Tuesday, November 18, 2008

MIGS (post 2 of N): Warren Spector keynote

Notes from Warren's awesome keynote. [my comments in braces]

Preamble from introductory speakers [BTW, government-influenced/run conferences always have too many guys introducing one another to introduce the next guy who introduces the next guy, etc. Ugh]
- Fifth year of conference - from 500 attendees to expected 1400
- In same 5 years, from 2k games industry folk in Montreal to now 6600, of which 4500 are in "actual development/production" [why do they feel the need to break this number out?]
- 88 speakers at this years conf.


Warren Spector keynote

Look back at 2005 talk – best of times, worst of times; had a pessimistic view; cautionary note; didn’t think next gen HW was going to solve everything.

So how’d we do?

“I was wrong about almost everything”

Positives still positive; negatives not so bad.

So why am I feeling good?

Gaming’s renaissance … but... Economic turn, Projects killed, Studios shut down, Layoffs, Plummeying stock, etc [posted some numbers - same ones I posted last week plus a few more]

So I was thinking, should I not do a positive talk? Should I come up with new topic? 


We are still in a renaissance. Optimistic like I haven’t bene in a while. 

Doing “ok” compared to other industries

We can be THE medium of 21st century

From book “A Whole new mind” by daniel pink.

6 secrets to successs

  • Design
  • Story
  • Symphony
  • Empathy
  • Play
  • Meaning

Holy crap – games do all this already.

Still optimistic... because

  • -          We are doing a lot of the right things.
  • -          What’s bad for OLD biz is good for NEW biz
  • -          We’re here to stay

Online: Best entertainment bargain on earth, WoW reportedly $1B+/yr; Facebook games, tons of fun and I'm not paying a dime. "$60 game is a bargain compared to a $60 date night” [<-- ok, that's a money quote right there]


“players have unprecedented control over their experiences. Whether competing in in facebook; building levels in LBP…” [missed rest of quote] - note from a playboy october 2008 article. Mainstream press talking about player control and UGC. Holy Cow!!! "When mainstream starts saying things like this, we are in a whole new world"

So no new topic, but new slant on things:

Instead of celebrating;  Talk about what got us here, What do we have to do to stay here; What to do to continue to progress

The Big Risk

  • When the going gets tough; really, most people don't 'get going', they get conservative
  • We need innovation and a renewed pioneer spirit
  • Styles of Innovation

I'm going to use a 'discovery of the new world' metaphor

  • Invention (scientists)
  • Discover (Exploreres)
  • Refinement (Settlers)
  • Re-invention (pioneers)

Scientists – turn darkness into light – ask fundamental questions – build boats, sextants, notice curvature of horizon and wonder Hmm.... 

Steve Russel, Ralph Baer, Nolan Bushnell, etc

Explorers – use the scientists tools and inventions to go find new worlds – go find new things with them, make the maps - take that boat and go west.

Will Wright – Richard Garriot, Miyamoto, etc

Settlers – pilgrims, john smith at Jamestown – follow in footsteps of explorers, settle the new world in rough conditions and settle it and thrive

Chris Roberts; blizzard, Warren Spector falls in this camp, etc. 

Don’t invent, synthesize, refine. Richard garriot established the rules that I wanted to break; Chris Roberts merged flight sims and star wars and role play to come up with wing commander


Moving into re-invention: Pioneers; Kitt Carson, Lewis and Clark; Self-conscious, sometimes university trained, interpreters; internet frontier is one of them; reinventing existing genres;

Flow, Braid, Rag doll kung fu, Crayon Physics, Facade, Portal, Everyday Shooter, Jello car, The night journey, Passage [ note to self, I have played all these games but the last two. Added to 'to play' list]

Refreshing to those that have played existing genre 100 times. Explosion of innovation in existing gernes, sometimes completely turned on their ear. Elevating them to the level of art

Not just little guys, but established guys ALSO being pioneers!!!

Spore, rock band, fallout 2, wii fit, fable II, little BigPlanet; Guitar Hero; - established companies; EA doing 5 original IP’s this year. Go EA!!!

Why innovate?

We’re not done figuring this medium out

  • -          Culturally,
  • -          Aesthetically
  • -          Commercially
  • -          Personally

 Cultural:  More than nerd culture,  More than time wasting pastimes, More than adrenaline fueled fantasy

Aesthetically: How do games make meaning? What sorts of experiences can we provide? Maybe with nothing than story? What sorts of images?

Commercially: “I knew I needed to play portal minutes after seeing it because I’d never been able to do that in a game before – JPS programmer

-        Personally:

Players experincdes hundreds of games. Developers get to make far fewer. Make each one MEAN something? [note, this doesn't pop off the page, but the intonation was along the lines of 'no one lies on their death bed and says 'I wish I'd made more sequels to madden'. Will you lie on your death bed and say, 'I made a game that MEANT something to people']

Where DO we innovate?

Plenty of problem areas:

  Interactive stories

-          Developer created?

  • Player driven
  • Collaborative storytelling
  • Better actors
  • Character graphics
  • Physicality
  •  Expressiveness
  • Character interaction
  • Communication
"in a standard video game, it’s easy to kill someone, but impossible to talk to them"

Jonathan Rauch

Non-compbat AI

  • Stuck with adolescent power fantiastis
  • Limited verbs, limited player expression tools.

[thought: they are animals that articulate well?]

More compelling Worlds

  • Worlds (or sandboxes)
  •  Allow deep player interaction options
  • Not movie sets
  •  Limited player interaction - kind of goes against what we stand for, no?

Virtual Dungeonmasters

  • -          Good stories are made, not found
  • -          Systems should respond to players
  • -         dynamically modify local conditions
  • -          Accommodate unexpected choices

Not by Online Alone

  • MMO should be 'More Mainstream Online'


  •         A coherent language of design
  • -          Online biz model that actually works
  • -          Consistent sources of tenanted devs
  • -          Reasonable approach to the preservation of our history

How do we innovate

“invention has it’s own algorithm"

 - Malcomlm gladwell ( “into the air” NY Times column?)

How do we innovate:


  • 1.       Go indie
  •     Find a patron or self fund
  • 2.       Be famous and eccentric
  • G Go undercover
  •   Be part of a team, but introduce SOMETHING
  • Join a cult
  • -          i.e. you join Valve, you know what you are getting

-          start your own movement if you can’t find one.

Go small or self-organize

-          you can’t dictate innovation

-          - spherical core =  general direction

-          Self organizing teams =  execution

 Be open to change

a.       Flexibility in execution is key

b.      Blindtest early and often

c.       Fail quickly & often

                                                               i.      Regroup

                                                             ii.      Revover

                                                            iii.      Redirect (also quickly)_

Have a purpose

“bigness of purpose is what seperates the 20th century and 21st century organizations. You must strive to change the world"

Umair Haque - “Obamas seven lessons for radical innovators”

Harvey Smith – started at origin as a tester – was there 2-3 AM every night. Talking about what mattered about games he wanted to make. That’s what led him to where he could make his own games…

We are not immune to economic downturn. But as a medium, we are doing well. I see exhilarating joyous innovation and progress, in academia, in garages, in major pubs. Haven’t seen innovation like this

Publishers, don’t get conservative

Indie developers, dare to be great

Team members, fine ONE new thing.

Too many indies who’s work looks like a portfolio piece.

BE AN AGENT FOR CHANGE wherever you are

Geroge Bernard shaw quote:

“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.” 


Patrick said...

Right on!

It seems like similar vibes are being broadcast simultaneously by different parties.

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