Another excellent day.  For now, I’ll just throw some random recollections out there.

Minnesota weather decided to show it’s pleasant side (for once).  It was a nice, sunny 60 degree day… perhaps a bit cool by some standards, but considering it was 32 degrees and snowing just 3 days earlier…

It is always fascinating, just listening and comparing notes about various places around the world, or even the U.S.  Overheard at the conference: “I woke up early, took a walk around outside.  It felt a little like a scene from one of those post-apocalyptic movies… absolutely empty streets…”  (Downtown Minneapolis, in particular, is pretty dead at street level during “off-hours”.  Between the relative dearth of residential units downtown and the extensive skyway system connecting most buildings at second story, it can get to feeling pretty deserted between bar close and start-of-business…)

I got to see all of Dr. Bartle’s keynote (not much registration activity to worry about 2nd day).  Excellent retrospective, comparing the situation in the years before the first big graphic MMOs came out to right now.  I do hope he makes his slides available… he has some references to games in there that I was utterly unaware of, and would like to know more about.  The gist of his talk was that there is another window of opportunity, right here, right now, for indie devs to make their mark and be noticed… it is still difficult enough to create an MMO that not just everyone can do it, but not so difficult that it simply cannot be done without extraordinary circumstances (being very wealthy, gaining access to an already finished/nearly finished product, etc.)  He postulated that the current particular circumstances are the most favorable for those who are driven to design, to create, who have some concept or idea they need to express, and creating a virtual world is the most effective way to do so.  I’m not being very effective in describing it, but it was an extremely inspirational presentation, IMO… worth the price of admittance in and of itself.

The sessions I attended, in brief…

Robert Rice, In-Game Advertising round table

Discussion largely revolved around the pitfalls of in-game advertising, but with an eye toward how it might be made to work.  The two big pitfalls: sacrificing vision/game design to make advertising work, driving players away with advertising that is far too “in your face”.  Advertising to build brand recognition and similar subtle forms was seen as the most workable… similar to the better examples of product placement in movies, for example.  It was largely taken as given that advertising was too unreliable to be a sole source of funding.  Being creative in terms of finding advertising partners examples, such as selling armor and swords replicas via a fantasy RPG, was mentioned as well.

Dr. Richard Bartle, Slaughtering Sacred Cows round-table

It felt like nearly everyone at the conference came to this one, the room was pretty packed.  The basic idea was similar to what Damion over at Zen of Design has been talking about and presenting on over the past year or so, from a different angle.  In this case: what concepts/elements do we take for granted in MMOs?  Once we’ve identified them, do they really need to be there?  If not, what can we replace them with?  Do we need to replace them at all?  Concepts of persistance and virtual space were about as far as we got… this was another one that probably could have run the entire length of the conference and people would still have left the room without having fully hashed out any one point.  Still a good discussion to be a part of… just hearing different perspectives and knowing they exist can be inspiring at times.

Rafheal Cedeno, Battle of the OSes

This ended up being more of a class than a roundtable, with people asking questions of the most knowledgeable person in the room (Mr. Cedeno of Multiverse, in this case).  Topics ranged fairly widely: cautions re: database design, a bit on the network design (custom packets vs. vanilla TCP), an overview of a few tools for asset management.  The crowd as whole was obviously far more interested in server-side/core functionality than client-side/graphical display techniques, which surprised Mr. Cedeno a bit (pleasantly, I felt).  Everything was presented with a bit of Multiverse-centric viewpoint, as might be expected, but I felt he did a very good job of being agnostic, mentioning other products that did things different ways.  Overall, it was a good session, not deeply technical, but a good starting point on a wide array of topics.

Eric Rhea, Designing games and game companies

Mr. Rhea gave a presentation outlining some options and opportunities for largely bootstrapping a company into existence using a variety of funding sources, drawing upon his own experiences to give pointers on how to make things work.  Topics such as advertising, item sales (CafePress stuff, for example), writing (books was explored, possibly reviews/articles), contracting/consulting, and investment were all touched upon.  The core takeaway was essentially the same as for starting any business from scratch… do whatever you need to do (legally!) to make a go of it.  As he put it: if there is anything you will not do, mop the floors, whatever… you likely won’t make it.  My own experience bootstrapping up an IVR/CT custom development business was exactly the same… early on, we had people placed as temps/subcontractors, hosted web sites, wiring jobs, “bought” clients from other firms exiting the field… we did whatever it took, within the skill sets and resources we collectively had to offer, to pay the bills.  And that’s exactly what it took to survive long enough to get the opportunities that allowed us to grow to be profitable today.  It’s good advice, no matter what business you decide to go into.

All-in-all, I was very happy with the conference.  Good information, small enough that even I felt comfortable with occasionally walking up and joining a conversation, tho I still did quite a bit of “observing from sidelines”, as it were.  Got chances to talk briefly with both Brent (from Virgin Worlds) and Brian Green (Psychochild)… thanks to both for making the time.

A few links of interest…

Celia Pearce gave me a couple of links to use to keep tabs on her Mermaids Game project

Link to Eric Rhea’s game-in-production, Wraith: The Iron Horse

Links to Kelly Rued’s company sites, Black Love Interactive and ISER Games (NSFW, btw)

Multiverse link