I just received an “invite” to a pay-for event in London about “smartphone development”: an evening in a bar with a couple of speakers and some networking.

So … you can go and listen to an iPhone developer, an ex EA person, and an ex Motorola person, and pay for the priviledge, organized by non-developers. The cost is 50% more than you pay to go to world-famous VC/angel/investor networking events such as First Tuesday.

Or … you could go to one of the many near-identical networking + speaker events that are free, and run by real developers. Here are four examples which show that Upcoming, – even Facebook and LinkedIn – are your friends here, with loads of stuff going on.

The issue of “how” you organize these things and “what” you provide has been on my mind a lot recently, as we’ve just started a fortnightly one in Brighton (for anyone and everyone interested in commissioning, designing, developing, and launching iPhone apps). I’ve been trying out all the above sites for arranging this (I can write up some notes about the pros/cons of the different sites if anyone is interested). If you can’t find something in your local area … why not start one of your own, all it takes is making a page on, and emailing the local game / mobile / iphone / OS X developer communities … takes about 30 minutes, max?

Personally, I find the grassroots events organized by people actually making this stuff on a daily basis the far more compelling option. I also find that “special name speaker” events tend to focus on the audience being expected to shut up and listen, rather than share and learn collectively – which isn’t much use to me these days. Unconferences for the win!

Of course, sooner or later, if your event gets popular, you’ll have to start charging because the only venues big enough require large payments, and the organization effort becomes too much to do in your free time. But for the small events? My advice: if it ain’t free, don’t go.

conferences games industry GDC 2008 GDC 2009

GDC2009 Session Confirmed: Sell Social Networking to your Publisher

My GDC 2009 talk is up on the site – How to sell social-networking pitches/concepts to your Boss … and to your Publisher.

Now that the submission / selection process for GDC 09 is coming to an end, here’s a few thoughts on the new process (CMP / Think Services substantially reformed the conference-submission process this year):
(if you haven’t been following, I periodically write something about ways we can improve the games industry conferences)

  1. About this time of year I would normally be thinking “I really need to start on the details of my talk now. Given how busy I am, I’ll need 3 weeks to practice it, and do one final re-write before the conf”. Instead? I’m thinking: “my talk is already written. I have nothing left to do!”. Cool! It’s great to have one less big thing to do…
  2. …except, of course, there is something left to do: I need to add all the graphics and do a run through to make sure it all makes sense and flows. I hope the new process hasn’t lulled me into a false sense of security.
  3. …AND: usually when I get to a conference, I only got the final polish on the presentation 1-3 weeks earlier (depends how busy I was; sometimes I get fed up with it the night before, and I do some big changes a mere 3 hours before the talk. Especially true if I’m jetlagged and I wake up on the morning of the talk at 4 am anyway) – so it’s all fresh in my mind; I know this is common for a lot of speakers (we’re all busy people, and we don’t get paid for this, so have to fit it in around our day jobs). I have a semi-photographic memory, so I can usually give a talk even if I lost all the slides. This gets offset by the jetlag from flying 6,000 miles to California, and the inevitable hangovers from the GDC parties. In the end it all works out as “OK”; I wonder if it’ll be harder this year? (I wrote the whole talk 6 months before the conference!)
  4. CMP’s organization didn’t quite work this year – they missed their own deadlines for reviewing talks and getting back to speakers by 1-2 months. I’ve asked around among friends who are speaking too, from really niche talks to keynoters, and although there is some variation by “importance” of talk (the bigger name, the sooner you heard back, *mostly*), everyone got their responses much later than we were told we would. Shrug. We’re used to this :) – and this is a new way of handling the organization, so I’m sure there were lots of teething problems and unexpected holdups. We’ll just have to see if it goes closer-to-schedule next year, when they’ve debugged it a bit.
  5. The accidents that lead to CMP exposing on their website the earliest talks as they were confirmed made for a really interesting lead-up (for other speakers, who could briefly see what was appearing). I’ve already had 3 or 4 mass emails from CMP this year “announcing” batches of new talks that were “just confirmed”. This is standard marketing practice (and they do it each year). But it’s so 1990.
    • Howabout an RSS feed that shows each *individual* talk the moment it goes on the system? That would be awesome and … here’s a headsup to CMP: I would actually bother to read it!
    • These mass-emails of hilighted talks bore the tits off me: with 300+ talks, and one of your marketing dept picking 5-10 they “think” we’d all be interested in, for me as an individual, they get it wrong nearly every time … with all 10 of their picks. It’s statistically practically guaranteed! Theirs is a hopeless task, one I don’t envy. Give us an RSS feed! :)
    • BONUS: if you RSS feed it, you’ll *allow* the chance of news outlets picking up on each and every interesting talk as and when it’s announced. IMHO, you’d actually get overall more exposure. Since you wouldn’t need to “pick and choose”, you’d also be more likely to big-up the interesting talks by accident, since at the moment you just kill the news on them, instead of supporting it.

