Last week I spent time with the big boys. I went to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, where about 15,000+ people in the gaming industry come together to talk shop. I paused before using the term big boys – but yep, that’s pretty accurate. This was the first time I felt like the only girl in a room for a while, and actually I realized I wasn’t the only female…just the only female my age (and of course that is a bit of an exaggeration). Suffice it to say the 43-year old who is the typical social gamer is probably not working in the industry.
I will go back, I hope. It is as fun as you would expect a game design conference to be and I had a lot to learn there. I realize that the industry is struggling with many of the same questions we are at EdGE – what platform do we choose? How do we frame a game with narrative to guide but not constrain? How much does art really matter and in what ways? How do we “go viral”?
Many of the answers are the same we have been told over and over by our own game designer Mat Nicholas of GameGurus. Simplify, focus, and craft. Choose a very simple game mechanic and stick with it. Older games had complicated interfaces and the trick was to become an expert in the complication. No longer. Games are about doing one single mechanic over and over again in increasingly complicated situations.
The term “social game” is very limited at GDC and the community seems to be struggling with that. All the sessions I went to on social games were about facebook games, or someone trying to make an equivalent to a facebook game on a homegrown platform. In one session with EA, Kabam, and Digital Chocolate they acknowledged that social games should also include RPGs, MMOs, and other formats, but none did.
One talk really sticks with me. It was from Matt Ricchetti from Kabam. He described game mechanics as synchronous v asynchronous, symmetric v asymmetric, and in terms of strong and weak ties. Very cool cross-section of SNA and game design.
It’s hard to say what exactly I learned at GDC, but I do know that I learned. I know that I am a different designer with a different view on games. I have new terminology to express my thoughts about game design and I feel more confident in staking claims about games because I have been exposed to an expert community who is grappling with game design. I have adopted more of the gamer identity myself (by GDC badge now adorns my office door). Maybe it is like learning in a game, I am changed by the experience even if it is hard to quantify exactly what I learned.