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9:25pm on Saturday, 3rd May, 2008:

At Gamecamp


I went to Gamecamp today, as a guest of the organisers, The Guardian. It was an excellent venue, and I believe a big success (I was there in an "if no-one wants to do any talks, step into the breach" capacity, but as it was I wasn't needed).

Then again...

OK, so I went to five talks/discussions: one on game design; one on games and religion; one on speaking to MMO publishers; one on games and social networking; one on massively multiplayer Civilization 3.

The one on game design was — well, I was shocked, to be honest. It was presented by a guy whose company creates games of all types as advertising vehicles, so sometimes they may be computer games, sometimes viral games, sometimes mobile phone games, whatever is asked for. They start the process by trying to get to grips with the business constraints, so they know the requirements; this is fair enough — designers need to understand what it is they're supposed to be designing. It was the next part of the process that I found alarming, though: how they brainstorm ideas. It doesn't matter so much how they did it; what matters is that they have to do it at all. The problem for game designers isn't thinking up ideas — ideas come for free all the time. The problem is deciding which of the many ideas they have is the one to go with. They shouldn't need to brainstorm ideas. I hassled the speaker about it afterwards (missing another talk I wanted to go to in the process, sigh), and it turned out that there were many other reasons to do things this way, for example is increases the investment that the brainstormers (which include representatives of all parts of the development team) have in the final product. In other words, it was how to design if you're a non-designer.

The games and religion talk was premised on "why do you never hear about games and religion at games conferences?". I'd heard almost all the arguments before, but was unable to move the conversation on because it was apparent that many of the other people there hadn't heard them before. Ren Reynolds was also in the audience, and I recall having once had a much deeper conversation on the moral and philosophical issues of computer games with he and Nate Combs in a coffee shop in Islington; I hadn't realised that this kind of discussion wasn't something that happened all the time among people working in the game industry. Come to think of it, I've had corridor talks with my students that went into the topic more than we saw here.

The one on speaking to MMO publishers only had four people plus the speaker (Stephen Reid from NCsoft) and we all knew what the issues were already so we got to the heart of the matter quickly. That was good.

The one on games and social networking was, sadly, rubbish. Everyone turned up expecting it to be about using games for social networking, but it turned out to be about whether social networks for gamers were a good idea. I got the distinct feeling that the speaker was trying to get free consultancy regarding the creation of such a site. It wasn't a success, anyway...

The last talk described how groups of players of Civilisation III organised themselves in a "democracy game". This involved 8 teams of up to 200 players deciding what their civilisation was to do each turn in a game that lasted close to 2 years. It would have been a lot more interesting if I hadn't followed the story at the time from the Civilisation Fanatics site (which I read regularly), so knew most of this stuff anyway. The speaker had some interesting points about its relationship to virtual worlds, especially EvE Online, but they could equally well be drawn from some of the web-form games such as Planetarion which evolved competitive, self-governing factions involving hundreds or thousands of players, too (several years earlier). Still, it was a good talk, just probably one I shouldn't have gone to myself as I already knew the subject matter.

I was going to go to Jim Purbrick's talk on torpoedoes in Second Life, but by then it was 4:30 and I had to go home to take my elder daughter to a party (which, in true elder daughter style, started 30 minutes later than she thought it did, so I could have stayed form Jim's talk after all).

So, a bit of a mixed bag?

Yes — but the conversations I had in between were anything but! The point for me wasn't so much the talks, but the interaction with the smart people who were at the talks (which did include the speakers in most cases, too). This was what made the whole event work. I just wish I could have stayed longer.

I'll be first in line for a ticket for the next one!

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).