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8:02pm on Thursday, 30th June, 2011:



I found out I wasn't the only person who had been misinformed about the non-appearance of Trip Hawkins yesterday, so I don't feel quite so cheated about missing out on a talk by the founder of Electronic Arts. Today, I made up for it by attending every talk until my own, which was from 4:40pm to 5:20pm. Well, except one that clashed with lunch.

The first two talks were panels. Panel #1 was from venture capitalists, whose advice could be summarised as "there's plenty of money available for people who can demonstrate that they don't need it". Panel #2 was about designing quality online games, and can be summarised as "design quality online games".

The next talk was about free-to-play games (or, more correctly, free-to-play-except-for-the-5%-of-players-whom-we-trick-into-paying-us games). This was quite an energetic and passionate talk from someone who clearly knew what he was saying. Unfortunately, those of us who had to endure the English translator's attempts to construct meaningful sentences in real-time had very little idea what he was saying. All we got were disjointed sentences strung together with "you know". If that's what the speaker really had been saying, he'd have been taken to a mental health institution for treatment a long time ago, but of course he was actually quite cogent. I know this because I switched from the English translation to the raw Spanish, which was a lot easier to follow even though the only sentence I can remember from my Spanish O-Level is "venid a ver mi granja, es hermosa" ("come and see my farm, it's so handsome").

The reason I listened to the raw Spanish through my translation headset was because the acoustics of the venue were such that you had to do this to hear what the speaker was saying. The noise from the exhibition hall and from the smaller speaking hall meant that you couldn't hear what the speaker was saying unless it was relayed through headphones electronically.

The first talk after lunch was Peter Molyneux, and he spoke about where he gets his inspiration for games. This was quite an eye-opener form me, because he doesn't operate the same way as most other game designers I know, including myself. To be honest, I expected as much from his game designs, but it was great to hear him spell it out. Most top of the range game designers have no problems thinking up ideas, they get them the whole time, they come unstoppably; their problem is deciding which to keep. Peter Molyneux is more of an ideas incubator: he has an idea, then he sits on it for up to 18 months until it hatches. I see where he's coming from with that, as I do something similar sometimes myself, only I leave an idea then come back to it; Peter thinks about it relentlessly. That's not something designers normally do, but it certainly works for him. It also means I feel a lot more confident about how I read his games and his oevre in general (not that anyone but a handful of game designers and academics even remotely entertain the possibility that game designs are art at that kind of level, so I'm not going to embarrass myself by discussing it here).

I didn't think my own talk went all that well. It was hard to gauge the audience's response because of the translation delay and the hubbub in the background. Fortunately, a mis-spent youth of calling bingo in a busy amusement arcade has prepared me to be able to speak to a wall of hubbub, so it didn't affect my delivery; I can see how it might have put some people off, though. As it happened, though, my talk went better than I thought, at least for some people — I chatted to people non-stop for almost two hours afterwards, meaning I missed the following talk (that I actually wanted to go to, too).

Now you may have gained the impression from yesterday's and today's moaning and complaining that I don't like Gamelab much. This is actually very far from the truth. Yes, this may be a relative small conference held in a country not renowned for the might of its games industry, but look at the speakers: Trip Hawkins, Peter Molyneux, Jason Della Rocca, American McGee, Louis Castle (Zynga), Daniel Kaplan (Minecraft), government ministers, top venture capitalists — this is no ordinary conference for its size. The attendees are not ordinary, either: some of the conversations I've had have been remarkably insightful. Anyone who has got involved in the Spanish games industry must, by definition, have pioneering vision, intelligence and creative drive; that means they have smart and interesting things to say, with verve and conviction. It's just like the first time I came, in fact. Big names, compact venue, populated by people who have things to say. It's great! I love it! I'd come here every year if I were invited.

Mind you, if the car that's supposed to be picking me up for the airport at 9:15 tomorrow doesn't show, I may revise that opinion.

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).