Been way too long since I posted… so here’s at least a quickie.
I had submitted a panel proposal to speak at last year’s FGS, but was turned down. The same proposal was submitted for this year, and was accepted. FGS was this past Sunday. I spoke, along with my friends Jared Riley of Hero Interactive, Dan Stradwick of Monster’s Den fame, and Alex Shen from Mochi Media. Moderated by John Cooney of Armor Games.
You can watch the hour-long panel here, thanks to Adobe. I make some interesting commentary.
I spoke with Ada Chen from MochiMedia on the phone before the conference. She was interested to hear what I had to say about improving FGS after I posted my rants in February. That meant a lot to me… it shows that she feels the same way I do, that the conference should try to be the best it can and help the most people possible. We chatted for about 30 minutes, during which time I brainstromed probably a half dozen potential ideas that I felt would improve the event. Sadly, I did not write them all down, but I’ll do my best to re-state my ideas here.
After 2 events, we’ve really driven home all there is to say about monetization. At this point, everyone is an expert on MTs, Sponsorships, Social Games, etc. We know what needs to be done to make money with flash games. However, money begets money… so it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever really stop talking about monetization. The goal is to limit it; downplay its focus and instead help people make, produce, and distribute better games.
I liked the 2-room setup, and at no point during FGS10 did I feel like I was missing out in 1 room by being in the other. As such, unless FGS11 becomes massively larger than FGS10, the 2-room setup should stay. But to quickly address… if we had a 3-room setup, I think a good breakdown would be Game Design for a main room, Monetization for a 2nd, and then Misc for a 3rd that would cover stuff like distribution or contracted work and could cover extra overflow from room 1. But for 2 rooms, Game Design as a main room and Other as the other.
The games are the focus. It is Flash GAMING Summit, after all. Topics about the games need to be the center of attention. I mentioned my Game Polish topic to many developers and sponsors, and every single one said they’d love to hear a panel on it. Beyond that, we need topics on music, collaborations, and sequels/games as a brand. These are all core aspects of game design and merit discussion.
I really liked that some talks were only 30 minutes and feel that more of them should only be 30 minutes. As I mentioned in my Reflections, some of the panels were extremely repetitive after 5-10 minutes and it was clear that it was a stretch to get an hour of content from them. Most (if not all) of the ideas from the previous paragraph would work well in a half hour segment.
One suggestion that I gave Ada that I really like is to break free from panels and instead hold more free-form sessions. Maybe invite 8 people up to speak in a roundtable discussion, share stories, and interact heavily with the audience. I feel that this would be a perfect environment for “Storytime With Developers”. I’d love to watch a bunch of top devs shootin’ the shit with each other, sharing horror stories and advice. No moderator needed. Maybe have 2 45 minute groups, or 3 30 minute ones, spread throughout the day. Maybe give them a topic to start with, maybe not.
We should also have topics that cover some lesser discussed issues, as they’re probably going to be more useful. I mentioned above distribution and contracted work as examples of these. My guess is that many people could benefit from a topic about distribution, as most people I speak with seem to always want to know how they can get their games on more portals. As far as contracted work, it’s accepted that it’s hard to land, but extremely profitable. I’m sure many devs would want tips/advice on how to get contracted jobs, what to charge, and how to properly conduct themselves through the project.
Finally, some logistical suggestions, born out of what I saw at last week’s event. The booths were in a horrible location (as they were last year). Hundreds of people trying to navigate a tiny hallway is not a good idea, especially when others are attempting to get into or out of the main lecture hall. There was plenty of open space down in the lobby, near registration… why were the booths not there? Next year, let’s try and place the booths in a more accessible location. Same goes with the after party. I’ll reiterate that an FGS after party should be an FGS after party solely, and not a joint-event with GDC (which many of us didn’t attend and don’t give a crap about). Beyond that, please plan for the amount of people that will want to attend and book a location that can accommodate us all without feeling like we’re on a cattle car heading for Buchenwald. And, of course, remember that the purpose of the after party is not to party… it’s to network; music needs to at least be quieter than a jet engine.
