IGDA GameCafé Report

Last night I attended the second GameCafé held by the Montréal chapter of the IGDA. Due to the fact that people who ordered food received it a little bit later than anticipated, discussions started an hour late, which meant I spent most of that hour listening to Phil and Antoine trade quotes from Anchorman.

Jason Della Rocca, the IGDA’s executive director, preambled the discussions by relating a recent exchange he had with Jack Thompson, an infamous anti-games attorney, who called him an idiot and a jackass on MSNBC. This was apparently in response to Jason calling him out as a massacre chaser. Anyway, you should check out Jason’s post about his e-mail exchanges with Thompson, for the full story.

Industry discussion notes.The discussions I took part part in were decent, for the most part. Digital Distribution was once again lauded as the exciting new business model that will enable indie developers to carve out a niche in the marketplace, but that super publishers like EA will continue to dominate in the retail sector. *yawn*

Micropayments were mentioned and someone pointed out that Asia is way ahead of the West in this regard. Apparently they have made it exceedingly easy to pay with plastic over there, even going so far as to build card readers directly into laptops. This is pretty interesting to me and I wonder when/if it’ll catch on in the West.

Studio discussion notes. At the table about Studio level Future of Work, there was discussion about whether teams that are geographically separated and communicate only over the internet will become more common in game development. The consensus seemed to be that it could work, but meeting in person at least once goes a long way towards creating team cohesion.

I’m a big fan of long-distance collaborating. I’ve made songs with people I’ve never even met in person. However, I think that with music the medium itself is a kind of communication. It is, in fact, easier to understand what someone is going for if they just record a bit of music than if they try to describe it in words. I think this falls apart a bit when dealing with a game because it is audio/visual/interactive; there is no single medium that can act as an intention carrier. For this reason, it seems to me there will always be the need for teams to work in the same physical space. I find that when I’m trying to figure out a programming problem, it really helps to talk it through with someone in person.

Career discussion notes. At the Career discussion table I felt like there was a bit too much focus on working in a studio. But good things were said about how people tend to be happier when they are busy, even if they are not super thrilled about the game they are working on. On the other hand, if it is clear to everyone that their game sucks, it can be really demoralizing. I floated the idea that studios ought to work it out so that when people finish a project, they just get a week or two of paid time off so that they can recover and be ready for the next project. The way it is right now, people are typically pushed onto a new team immediately after finishing a project, even if the new team doesn’t need them right away. Much twiddling of thumbs follows and people get bored and restless. The only difference from paid time off is that they are required to come in to work and occupy a chair. It was mentioned that at least one game developer in Montréal is trying to implement some training programs, so that people can work on improving their skills during downtime, which sounds like an excellent idea to me, but that it’s not very organized yet.

There were many comparisons to the movie industry made during table discussions and also in the final roomwide discussion at the end. This seems to happen every time developers get together to talk about making games. It’s usually mentioned that the game industry is young and is similar to the movie industry of the early 20th century, mimicing the studio model. This comparison is then used to speculate about the future of how work will be parceled out (i.e. outsourcing) and whether that will be good for the industry. People will point to the movie industry and hold up independent film as proof that a change in the distribution of work can only be good, but I’m not so sure I buy that.

Making games is complicated. Possibly more complicated than making a feature film. Part of that is due to the lack of really good high-level tools for making games, but I think part of it is also inherent to the medium. One can view film production as a series of discrete processes: write the script, shoot the footage, edit the film, apply special effects, record the score and foley. Each of these activities can happen pretty much independently of the others. Also, there is usually no going backward. People don’t often decide to shoot more footage once they are in the editing process. Games don’t really work this way. You can’t really decide if your gameplay is any good until you actually implement it and play the game a bit. So you can’t really separate the design of the gameplay (i.e. scriptwriting) from the implementation of the gameplay (i.e. editing?). You see how my analogy is already falling apart? I think developers would do well to stop thinking about how they need to catch up with the film world in terms of work flow and process and what have you, and start focusing on what is good for the medium of games, specifically. No one knows better how games are made than the people who are making them.