London Game Week 2003: European Game Developers Conference

 


I was talking to my friend and accomplice Alex after ECTS finished.

We had one of those conversations that have digressions so large they go on for nearly an hour, but you still quite neatly, find your way back to the point you were trying to discuss.

During this, I feel I had an epiphany. I realised something that I should have realised a long time ago.

To truly love games, you must hate games.

The things that spurn discussion of games are the things that annoy you about them. I love Animal Crossing, I’ve played it hundreds of hours, but the lost potential of the game makes me hate it more than any other game I’ve played.

To truly love a game, you must hate it.

By extension of this thought –

To truly love games, you must hate the games industry.

If the unreached potential of a game is what can make you hate it, the games industry is the peak of unreached potential. It continues to give birth to one of the most exciting form of entertainment possible. An entertainment that everyone could enjoy, but very few do. An industry full of creativity, being stifled.

While ECTS is really nothing more than business as usual, I think, having viewed the best that EGDC had to offer, that that it’s a good attempt for the industry to move forward. It discusses issues that many people have chosen to ignore in the current market, or would benefit from seeing in a new light. Many of the lecturers, panellists, and delegates there, it was clear love games, and are doing their best to try and make the games industry something more positive.

EGDC Mobile Day

On those lines, this day turned out to be far more interesting than I had expected or hoped.

Certainly most interesting had to be David ‘DC’ Collier’s talk ‘Mobile Games: Japan and the Future’. I think the first thing I had to lean over and say to Alex as he showed us a version of Ridge Racer running in 256k of Java, on a current entry-level Japanese phone, was

“The N-Gage is fucked.”

Sadly, to play that copy of Ridge Racer you’d have to spend the equivalent of $11 for it. It’s really a bit gimmicky too – your entry-level phone just doesn’t have the subtlety of control to make it very playable. But… By this point I haven’t seen anything on the N-Gage that looks better than this version of Ridge Racer.

There’s a tough fight ahead. The Japanese mobile phone games were all cool and different - use of something as mundane as the photo capabilities of many phones included tamagotchi style games (if the animal asks for an apple, take a picture of something red and see if that will create an apple for him) or ‘photo battle’ games. There was even a phone with a fingerprint scanner – the virtual puppy that comes with the phone responds better to the fingerprint strokes of it’s owner rather than anyone else. Crazy.

Most popular of all had to be the “Postpet” software – really little more than a tamagotchi equipped e-mail program, the simple, fun “communication” aspect really showed how the strength of mobile phones, communication, can be used to create unique gaming experiences that can be enjoyed by males and females alike.

DC then discussed the ‘Game Centre’ method of selling games that Namco use – selling a pack of games with a monthly fee which included several ‘big’ titles heavily advertised (like placing the Pacman and Galaxian machines at the front of the game centre) and including a lot of ‘filler’ titles (such as the mahjong games lurking in the bit at the back, that stink of cigarettes and wee).

Of course, while these game packs are some of the highest selling titles in Japan currently, it’s good to know that these ‘traditional’ titles, even when being sold using new methods (downloadable content, monthly billing) have to fight to survive against new game design. In Japan, the mobile phone market is healthier than I ever expected.

(For a good example of just how healthy the industry is, check out Lawrence's page featuring 257 screenshots of mobile phone games from Capcom, Sega, Taito, and Konami. He forgot Namco! If you can't find something here that takes your fancy, I'd be surprised.)

The lunch session, ‘Building Games for Mobile Devices: the Market, the Platforms, and the Sales Opportunity’ was sponsored by Nokia, and I wasn’t expecting much. It was a bit… dull. But hilariously, Nokia’s Vesa-Pekka Kirsi took it upon himself to be an August Santa (“after all,” he reminded us, “I am from Finland, as is Santa Claus.”)

20 members of the audience would find a ‘white circle’ under their chair that would entitle them to a bag containing a Nokia 3650 and $2000 worth of equipment/software to produce mobile phone games. The scramble of people attempting to find the equivalent of a hole-punch dot underneath the nearest chairs was really not becoming of a serious industry conference.

I was a good boy all year long and I had a piece of furry chewing gum underneath my chair. Disappointing.

After the excitement, the panel discussion ‘Great Mobile Game Design’ was a real let down. The panel did not discuss any theory – rather spent their time complaining how poor current mobile phone games are without offering any alternatives. Actually, the one game demonstrated which I liked, ‘Lemonade Tycoon’, was soundly slammed by all the panellists. I felt it was more suited to a mobile phone than the cut and paste shoot-em-ups that had all been discussed, and indeed, the female delegates behind me actually took so much umbrage with the panellists' distaste, that one stood up and declared:

"We four women would happily play that game.”

The panellists response? That was all well and good, but the game was still bad. In fact, it led to a line of discussion that included a panellist stating:

“My mother cannot understand the concept of up, down, left, right, fire.”

I’m sure Game Girl Advance would have had a field day with this. Personally? I’m just saddened in the part of the industry that has the easiest access to women, western game designers are still underestimating them.

I mean, how hard would it be to rip off Postpet, guys?

[next: Day Two, ATI Party, Develop Awards]


 

[EGDC Mobile Day]

[Day Two]

[Day Three]