Hopefully at least some of these suggestions will be considered for next year. As I’ve said, I am highly critical of this event… but I really do love it. I want it to be the best. And I’ll continue to attend it for as long as I have the honor of working in this industry.
I received an email a few days ago asking me to fill out a survey about FGS, and what I filled in for the comments is pretty much what I am going to say here. I’ll only discuss those topics that I sat in on, which was all 3 developer story times that were in the dev room and all but 1 of the money panels (I also missed the NowBoarding storytime, but it was in direct competition with another story time). I did not hear anything about the 3 flash technologies that were discussed in the dev room.
Keynote: As stated in my previous post, we got to the keynote late, and only heard the last 10 minutes or so. However, I don’t understand the grandstanding of Jameson Huo (CEO of MochiMedia). I’ve said before that I have no idea how conferences generally work, but in my logical mind it seems appropriate for someone opening up a day of speakers to talk about the state of the industry, advances of the past year, hopes for the coming year… not to promote one’s own company and use it as a platform for announcing new services. People speaking are supposed to be imparting wisdom to assist those attending, not trying to boost their own bottom line (ok, everyone speaking is trying to boost their own bottom line… but it doesn’t have to be THAT obvious and in our faces).
AtomAtomic and Canabalt: I think I was pretty accurate with my statement in my previous rant from last month. Cool game, but no point/sense/need to have a 30 minute talk about how it was developed. It’s an incredibly simple game, and I think just about any successful game’s development story would have been quite similar, if not significantly more interesting.
History of Nitrome: Quite fascinating and entertaining, but I don’t know how helpful the talk was. I feel like their formula is fairly straight-forward… it just takes years of dedicated game development to get to the point that they’re at. Most developers could have taken a similar path as the Annals, they just didn’t have the drive or creative mindset to do so.
Next Gen Monetization: This panel was 4 guys who have microtransaction (MT) platforms trying to tell everyone why MTs are awesome, but that games need to be designed from the ground up to incorporate them; they can’t just be slapped on at the end. I certainly agree with what they said, but they pretty much covered everything they could say in about 5 minutes, then repeated themselves for another 55. The Social Gold guy barely spoke English (same with the moderator) and did not seem to add much at all to the panel. There was a question asked at the end of the panel that would have been quite worthwhile, except the douche who asked it was more interested in trying to be an asshole than actually asking something meaningful. He wanted to know why the 4 guys were only discussing MTs, when the topic of the panel was not “MTs in Flash Games,” it was “Next Gen Monetization.” Which is a perfectly valid question… and it stems from the selection committee either a) picking a bad topic or b) not picking a diversified enough group of people. I’ll go with B, given the group of people were all completely identical, just from different companies, although A could be accurate if all one wanted to do was change the name of the panel to match the people speaking.
Monetize Game Outside Sponsorship: So we got the money side of things from MT companies. Now we get the low and dirty from developers who all made a bunch of cash not getting their games sponsored… 3 through direct sale and 1 through MTs. Daniel James, while just as interesting as last year, didn’t really say anything new from last year (except the fascinating tidbit about Whirled losing 4+ million dollars). The Rocketbirds guy was a flat out terrible speaker, and probably detracted from the panel, having no idea what to say and admitting he had no idea what he was doing when monetizing his game. Colin Northway, after his plethora of comments and mockings last year, was rather refined when speaking. From talking with Andy Moore (Colin’s best friend, worked on Fantastic Contraption, and was the moderator of the panel) the night before over beers, I was informed that Colin had spoken about FC multiple times at conventions… my guess is he was a bit burnt out by it at this point. Overall, fairly interesting… you definitely can make way more money through this model, the game just needs to be really cool.
