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Montréal International Games Summit – Day 1

Posted by Kelly

After getting a late start heading out the door this morning, and a few bureaucratic glitches upon registration, I am happy to report that I attended a full afternoon of interesting sessions, had a few good conversations and drank lots of coffee. I tried my best to take some notes and thought I would share what I did manage to write down. 

The afternoon opening address was given by Bernard Landry, ex Premier of Quebec (instigator of the tax credit for the videogame industry) spoke briefly on the economic strategy of Quebec, in regards to the incentives and programs developed that allowed the industry in Quebec to flourish.

The 1:30 session was supposed to be Heather Chaplin giving a talk called Guy Culture, however, due to illness, she was not able to present and so, Jason Della Rocca took the podium and talked about her work a bit, using a past criticism of Chaplin’s of the game industry as being ‘juvenile / lacking maturity’ (a brief summary of that statement can be found here) in regards to the games it was creating. He worked towards explaining challenges of the industry – less about demographics and more on the design styles of the industry that often sees regurgitated childhood games, or what designers like themselves.

Here are a few points that I took out of the presentation, a few

  • Experimentation and innovation
  • Through failure, we learn how to be innovative (re: How ‘horrendous failure’ led to Rock Band)
  • Tracy Fullerton – lecture on failure – teaching students how to fail, so that they can understand / learn the ability to take risks in a controlled manner
  • The Medici Effect – Frans Johansson (about the making of innovation, quality comes from quantity in regards to producing something successfully)
  • Industry has trouble with this idea of failure – balancing risk and reward in terms of market/$
  • Comparison of original content vs licensed games – stats showed that original IP was more lucrative, but that licensed ip is safer due to the standard deviation (smaller, tighter curve)
  • Production cost / time that influence the quality of a game – the more time and money put into a game the less likely changes (innovation) are to happen (harder to scrap a ‘bad’ idea when time / $ are involved)
  • How to change this: Not putting all your eggs in one basket (working on many ideas, allowing them to shape up or die off – not banking on only one idea – risk of failure is higher due to high level of commitment to a single idea/direction
  • Different ways to produce games – smaller groups, with time allowed to play with random ideas etc
  • Risk model shifting (different than the large scale games / business models)
  • Different marketing / production models are arising, such as launching a game in early development in order to create buzz – online game companies following ‘real time’ spending / risk management making changes as feedback / player base develops
  • What this means: More eggs in bigger baskets = more chance to succeed, giving yourself opportunities to fail – but failure at a lower risk level.try in Quebec to flourish.

For the 2:45 time slot, I attended a round-table  called How to Design for the Wii which was headed by EA  Lead Designer, Sebastien Grinke. Well attended for a round-table (and small room), we only managed to discuss one leading question – Why does Nintendo software sell better than 3rd party software? This was intended to get the ball rolling, however, with introductions and opinions on this one question ranging from the Wii being about more than simple gameplay and more about the pleasure of body movement and social interactions (thank you Bart) to the idea that Nintendo gets it right because they are more passionate about its own success/innovations and have the room to fail once in a while (due to their success), to the massive (and incredibly effective) branding of the Wii. It seemed like the hour flew by and time was up just as things were starting to get interesting.

Finally, I attended Randy Smith‘s session titled How to Make Games That Are Not Fun. For the last session of the day, it was great! He started out by talking about the value placed on the word (and idea) of fun in the game industry – deeming it an almost necessary element for a successful game title. Aiming to challenge the idea that fun can mean engaging instead. By thinking of ‘fun’ in this way allows us to consider ways to make games that handle dark topics with a level of integrity that creates honest simulation of gameplay. Smith used films that are dark, yet are engaging as the primary example of a valued media experience that is not wrapped up in the idea of ‘fun’. He proceeded to take us through the steps of the creation of a fictional game called Hospital  Director that would deal with a vast array of topics such as dealing with budget cuts and internal strife (both patient and staff). While most people would think of these types of games to be ‘simulations’ that act on a ‘choose your own adventure’ style of discreet choices, prescripted into the gameplay, Smith wanted to make it appear that way on the outside, but still create a game that acted like a true game ‘underneath the hood’ –  meaning that the spaces of possibility were far more expansive than simulation style games.

Smith discussed several issues surrounding how to make a game that was more emotionally compelling to the player – largely based on narrative arcs, but also, finding ways to make gameplay interactive enough to be ‘played’ out in many different ways instead of merely unfolding a predetermined linear/confined storyline. Consider games such as Tale of TalesThe Path, or Quantic Dream‘s Heavy Rain (one of Smith’s examples). We could even consider horror games in this category as gameplay that is engaging, compelling, but not necessarily ‘fun’  in a traditional way of thinking. In a medium where the goal is often to ‘win’ or at least be rewarded for your efforts, Smith asks how games can be made where players learn to lose (or even die) and that be o.k. Whether or not this type of game could see commercial success is another question, but Smith is convinced this is a path that should be explored.