I love bowling. I’ve talked about it before in my blog. When I was in LA, I bowled in 3 different scratch leagues. A scratch league means that there is no handicap given to even out the differences in skill between the teams. 1 league was a singles league and the other 2 were team leagues (3 and 4 man, respectively). I really like scratch bowling, for 3 main reasons. 1) I’m a pretty good bowler, and am confident in my abilities to be competitive. 2) I want to push myself every single game to win and improve. 3) If I am going to lose, I want it to be because I was beaten, not because my opponent bowled slightly over his average… winning scratch but losing because of handicap is unbelievably frustrating.
Most handicap bowling leagues use some variation of a 90% differential. This means that if you have 5 man teams with 100 pins difference in average, the inferior team is only losing 2 pins per person over 150-200 pins. Aka, about 1%. Figure at absolute most, you’re down 3%. I’ll leave the statistical variance calculations to someone else, but it’s clear that that is extremely minimal. In poker, 53% vs 47% is still referred to as a coin flip. And that’s what 90% handicap leagues are, mostly… coin flips, at least for individual games. In the long run, that 3% edge widens (and 3% is a very generous number), but it still gives way too much help to inferior teams on a week by week basis. I don’t understand the 90% handicap except in a youth league, where the goal is to make things fair and even for everyone. In a money league, where tens of thousands of dollars are being put into the pool, it should be more about skill and less about luck; for anyone to want it to be so heavily luck based is extremely illogical and baffling to me.
My belief is that, just like in scratch leagues or any professional sport, the best teams SHOULD win. Just because the St. Louis Rams or the Pittsburgh Pirates have been terrible for years doesn’t mean they stop playing… they still go out there and compete, even though their odds of winning are far less than 47%. However in bowling, I keep getting told that nobody will bowl in a 70% handicap league (or scratch) because all the “bad” bowlers will leave. This was not the case in LA… many people liked the challenge, even though they knew they had no shot (and the good bowlers liked the bad bowlers because they were free money). I suggested a 70% handicap for the league I’m currently in (which is the supposed “big boy” league of my area), and I was shot down by more than 90% of the league; good and bad bowlers alike. It makes me sad.
What are your thoughts on handicap in sports? And to note… the only time I find handicap acceptable is when it’s for wagering on a game-by-game basis, and even then I wouldn’t ever give an opponent 90% of our difference (I usually give 80%, if it can be calculated).
tl;dr version: the majority of the people in my league are giant pussies that either aren’t confident in their abilities, don’t want a competitive environment, or are afraid to challenge themselves with superior competition.
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.