Sponsorship Panel: My proposed panel was so awesome that 2 of my speakers were stolen for this one. [/bitter]. Greg completely dominated this panel. Candystand was doomed from the start, because their member on the panel doesn’t even do sponsorships for them and she’d only been with the site for 4 months… my boy Dave Fahrer should have manned up and owned face on the panel. Joel Breton from Addicting Games seemed to be in his own little world during the panel, and apparently has a different opinion about his site’s sponsorship methods than that of every developer and other sponsor that I talked to (their speaker at last year’s FGS left the same impression). Lars is a cool guy, but he and Robin were toting the sugar-coated P.C. corporate verbage that nobody actually believes is truthful. And this is why Greg rocked it… he told the truth, bluntly. We’re all industry people, we’re all big kids, we all want to know the truth to make successful games as well as money… sugar coating sponsorships doesn’t help developers.
Boxhead: I’ll say the same thing I said directly to Sean Cooper about his talk… I didn’t understand 95% of it. But I’m not a developer, so it’s ok. The developers who I talked to about Sean’s talk (Jmtb, Gregory Weir, etc) all said that Sean is a genius. So I approve. However, it was also noted (and I agree) that he jumped around a lot, and didn’t really have a good flow from A to B in his talk. He also said something to me later in the day that I wasn’t sure if he was joking about or not (John said the same thing happened to him when talking to Sean); I’ll have to investigate more.
Zynga’s After Party: [rant]This started off strong… bus transportation from the conference to the bar. And it was all down hill from there. Let’s list the problems… 1) Extremely loud music is not conducive to networking. 2) Over 500 people at FGS this year, yet the bar is smaller than the 09 after party bar… could barely breathe, let alone move around. 3) Why, why, why, why, why did Zynga invite people from GDC to the party? Are they seriously that cheap that they can’t have 2 parties if they really want to host the FGS after party AND have a GDC party? It started off with all FGS people, but by about 8:00 it was filling in with old people in suits.[/rant]
So, I know this all comes across as pretty harsh… but this event is important to me and I’d like to see it be as awesome as possible. I also focused on the negative in this post, as I covered most of the positive things in the previous ones (networking, awesome people, etc). The event still needs to focus more on the games themselves, and less on profiting from them (I think we’re at the point where if we talk about monetization any more next year, it’ll just be a complete reiteration of this and last year’s talks). I think I have 1 more post’s worth of material, dealing with suggestions for FGS11.
Also, random note, I completely agree with something John said in his FGS10 blog post: it’s shocking how many social games are being developed in Flash; last year at the after party, I met all kinds of people doing random stuff in the industry… this year, almost every random person I talked to was working on a social game for Facebook.
Monday started with 7am polka. Not too bad of a way to start a day, all things considered. However, we apparently forgot to turn on the heat in the room… and I was a frozen Tassicle. I finally got out to bed around 7:40, showered, and we were off for some breakfast sandwiches at 8am.
Yummies consumed, we hailed a cab and reached FGS by about 8:45. Check in, free t-shirt and other goodies, and we quickly entered the main room to catch the end of Jameson’s (CEO of Mochi) opening remarks.
I’ll save my commentary about FGS for a 3rd post, and stick to narration for this post. For the 9:00 session, I went downstairs to the “dev room” and listened to stories about the making of Canabalt and how Nitrome went from barely being able to eat Ramen to having an office of 10 people. At 10, I went back upstairs for a panel on about microtransactions by owners of MTX platforms. The 11:00 hour was a “state of Adobe” presentation, and since that was highly technical and of no use to me, I used that time to network in the hallway. I talked to tons of people, including Zeebarf, Crazy Jay from MaxGames, John from CrazyMonkeyGames, Lars from King, and many, many others.
After that was lunch, which was some uber-fancy box lunch nonsense that made Simple Tass cry. I sat with ConArtist and his Aussie possie, and we chatted about a bunch of interesting stuff. Towards the end of lunch, I moved to the “Kongregate” table, and met AlisonClaire, Ducklette, and a few other newer staffers who I hadn’t met before; Greg Weir was also at the table and 2 gentlement from EA Games. My position as someone who never will be made a mod on Kong was affirmed many times over. My dreams are officially ruined. Lol.