Also, this year I will once again be mobilizing every industry-insider I can to blog their own detailed writeups of every session they go to, via the Games Industry Conglomerate RSS Feed Of Awesomeness (feed will be updated nearer the time).

(FYI: we’re fed up of non-professionals reviewing conference talks, and either reporting what they’re told without realising when a developer is bullshitting them, or adding their own interesting but often uninformed opinions. We do love them for reporting it, and doing their best – but if you’ve never developed or published a game, there’s *so much* you can’t help but fail to appreciate about what you’re listening to. Sorry. This is not a marketing conference, its a development conference; we need developers reporting it (in addition to the journalists).

For a long period recently they didn’t even bother writing up transcripts of the sessions – so all the world was left with was a summary through the mind of someone who didn’t know what they were looking at. For some talks that’s fine, but at the world’s biggest game-conference for Professionals, with tons of detailed talks and subtle acts of brilliance, it’s just Not Enough.

No more! We transcript, and we comment, and some of us even like to bitch (and praise) quite openly about what’s being put out by the speaker.)

alternate reality games conferences games design

Dan Hon rips into ARGs

Dan’s put up the slides from his talk at the Let’s Change the Game Conference – but more importantly he’s done a long writeup with the slides embedded in the text, so you can get the flavour of the talk he gave even though you missed it.

He set out to be mean and nasty and ranty, but I think Dan is far too nice and friendly a person with too little viciousness in him to be like that in person. IMHO, on the day he was much more genteel, and so in some ways I think the written version of the talk is even better than the talk itself.

Anyway, well worth reading if you have any interest in making better ARGs. Don’t expect to get any concrete advice, this is a talk aimed at prodding you to re-think objectively just how often you give in to temptation and use weak devices and shortcuts that if you saw someone else doing you’d berate them for. Although it may not seem like it, I think Dan’s talk is an excellent intro for beginners to ARGs, since it will likely warn you off the big temptations that experienced ARG makers avoid or use with care, but newbies these days may find it easy to go overboard on. Don’t take it too literally, if you know all about ARGs already.

alternate reality games conferences education

ARGs in Charity and Education – Channel 4

Alice Taylor, Channel 4

From the ARGs in Charity and Education conference last week. Alice was forthcoming on real data – and, more importantly, C4’s outlook/perspective – on a bunch of issues. Very useful stuff.

As ever, errors and ommissions my own, and my commentary [in square brackets].

alternate reality games conferences education

ARGs in Charity and Education – Operation: Sleeper Cell

Juliette Culver

Main post on the conference is here.

As ever, errors and omissions my own, and any personal commentary is in [square brackets]

EDIT: updated with some corrections, courtesy of Juliette

alternate reality games conferences education

ARGs in Charity and Education – Summary + Keynote

This week, I was at the tiny one-day conference on Alternate Reality Games, and their use in charity and/or education, at Channel 4’s offices in London. All proceeds from the conference went to Cancer Research UK (I think it was mainly organized by the team that this year won the competition to get funding for their idea for a charity ARG, sponsored by CRUK, with help from the guys at Six to Start).

