Yesterday was the first annual Gaming Insiders Summit, held on Treasure Island smack dab in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. Half way between San Francisco and Oakland is an interesting place for a conference that brings some of the heaviest hitters in gaming together.
The Gaming Insiders is a informal group of video game industry veterans that grew out of conversations started at post-event group dinners. It has grown from there to be an insiders only mailing list and now, a yearly conference.
Organizer David Kaye welcomed the group and set the stage for a day full of insider info on trends and experiences presented by game industry veterans. First up, Brendan Iribe, CEO of Oculus Rift brought everyone up to date on the Occulus VR and the promising future of virtual reality in gaming. He made a big push that VR is the next frontier for gaming while tempering concerns over VR induced motion sickness. Promising that once the hardware catches up to their goal (think near zero lag and 4K displays), motion sickness from VR will no longer be an issue.
Next up, John Riccitiello, former CEO of EA gave discussed the importance of brand in building a business in games. While the well quoted moment was him calling out Rovio for not doing enough to keep their strong Angry Birds brand at the forefront, many good points were made about how brand building is an important part of building a user base. Refreshing words in an industry that has become so reliant on quickly adding users of questionable value at a cost nearly the same or even above their lifetime value.
Key takeaways from John Riccitiello's talk:
- Your money goes further with paid installs when the brand is recognized.
- Life time value is higher as the brand it more recognized.
- Big brands are going more and more to traditional media to reinforce their brands. And a lot of others will turn to traditional advertising as CPI (cost per install) is overpriced and too close to LTV (life time value).
Torsten Reil, CEO of NaturalMotion next gave a short talk on building a successful mobile game studio. NaturalMotion has build their team up from a group that focused on building engines for console games to one of the premier mobile game developers. CSR Racing, their biggest hit, was the first game for gross more than $10 million in a month.
Mr. Reil stressed how important it is to build a team the smart way, not quickly. Finding the right people is more important than filling seats. The importance of treating the product (the game) properly was also stressed. Creating a game in a "blue ocean" or new territory is always important for creating a profitable game. I can't agree more on this, looking at the top grossing games on iOS, they have always been the games that were new, unique. The imitators of these games have never succeeded (like the dozens of Clash of Clans clones coming out now).
Key takeaways from Torsten Reil's talk:
- Build teams smart, not quickly. Hire slowly.
- The icon of your game is effectively your product package, obsess over it.
In a very heartfelt talk on Emotion, Jenova Chen, founder of thatgamecompany presented on the importance of thought and emotion in games. Thatgamecompany knows emotion, developers of games such as Flower and Journey, their games eschew action for thoughtfulness and experience. Making a game this thoughtful isn't easy either. Half of the development time on Journey was used in figuring out how players would treat each other in the game. Mr. Chen feels there is a huge opportunity to make games that trigger emotions other than stimulation/fighting.
Mr. Chen also made a good point about Disneyland being the response to Walt Disney's disgust with earlier parks, their cleanliness, safety, etc. There's an opportunity for a games company to have form a similar response to the shady practices in games via in-app purchase issues, online safety, and even basic fun.
Key thoughts from Jenova Chen's talk:
- Emotion is just as important as action in gaming
- Player interaction online is important, it can ruin the emotion in your game if done wrong.
- There is still the opportunity for a games company to provide the same for games as Disney has for amusement parks.
Brian Fargo, industry veteran, gave a great talk recounting his experiences in crowd funding of games. Mr. Fargo successfully crowd funded Wasteland 2 recently and discussed the importance of community in meeting the goals goals of a campaign. Listening to your customer in building a campaign is important. Mr. Fargo also mentioned how important he feels it is for those that are successful in the games industry to support crowd funding campaigns, to give back to the industry.
Key thoughts from Brian Fargo's talk:
- Listen to your (potential) audience.
- Word of mouth is your most valuable tool.
- The successful in the industry should be supporting crowd funding campaigns.
The 2014 Gaming Insiders Summit is scheduled to take place over two days instead of one. If you are in the industry, consider it a must attend event.