The 2nd annual Mochis followed lunch, and some cool games won awards… including Sacred Seasons. Had Jamie told me that they won (winners knew ahead of time), I could have accepted the award for them. Given I’m a mod in the game and whatnot. Oh well. Also, Mechanarium has some crazy sexy art.
2:00 and 3:00 were 2 more panels about making money… one by devs who made craptons of money by not going the sponsorship route, and one by sponsors pleading for devs to get their games sponsored. Greg was one of the speakers on the sponsorhip panel (moderated by another one of my Polish panel members, Jared Riley… ) and totally kicked ass. 4:00 brought a short break, which was filled with more networking, mostly with Andrew Sega (who made Mytheria, amongst other things).
The final session I attended was by Sean Cooper, and made no sense to me… but many devs said it was brilliant. So I’ll assume it was. With the end of the summit was the start of the after party. Buses were provided to transport us from one location to the other, and I spent my time talking with a man named Lee from Adobe who either made Flash Player or updates it. Basically, he’s really cool and seemed to be interested in my little niche market.
1 paragraph summary of the after party: Zynga failed horriby at planning it. Full rant in FGS post. However, I did manage 2+ hours of hardcore networking, although I’m not sure how many of the people I talked with will actually have any benefit from working with me. Except Martine from Spil and the 2 fine Fins from Frosmo. Also, I “may” have changed Greg Weir’s opinion in regards to in-game walkthroughs. I am a master wordsmith!
Most of the cool people left the after party around 7 or 7:30, while I stayed til about 8:30. At which time, I joined the cool people 1 block over at what i’ll refer to as the after after party. This group included the guys from Armor, ConArtist, the Hero Interactive folks, Greg and Alison, John from CMG, Zeebarf and EntropicOrder, a random dev who made a bunch of games I’d never heard of… and then cameos by Sean Cooper, the Nitrome guys, the Thing-Thing guy, and a few others that I can’t recall. This party wound up breaking up around 12:30. At which point we walked home, slightly in the wrong direction because Greg and Alison suck at direction giving, set my alarm for 4:30, and fell asleep.
The trip started off wonderfully, with a 90+ minute delay before I even left. Got into SFO around 12:45 and waited for about 20 minutes until John and Joey’s plane landed. Got bag and left to get a BART into the city. Now, John grew up in this general area, so we trusted him with the simple task of airport navigation to the BART station… and instead we wound up doing a giant loop through a parking garage that put us right back where we started. At that point, I took charge, and we quickly made it to the train and eventually to out swanky hotel.
I guess I should note that I stayed in a suite with Dan, John, and Joey from Armor Games. Dan flew in on Friday to see some friends, so we were expecting him to be at the hotel and get us access to our room. But apparently he was 20+ minutes away, driving an ’82 pick up truck for some reason. We wait and eventually Dan arrives. Our room appears to be too small for 4 people, so Dan decides to get us a swankier suite with plenty of extra space. And a freakish lack of outlets.
Not too much interesting stuff took place in the room… we were pretty tired from the trip in, and took an hour or two to relax before the party that night. Then I get a phonecall from a developer I know, benologist… except I don’t remember giving him my number. He wants to bring another guy I know, who makes music, to the party. Dan, being the nice guy he is, allows this. Except beno called me from a hotel, didn’t tell me his room number, and I couldn’t remember his last name to get connected to him room from the hotel staff.
We head to the party, which is next door to where last year’s Armor Party was. I volunteered to go with Dan in the ghetto cruiser. Thankfully, I did not die. The party was solid. About 30 people, many of which I knew already… few I didn’t. Had a few beers, some food, good conversation. All in all some good fun. With dinner over, it was off to a nearby bowling alley for some heated competition with big prizes.
Me, being the giant douche that I am, brought one of my bowling balls with me from LA… along with my shoes. This did not wind up helping me, as I bowled like complete crap. But, developers tend to not be the most atheltic people… so I still handily won. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, which was the most important thing anyway. The top 5 scorers were put into a drawing for 5 prizes… basically as a method of preventing me from getting the top prize automatically. I really wanted that NetBook too. Instead, that musician that beno brought along wound up getting it… grrr. On the other hand, I now own a DSi… but apparently it does not come with games? Not sure what to do about this, but I’ll figure it out.