As with all other conferences I go to, here’s are writeups of all the sessions I attended. Unfortunately, Channel 4’s offices are a bit … um … 20th Century: their auditorium has no power points. It has sockets that have been covered over with screwed-on metal covers to prevent you using them. Pretty amazingly dumb, considering how funktastic the rest of the building is. So, I ran out of power halfway through, and couldn’t cover all the sessions. Sorry!

community conferences entrepreneurship mmo signup processes Web 0.1

Web 0.1: How NOT to organize an event on

(a FAIL using web-based meeting tools)

1) Make it look fun and interesting and seemingly inclusive:

“MiniBar is a social evening in East London which offers people a chance to snaffle some free beer while discussing p2p, Creative Commons, web applications, social networking and general Web 2.0 (3.0) mayhem & fandango.”

2) …but require that signup has to be done in two separate places for two “halves” of the event:

“You can come at 5pm … You need to register separately here for this part.”

3) …and make the location a Secret, known only to the special few:

This location is shown only to members”

4) If someone attempts to signup for the (free) event, deny them, and demand 250 letters explanation (no more! don’t you dare go over 250 chars!) for why they are important enough / l33t enough to be allowed to come:

(the way works, I can’t access this page from cache to copy/paste the text, sorry – you’ll just have to take it from me that it’s pretty abrupt, demanding you justify yourself without offering anything in return, or any kind of explanation of WHAT you are supposed to write, or WHY)

5) Finish your event description with not one but TWO content-less/broken links, and describe them as “more info”. For bonus marks: forget to hyperlink one of them:

“More Info at: and”

(the first domain there is hotlinked to:

NB: == a empty webserver directory on a webserver allegedly running Apache version 1.3.39 (!) – not impressive for a web/internet event.

NB2: == a webpage with adverts for 50 odd totally unrelated items, e.g.

“angled bob hair style
black braided hair styles
jc penny free shipping
trendy hair style
victoria secret free shipping”

(yes, really – Victoria Secret and JC penny. For a supposed BarCamp about startups and internet companies. Um … OK.)

I guess that’s another Web 0.1 example, then…


Interactive Conference Presentations, pt.1

Thoughts on making an awesome conference, #1: Interactive Presentations

(Part 1: The Problem. ATTN: Darius – you know what I’m doing here :))

The problem with interactive presentation is simply that, in its most obvious fashion, it completely doesn’t work.

I’ve seen presenters stand up, with the best will in the world, and say “what would you like to hear about? I can focus on A, B, or C”, and the response of the audience is:

  • Well, YOU’RE the expert, you tell me what I should be hearing about!
  • You listed A+B+C in the conference brochure, so I want my money’s worth: all of them
  • When you put it like that, without “selling” it to me, they all sound a bit dull, actually

The other major alternative is to split by audience expertise, rather than topic, so instead of A/B/C it’s A-basic/A-intermediate/A-advanced.

This way, the speaker can at least talk about every *topic* they were going to, and the audience has no *decision* they have to make – they merely have to self-identify their level of expertise. Unfortunately, this also means the speaker has to do 3 times the preparation effort, since they have to re-phrase the whole topic for 3 unique perspectives / levels of expertise. Mostly, speakers don’t spend anywhere near enough time crafting their talks as it is – anything that places extra burden on them is almost certain to destroy what quality there might have been in the talk.

To summarize “Interactive Presentation”

  • The audience must NOT be required to DECIDE what they want to hear
  • The presenter must NOT be required to OVER-PREPARE their content

Perhaps it would help – with these issues in mind – to re-visit the Use Case: why did we even want an interactive presentation in the first place?

Why “Interactive”?

Reasons I can think of off the top of my head:

  • Audiences get bored and fall asleep
  • Crowd-sourcing the expertise of the audience
  • Correcting mistakes

Stimulation – audiences get bored if they are forced to be physically dormant (sitting motionless) and are not being provided any mental stimulation; asking them to “interact” excuses some physical movement, and provides opportunities from some CHALLENGING of the audience, requiring them to THINK before responding, and allowing them to actually TALK to the speaker (and to the rest of the audience – don’t forget this; this is not a private dialogue)

Crowd-sourcing – it’s rare that the speaker knows more about the topic than the entire audience combined; in fact, in general, it never happens, not by a long way. Often, the speaker knows less – in some areas – about CORE aspects of the talk than some members of the audience (but much more in other areas). That extra knowledge is locked up in the heads of the audience, and given no forum, no channel, to be shared or distributed among the audience.

