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The Game Developers Conference drew around 19,000 game developers to San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center this week. The show captured an industry in the midst of transition, as games spread out to a variety of platforms, including smartphones, tablets, Facebook, and digital distribution via the web. The GDC draws talent from across the industry, and it’s always a good way to measure the pulse of games as they evolve. You can check out some of the trends and people from the images below.
At the Sony booth, fans got trained in how to use the rifle accessory for the PlayStation Move controller for Killzone 3. The attachment makes it lot easier to shoot at the nasty Helghast enemies in Killzone 3. Motion-sensing has a big future in games, but I have to say that having a bright pink ball at the end of your gun is not exactly menacing.
The GDC is quite an international affair. Rajesh Rao, chief executive of Dhruva Interactive, came out from Bangalore, India. His company is India’s oldest and most-experienced game company, providing art outsourcing for games like Dead Rising 2 and making digital online games such as Conga Bugs.
Tom Hall (left) and John Romero gave one of many post-mortem talks on classic video games. They talked about how they made Doom, the classic first-person shooter titles from 1993.
This developer had a good line. As he was showing off Resistance 3, he told the crowd of journalists he was shy. And when he gets nervous, he said, he tends to vomit. So he said he asked Sony to provide parkas to the front row.
Sony Ericsson showed off its Xperia Play phone with the pitch “Android games with PlayStation controls.”
YouWeb’s CrowdStar and OpenFeint teamed up to recruit potential game developers from above.
These folks look like street performers, but they’re really game developer recruiters in disguise.
James Gwertzman has been the lonely American guy in Beijing for PopCap Games, which threw a party with the Plants vs. Zombies theme at 111 Minna. But Gwertzman says cool things are coming for games in the Chinese market.
Deliberate or intentional? All week, everyone was wondering if Apple deliberately planned its iPad 2 press conference to happen at about the same time as the keynote speech of Satoru Iwata, chief executive of Nintendo. Apple’s event was next door to the GDC, and lots of journalists such as Marc Saltzman (picutred) attended the Apple event. Apple has made it clear that the iPod Touch and its other devices have become the most popular portable gaming devices. Nintendo’s Iwata fired back in his speech, saying that low-quality smartphone games were ruining the market for developers.
Steve Jobs made a surprise appearance at the iPad 2 event and received a standing ovation when he walked on stage. He said, “We’ve been working on this one for a while and I didn’t want to miss it.”
The iPad 2 has a cool cover that comes in lots of colors. The cover is smart; it has micro fibers that clean the screen, and it wakes up the iPad 2 when you peel it back. Oh, and it can play cool apps too.
Mark Rein, vice president at Epic Games, said that the iPad 2 will be a great gaming machine. But Epic isn’t giving up on high-end games at all. Epic also showed off a jaw-dropping demo of a fighting scene with outstanding graphics. The demo was Epic’s proposal for the kind of content that could run on next-generation game consoles. For now, however, no one is talking about when those consoles might arrive. Nintendo was mum on the subject during the show, while Microsoft and Sony hope that their new motion-sensors will keep gamers happy for a while. Nobody really wants to introduce a new game console right away. Still, the Epic technology runs on a high-end PC now.
Times are good for social game maker Zynga, which threw quite a soiree on Tuesday evening. Zynga has more than 1,700 employees now and it’s still hiring like crazy.
Randy Stude of Intel still loves the PC. The smallest example of that is the Razer Switchblade, a small mobile device that runs on an Intel Atom processor and Windows 7. It will play just about any PC game.
Ian Lewis, the game evangelist on the Google Developer Relations team, showed up to say that Google cares about game developers and is excited about web-based game technologies such as WebGL, which will let gamers play hardware-accelerated 3D games on web sites without the need to download a plug-in.
Trip Hawkins, chief executive of Digital Chocolate, warned game developers in his own “rant” session at GDC that not everybody is going to get rich from mobile games. It’s nice that Apple has paid developers more than $2 billion for their app sales. But there are more than 350,000 apps. If you do the math, Hawkins said, that comes out to around $4,000 per app. That’s not enough to support real companies. Sure, it’s a hit-driven business with big games such as Angry Birds. But the platform maker has to do more to make the ecosystem pay off for larger numbers of developers. Otherwise, it’s like American Idol, with just one winner and lots of losers.
Mark Skaggs has led teams that made games such as FarmVille and CityVille for Zynga. Social game developers didn’t get much respect in past years. But now that titles such as CityVille and FrontierVille have real game play, they’re getting respect. And it doesn’t hurt that everybody is playing social games and that console games are not dying off. CityVille got to 100 million users in six weeks.
Will Wright provided some brilliant comic relief and insight as he deconstructed how he built Raid on Bungeling Bay, his first major game that debuted on the Commodore 64 in 1984. Wright showed how he built the game to a huge crowd at the GDC and joked about how helicopters have appeared in just about every game he has done since then. In the game, you pilot a helicopter and attack air, land and sea enemies across an archipelago of islands. It became famous because Wright decided it was more fun to play with the island editor that he created for the game than to play the game itself. He worked on that some more and it became the smash hit Sim City. But Wright didn’t have many artifacts to show, since the game and all of his files were destroyed by fire in the Oakland Hills blaze of 1991. Wright said he sold 20,000 copies in the U.S., and 800,000 in Japan on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Cliff “CliffyB” Bleszinski is design director for Epic Games and the chief visionary for games such as Gears of War. He talked about how game developers can become a “power creative,” or someone who can be the “front man” for major games and call the shots when it comes to creating new titles. Bleszinski says that doing PR right and being an aggressive “soft seller” will help a developer gather friends in the right places and earn as much clout as major game publishers.
It’s a kind of News Corp. reunion here. At the IGN party at the W Hotel, John Welch of Making Fun, Roy Bahat of IGN Entertainment, and Sean Ryan (former News Corp. game chief) were all smiles. Ryan recently left to become the head of game developer relations at Facebook.
Brenda Brathwaite gave a nice “can’t we all get along” rant, as she defended social games from its haters. Social games have been demonized for ruining the game industry (i.e., becoming popular even as console game companies laid off a lot of people in the past two years). But social games and mobile titles were largely accepted at the GDC this year. Brathwaite said that outsiders constantly seek to divide the game industry, with a long history of demonization, but developers should not fall into that trap.
Uh, can you guess which person is the game developer recruiter?
The GDC flies its colors at the Moscone Center.
THQ decorated a burrito wagon to market its upcoming Homefront shooting game.
Steve Perlman, chief executive of OnLive, held a party at Harlot for friends of the company. He debuted his cloud gaming company two years ago at GDC amid much skepticism. But OnLive launched in mid-2010 and is now spreading out across a bunch of platforms. Perlman said it was gratifying to see more acceptance from the game industry as his company tries to disrupt traditional game retailing and game consoles. Now OnLive is possibly worth as much as $1.8 billion.
John Vechey of PopCap Games and Dave Rohrl of Playdom were party animals. Vechey’s best quote ever was, “Venture capitalists are stupid.”