Held at the Hilton Hotel, the Montreal International Games Summit took place over Tuesday and Wednesday (November 13-14) with jam-packed days of informative sessions spanning Business, Art and Visual Effects, Audio, Design, Production, and Technology. Originally created to service the Quebec video game industry, speakers and participants hailed from far and wide outside the provincial borders.
Keynote speaker Tim Sweeney, Founder and CTO of Epic Games, presented Challenges of the Next Generation of Consoles, providing an overview of the company’s history through conception to Unreal Engine 4. Key takeaways from Sweeney’s talk included references to graphics processing units (GPUs) developing faster than central processing units (CPUs) and focusing performance as such; and illustrating improvements made by streamlining workflows and productivity for artists and programmers. Despite this, Sweeney predicted that high-end game budgets would increase in the future due to higher content quality.
As for future trends, Sweeney commented on gaming becoming more widely accessible due to the rise in smartphone and tablet platform availability; the rise of the F2P business model; and the rise in competition from visual quality and experience. Sweeney focused on Epic’s approach to being platform agnostic, where the strategy is to have Unreal run “everywhere and on whatever platform,” though throughout his talk, Sweeney focused heavily on cloud gaming and F2P, crossing over both in platforms and markets (i.e. blending east and west as exemplified by League of Legends).
Jason VandenBerghe, Creative Director from Ubisoft Montreal, discussed psychological model of motivation, “The Big 5”, and “mnemonicized” it into OCEAN (Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism) for an eager audience. VandenBerghe has been using this psychological model to analyze any and all player behaviour, especially since audiences vary widely, not just in taste, but demographic. He encouraged game designers to go beyond starting with what they know and to focus on play-acting: “learning to play as if you were someone else.” By using the “Big 5”, designers should judge where they are in terms of their own preferences, then play games outside those preferences or in different mindsets (e.g. cooperative as opposed to competitive), adopting “motivational ergonomics” to imagine and think like a player (of a different sort). To illustrate examples of player archetypes, VandenBerghe used a wealth of popular fictional characters like Hermione Granger, Austin Powers, and Samwise Gamgee, identifying games that they might enjoy, based on their personalities. With the characters’ preferences for things like exploring, competitiveness, and propensity for achievements, his game choice illustrations included Minecraft, Madden NFL 12 and Just Dance, among many. VandenBerghe urged designers to incorporate the Big 5 into playtesting practices (i.e. be mindful of testing a casual game with hardcore playtesters) and above all, test games outside of their comfort zones.
VandenBerghe also provided a link for participants to take the personality test here.
As the title of his talk suggests, Lennart Nacke, Game User Researcher at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, makes a convincing case for the use of biofeedback gaming to create compelling new experiences. Nacke offered a primer on biosensors currently and imminently available that can be used in playtesting for integrating information about player feelings. Nacke argues that subjective internal (i.e. emotional) states are unstable and often fleeting because of another kind of emotion being present. “If we can gauge these, we can have gaming systems cater to the gaming experience when relating to how a player is feeling,” he said. In creating the ultimate player experience, Nacke illustrated how biofeedback gaming could work in tandem with situations such as NPCs reacting to players, multiplayer matching, and supporting social and cooperative mechanics. He also introduced the idea of using biometric storyboards where designers graph their intended game experience, map actual player experiences with biometric feedback, and then use the results to create something closer to the original design.
Using Sava Transmedia’s latest game, Rubber Tacos, as a case study, Jesse Glick, Director of Monetization gave the audience a breakdown of vocabulary used in free-to-play and an education in the Sava “RAD” approach to its game creation cycle with “Research,” “Analyze”, “Design.” Glick stressed that companies adopting free-to-play models need to work quickly in responding to player feedback and making changes, as the First-Time User Experience (FTUE or “fitooey”) is crucial to securing and retaining players. With only 1% of Free-To-Play users turning into monetized users, business models need to rely on creating volume and strategizing retention. Glick discussed estimated daily revenue from large-scale games being mere cents from each daily average user, but for a force like Zynga, estimated revenues are upwards of $1 050 000.
Glick discussed the importance of creating and offering added value for in-app purchases, capitalizing on where and when the player wants to pay (but staying fair); and making it simple for the customer to serve themselves, especially with the least number of clicks.
Taking an academic approach, Jeffrey Yohalem, Lead Writer for Ubisoft Montreal, delved into lengthy quotes to convey his messages, which included the importance of treating the player as an actor. “Life is too short to waste players’ time,” he said. Yohalem discussed using a big event at the beginning of a game that could later be recalled as emotional memories with smaller events. Drawing from Far Cry 3 and Assassin’s Creed, he stressed that there should be moments in a game that make players “transfer into the protagonist”, with details being revealed throughout the game. Equating games to theatre, Yohalem had some useful tips for the audience: just as lighting can be used to focus actors, it is equally useful for focusing players. Set design (or level design and art direction) must reinforce the story and be an external vision of the inner mood (e.g. dark and foggy for depressed). Gameplay is subtext and the most essential tool for performance.
In future, Yohalem wants to see emotion-based dialogue systems because choosing what you say is not acting. He proposes a Kinect game to read your emotion, and emotion-based speech recognition.
In the presentation by Maxime Gagné, Associate Lawyer and Trade-mark Agent with Heenan Blaikie LLP, game developers had a great deal to think about (and do). Starting with an overview of the distinct features of social gaming, Gagné discussed the ongoing class action suit filed in 2010 against Linden Lab for changing the terms of service to MMOG Second Life. To prevent issues of perceived expropriation, Gagné advised game developers to have a well-written End-User Licence Agreement (EULA) detailing provisions with respect to ownership, information and privacy, limitations of liability and prohibition of real world sales or virtual goods between players.
With Canada’s new anti-spam legislation, Gagné talked about how it may affect games, marketing, and the way games (i.e. developers) send messages through monetization streams. He advised getting players to give consent before sending messages.
Thus ends Day One of MiGS – stay tuned for the Day Two Recap.