Correcting mistakes – speakers, especially mediocre or poor ones, often make mistakes – either factual or opinionated – during the prepartion of their talk, let alone the small slips in delivery. By sharing slides after the talk, the latter problem is already solved. But the former problem – speakers who disseminate misleading or even downright false information – is rife even in many highly-skilled conferences. If the audience can “talk back” (aka heckle), then this can both be fixed in-situ – and the speaker can get a chance to demonstrate that it was a genuine mistake and not ignorance or malice on their part.

Current typical “solutions”

There are some half-hearted attempts to solve this, in order of increasing success:

  • Interviews
  • Panel sessions
  • Roundtables


I advise anyone who goes to a conference where a session is in the format of an “interview” to simply boycott those sessions. Generally speaking, unless the interviewer is extremely good at their job, interviews are a boring waste of time, with LESS of interest coming out them than a simple presentation, simply because the dialogue is NOT under the control of the expert who has the knowledge. And, of course, the interviewee can simply refuse to answer any question they “don’t like”. Ugh.

Or, in even more simple terms, you’ve doubled the opportunities for human failure, without adding any benefits other than “hoping” that the interviewer will serve as a check-and-balance on the interviewee.

Note: there is still no increase in audience participation here – you can have a Q&A session at the end, but it’s indirected through the interviewer, so it’s LESS effective than when there’s a single presentation.

I have something else to add about Interviews that should make you VERY suspicious of them, but it’ll come uip again in Panels, so … moving swiftly on…

Panel sessions

I’m going to start with a wake-up call for some conference organizers:

Panel session != roundtable.

At CMP’s Austin GDC, the first year that CMP ran it, I went to the post-conference “feedback session”, and suggested that there should be roundtables the next year. The conference organizer responded that they had roundtables that year; no, they had panel sessions. Big difference.

Panel sessions supposedly do one of two things:

  • Cram more content into one session without over-stretching a single presenter
  • Crowd-source a very, very small crowd, using a “moderator” to control the flow of info

Here’s the problem: in most cases, panel sessions are suggested by the Moderator, who generally doesn’t know what they’re talking about (otherwise they’d have a presentation session instead…), and whose reason for doing this (other than to get a free conference ticket, of course) was “I want to know more about X, so I’m going to probe experts A, B, and C about it”. This is just a slightly more freeform version of the Interview – and yet it happens very often, and suffers worse from the interviewer’s lack of expertise: they not only don’t know what to ask, but often the panellists steamroller them and either dominate the conversation or collectively shut it down.

It is very, very hard to get a panel of people together who are neither “too similar” (you often see people say “ditto” when asked their views in turn on a panel topic), nor “too different” (what person A says is simply meaningless to person B, they don’t exist in the same universe).

Note: there is still no increase in audience participation here – you can have a Q&A session at the end, but it’s indirected through the moderator, so it’s LESS effective than when there’s a single presentation.


Here, there is no “official” speaker, only a moderator. In practice, every person who turns up to the session is a speaker (and when roundtables work well it’s because the majority of the audience DO each speak during the session!). That moderator has no idea who the “speakers” are, and has a relatively low responsibility to be even-handed or steer the conversation – because this is simply too hard to do.

In practice, the people who chose to speak get to dominate the conversation.

In practice, the larger conferences have lots of ignorant, dumb, lazy, selfish, or simply scared audiences who turn up to Roundtables and “expect to be entertained” – they have no intention of speaking or participating, they sit there silently. These people DESTROY roundtables, sitting there like wells of depression and darkness, sucking the life and interest out of the roundtable. Do I hate them? Yes, absolutely – having a minority of the audience like that is fine, but when – as at GDC 2007 – you have a roundtable that turns away 50+ people at the door, and allows in almost 100 people who DO NOT SPEAK A WORD, it’s out of hand.

I’m bringing this up because it points to a real problem: you might provide the perfect audience-participation system, but if the audience don’t want to use it, it could end up as the worst of all worlds (!).


Hmm. This is beginning to look like a communication problem. What’s going on?

Type Presenters Moderators Audience Comm-type Level of control Live feedback
Presentation 1 0 Many Broadcast Complete 0
Interview 1 1 Many Broadcast High, non-expert Slight
Panel Several 1 Many Broadcast Moderate, non-expert Slight
Roundtable Many 1 Many Dialogue Slight (*) Substantial
Freeform Many 0 Many Conversation None Infinite
-IDEAL- Ranked? None? Many? Conversation? Moderate? Substantial?