After we finished bowling, we still hung around and talked for a bit at the lanes. Then walked back to our hotel with a drunk Weasel (not the Thing-Thing one, the Frantastic Contraption / Streambirds one). We were going to have a nightcap with him at the hotel bar… sadly it was already closed. He left, and we went up to bed.
Not too bad of a first day, in spite of the 5am wake up. Will have storytime on Day 2 later, along with commentary on FGS.
I want to preface this by saying that I’m not upset or angry at my panel not being chosen. I also have no clue how any other conference selects its speakers… whether FGS is doing what they all do or is doing its own thing.
So now that the speakers have been announced, I see a bit of good and a lot of stuff I’d like to see changed. There are now 2 rooms of speakers for the day, instead of just 1. That’s good. The large room seems to be focused on monetization and panels about making money. That’s expected. The small room looks to be about flash development and ways developers can make better games or make games easier. This is a start.
The major problem I have is that there is a clear conflict of interest with the advisory board. The board was made up of 6 people… and 3 of them were selected to speak, with a co-worker of a 4th speaking. The people making the choices of who speaks should not have any self-interest biasing them in their role. Going forward, anyone who accepts the task of picking the speakers should be disqualified from speaking. Frankly, this seems like obvious common sense to me… and I wrongly assumed it to be true for this year’s summit.
Another issue I have is in the submissions of panels. Granted, this year only has 3 panels (vs 9 solo-speakers), but that wasn’t the case last year. I have 2 issues. First, people should be limited to 1 (maybe 2) proposed speaking topics/panels and they must be on their own panel. I heard second-hand that someone submitted 10+ different topics, and that just seems silly. It’s a monopolization of the selection group’s time, and it shows that you aren’t focused on any one specific thing. Really, it says to me that you desperately want to speak, and by submitting a crapton of proposals… hopefully 1 will be selected. For being on your own panel, it’s the same basic thing… people shouldn’t be submitting random stuff that they want other people to talk about; they should be submitting something that they themselves can benefit others with. Second, any panel submission must include all the panel members. I know for a fact that 1 panel topic that is in this year’s FGS did not get its panel members until this past week. Greg and I worked hard coming up with members for our panel proposal. The people on your panel is a crucial aspect of the panel itself… how can a topic be selected without knowing who is going to be speaking about it. You also can’t submit someone else’s name for your panel without speaking to them about it ahead of time; again, I heard of a situation where this happened.
One more issue is that there are multiple speakers at this year’s FGS who also spoke last year. 3, specifically. Granted, they’re speaking about different things this year than last year… but let’s be realistic; they’ll likely say very similar things to what we’ve already heard. No speaker should be allowed to speak in two consecutive years. We’ve got a large enough industry where we can hear from new people on a year-to-year basis and still fill 2 rooms of speakers. Greg and I specifically made sure that everyone we considered for our panel was someone who didn’t speak at last year’s event. By re-using people who already spoke, the audience is being neglected the opportunity to hear more and different opinions/advice.
Also, can someone explain to me why we need 2 different panels on “Monetizing Your Game Outside of Sponsorship” and “Monetizing Flash Games Through Virtual Goods Model”? Aren’t they going to be saying identical things? The monetization models are, what? Sponsorship. MTs. Ads. We all know ads pay almost nothing for the majority of devs. That leaves sponsorship and MTs. And casual gamers are not likely to open their wallets for MTs unless it’s on a game that gets updates after release… which is basically MMOs. Which is virtual goods. Also, the 3 speakers for the virtual goods panel are all owners of MT platforms… GamerSafe, MochiCoins, and Kreds. Why no love for a developer who creates MMOs? Oh… because the non-sponsorship panel is 4 developers. Why was this not combined into 1, with 2 developers and 2 MT people? This could have also eliminated at least 2 (possibly all 3 if they brought on HeyZap as a 2nd MT person, or just used 1 MT person) of the speakers from last year. It also would have opened up another hour for another topic.
