(Sorry about the delay. A few loose ends IRL had to be tied down over the weekend.)
The final day of AGDC was Friday, and it started much the same as the other days. A quick walk with Erik Hyrkas to a nearby coffee shop for a light breakfast, then over to the convention center. While Erik went to the exhibit hall to follow up on a few things, I went to the keynote speech, presented by the Director of Game Operations of Nexon America, Minho Kim.
Nexon produces games such as Kart Racer and Maple Story, aimed primarily at teens and the 18-24 age groups and funded by a combination of microtransactions and marketing tie-ins. He described what appears to have been a significant shift in the acceptance of that model over the past 5-10 years. Nexon had actually closed down American operations early this decade, for example, and has been consistently surprised at how well their games have done in North America after re-introducing their latest ones (specifically Maple Story) in 2004 or so. It was an interesting presentation.
After the keynote, I hooked up with Aaron, and we headed over to the Writing for Games presentation “Narrative Devices for Guiding Players” presented by Chris Bateman of International Hobo, Inc. The basic gist of the presentation focussed on the use of two techniques to guide a player, “breadcrumbing” and “funneling”. In brief, breadcrumbing offers a trail for the player to follow through the game, while funneling works to help guide the player back to the path whenever he/she happens to move away from it. Multiple examples were given from a variety of games, from FPS to RPG. There was also some discussion of possible narrative structures, from straight linear to branching (tree-like, very difficult to implement due to sheer size) to episodic and more. All-in-all, a nice presentation really exploring some of the basics of narrative design for games.
After lunch and a last brief pass through the exhibit hall, I headed over to the final session of the day, the panel on “What are Biggest Opportunities in Online Gaming”, featuring Raph Koster (Areae), Erik Bethke (GoPets), Mark Jacobs (EA Mythic), and John Blakely of SOE, with Matt Firor (Xenimax) moderating. Sat with Brent, Michael, and Cuppy, and enjoyed what had to be one of the most entertaining panels of the conference. While I’m fairly certain there isn’t actually all that much animosity between the individuals on the stage, it was obvious that there was some, um, “difference of opinion” on where the industry is/should be headed, particularly in terms of business models. Mark Jacobs was the main defender of the subscription model, largely closed architecture, anti-RMT, non-microtransaction, etc., while Raph and Erik were far more proponents of open architecture/user-created content, microtransactions, and possible RMT options, and John was somewhat stuck in the middle, as you might expect. There were plenty of zingers, one-liners, and self-deprecating comments, a very entertaining panel. No real conclusions to be drawn, except for a general concensus that the real underlying focus needs to be on providing quality products and services (obviously).
That was pretty much it for the conference. A brief conversation with Brent and Michael outside the lecture hall also eventually included Serafina Pechan (World Fusion, Atriarch) and Brian Green aka Psychochild (Near Death Studios, blog), both of whom have to be amongst the nicest people in the industry.
Some final notes and links:
Raph did some amazingly detailed live blogging of the conference, which considering how much other activity (panels, interviews, appearances, etc) of his that I saw or heard about, had to mean he didn’t sleep. Period. His liveblog of Damion Schubert’s Zen of Online Game Design is absolutely top notch, for example.
As Raph pointed out, audio recordings of many of the sessions are already available via the GDC Radio Service.
International Hobo, a game writing and design shop, is in the middle of another game player survey, and is asking for game players to come and take part. Wanted to make sure I got that out there.
My thanks to everyone at AGDC for making it such a great experience, especially Erik, Aaron, Brent, Cuppy, and Michael. It was an even better experience than last year, since I actually had someone I knew and could talk to this time around! You guys are awesome… thank you.