(*) – since roundtables have no “speaker”, and only give a conference ticket to the “moderator”, it’s much more common to see “moderator IS an expert” than with the other options.

Part 2, to follow soon, will list some ideas on what can be done about this. I’ll edit this to add a link once it’s up.

computer games conferences dev-process security

RSA Conference 2008 (London)

I’m there now, drop me a line (see About page for email) if you’re around.

I’ve just given a quick presentation introducing the ENISA’s (European Network and Information Security Agency) whitepaper on “Security and Privacy in MMO’s and VW’s”. It’s free, and it’s fairly simple (aimed at everyone from consumers to governments), worth a read if you’re interested but relatively new to this stuff. Contributors include people from Sulake (Habbo Hotel), CCP (EVE Online), NCsoft, and people like Richard Bartle and Ren Reynolds.

conferences games industry web 2.0

Virtual Goods Summit 2008 – post-mortem

I’ve written up my notes for the first three sessions of the VGS last Friday, and they’re in the queue over at waiting to be approved by Adrian; hopefully they should go live soon.

It was a good conference, some good stuff said, lots of basic sharing of info about things to do / things to avoid in the business and design of virtual-goods-driven businesses. The info was good, and although it often came close to being too basic for anyone who’s bothered to look at the history of online games, it usually managed to give interesting information to both the newcomers and those who’ve been around a bit.

There were lots of VC’s in attendance (surprisingly many), and lots of new vendor companies that were mostly payment-providers specializing in “taking payments from Social Network users” (I was surprised how many of them I didn’t know already; clearly, there’s been a boom in this area while I wasn’t looking).

A few highlights of my summaries (you’ll have to read the full writeups at for the rest):

The vendors on one panel – Twofish, Live Gamer, and Playspan – seem to be sitting in areas of potentially huge value-add, but … they also seem to be targetting their offerings at solving the problems that their customers don’t necessarily need solving, and would be better off solving themselves.

It seems the big players / winners in the Virtual Goods area so far are still taking a very “experimental, unplanned” approach to the fundamental worrying parts that keep newcomers awake at night: what goods should I be selling? what pricing should I offer them at? etc

Shervin (CEO, Social Gaming Network) and slightly less so Andrew (EVP Business Development, Zynga) continued to be as cagey at this conference as they have been at all the other conferences (e.g. GDC) over the past year or so. In the light of their secrecy – even when appearing on a public panel (hey, guys – if you’re asked to appear on a panel at a conference, what do you expect? Of *course* people are going to want to ask you interesting and probing questions! If you don’t intend to answer them, howabout you just decline to speak on the panel?) – we can only guess at their motivations.

…if you were there, what do you think? What were your impressions of the conference?

EDIT: interesting post from Eric Ries of IMVU starting with his thoughts on the conference, and inspiring three categorising questions about virtual goods and virtual worlds.

conferences games industry

Suggestions for Improving Conferences

My last post (where a conference organizer had explained that they wanted me to speak not because of my speaking ability but because of the name of the company I worked for) has drawn some really interesting feedback both from conference organizers and from conference speakers. Some of it’s been in email conversations, but you can see some good stuff in the comments to the blog post.

It’s touched on several things that I’d really like to see improved about games-industry conferences. Here’s my personal list of high-level changes I’d like to see, with a detailed explanation of each:

computer games conferences ION 2008

ION08 – Changing a Live Game: Lessons Learned and Techniques Applied

Moderator: Jason Roberts, 38 Studios
Steve Danuser, 38 Studios
Darius Kazemi, Orbus Gameworks
Troy Hewitt , Flying Lab
Osma Ahvenlampi, Sulake


This was a surprisingly good session – not only was it 9am in the morning, the night after the official conference party, but it was also a panel session (which, as several people were commenting to me yesterday, tend to be bland and sucky at games conferences. My own experience is that moderators of panels at games conferences often have silly / selfish reasons for the panel, and so they do a poor job. e.g. when they admit that they just want to meet / befriend / privately interrogate a particular person, so they create a panel session).