Finally, I’d have liked to see some panels in the developer room. The dev room will have 6 topics, and a total of 7 speakers (the Annal brothers are co-speaking for their topic). I get bored hearing 1 person speak for 30 or 60 minutes. I like to hear multiple and different opinions on a topic. Panels give this. 3 of the topics are about flash technology (haXe, pushbutton engine, and papervision3d)… so it makes sense that these are solo speakers. The other 3 are basically storytime with 3 different developers. While I’m sure it will be interesting to hear what the Annals, Sean Cooper, and AdamAtomic have to say… I’d rather have gotten at least 1 panel, so we could have gotten 3 or 4 people’s stories instead of just 1. Not to mention, no offense to Adam… but how on earth is he going to keep us interested for 30 minutes about Canabalt. It’s a fun game… it’s done very well… but it’s still just a 1-button action avoider game; it’s a wee-bit lacking in content.
I’m still excited about FGS. I can’t wait to meet all kinds of people. I’m just not so thrilled about all the on-stage discussion that will be going on.
So I submitted a speaking proposal to FGS for a panel. I wanted to have a topic that would focus on game development, and not on ways to maximize profit. Last year’s panels and speakers seemed to almost entirely focus on making money, not touching on what makes the products worth paying for. A good game is going to result in profit. I thought about what I know and would be able to tell other people about, and game polish seemed like the most appropriate topic. With that in mind, I set to work on putting a panel together and hashing out a basic framework of what would be talked about.
To me, the most important thing was to get a solid panel, full of well known, experienced, respected, and diversified people. Naturally I would be on it, as it’s my panel. I reached out to Greg to speak from a sponsor’s perspective, and he readily agreed. Together, we chatted about who else we wanted to ask to join us. Jared Riley from Hero Interactive was my first choice, and Greg quickly agreed. Jared makes high quality games that are almost always highly polished. He is also someone that I talk to on at least a semi-regular basis. He quickly agreed, seeming really pumped at the topic and people involved. The 4th member was a longer road. We weren’t sure who we wanted, but we decided we wanted a 2nd developer. It took a bit to narrow it down, and we had one or two people who weren’t going to be at FGS this year… but we eventually brought Daniel Stradwick (garin) in. After that, I felt we had a perfect group… myself from a gamer perspective, Greg as a sponsor, Jared from his dev role running HI, and Daniel as a dev who works 6+ months on massive RPGs.
I named our panel, “Game Polish – Make Your Games Shine,” which I thought was a really catchy title… always an important thing. I also wrote up a catchy session description. However, what I’m guessing resulted in our panel being passed over is the lack of fully describing the benefit of the panel. It was something I had a hard time doing, as it just seems so obvious to me how beneficial this topic is… if you don’t make a game that has all the little things done well, it’s going to wind up pissing off too many users to the point where they stop playing it. I tried to put this into more business-like terms, but I didn’t really have much substance there. There was also an option to add a secondary abstract that was much longer, but I did not include one of these. I have a hard time putting my thoughts down well into writing, and when it’s something formal I tend to be curt.
My other fear is that I am the cause of my panel’s rejection. I’m not a sponsor, I’m not a developer… I’m just a gamer. I could see some of these people look at who I am on paper and think I’m not qualified to be speaking, or am not a big enough name to be on a panel. I really hope this is not the case. Besides the fact that I have the support and ear of many of the top portal owners and developers, I did also run the most popular casual flash game ever created for 3+ years. I may not fit inside that little box of sponsor-developer… but I damn well know what I’m talking about, I provide a completely different perspective on things than most industry people, and that seems like something that other people would benefit from.
Now I am anxiously waiting to see what the speaking topics will be at FGS. Hopefully looking at them I’ll see that my panel was outclassed. I will be very disappointed if this year’s topics all deal with profit and don’t have anything to do with game design. And I am disappointed in having my panel rejected… I was looking forward to having the opportunity to share my insight with everyone. Oh well… there’s always 2011.