Sunday, May 6, 2012

"What were the main trends of GDC 2012?"

So I checked my spam folder and found out I'm signed up for this thing called Quora, which wanted me to answer the question, "What were the main trends of GDC 2012"... which I found compelling because lately I've been wondering, who writes game developer history? Who decides "what happened" and where? What goes in the Wikipedia entry?

Here's how I answered, with a heavy indie bias. I invite competing accounts in comments or on the Quora thing if you happen to have a Quora thing:

What were the main trends of GDC 2012? 
Like, what were people talking about? What was on their minds?

1) Growing irrelevance of the traditional game industry in defining the cutting edge of design practice. When the IGF Awards were over, many people (at least 400-500 people) didn't stay for the GDC Awards; they just got up and left, despite indies winning a bunch of the GDC Awards as well. Sure, maybe we were just hungry or wanted to hit the party circuit early, but the general consensus was apparent -- we're not here for the industry. And lately, many industry luminaries have been leaving the industry to start their own indie studios. I think that's incredibly telling as the industry consolidates and colludes more with advertising, and more industry game devs get sick of their lack of job security / the "boom and bust" of the blockbuster model.

2) Indie monetization and business. A lot of talk about indie business infrastructures / how to remain a viable indie / how to fight cloning, especially in the iOS market. There's a lot of anxiety about sales figures and the consequences of Steam acting as a gatekeeper to success, and whether worrying about money makes you as bad as Zynga or something. In general, a bit of soul-searching as to what will happen to all of us who are used to just releasing stuff for free.

3) Mainstreaming of the experimental. Botanicula, Proteus, Dear Esther, JS Joust -- none of those fit the traditional challenge-based / skill-based molds. None of those could've emerged from the AAA industry... but these games were critical darlings, and Botanicula + Dear Esther have somewhat public sales figures that indicate they're doing pretty well.

4) IGF drama. Lots of internal strife about the "indie scene" and whether it's too scene-y and elitist, or whether that's all just hater talk. Arguments about whether Fez should've been entered into the festival. Indie Game the Movie being either faithful or totally unfaithful to the experience of making games.

5) Anna Anthropy's book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters. I've heard about a lot of industry people reading this book, and as Anna likes to gloat, it sold-out at the GDC bookstore like 3 times or something! Think of it as a travel guide to a large continent of the vast indie world.

6) Japanese games suck? Phil Fish said it. Discuss amongst yourselves.

7) Death of the Old Guard / dominance of new platforms. Recently, someone tweeted something to the effect of, "it's weird to realize that the 'Big 3' aren't Microsoft / Sony / Nintendo anymore, but Google / Valve / Apple" or something like that. I'm personally not sure if Google's part of that trinity, gaming-wise, but Steam and the App Store are definitely the two biggest platforms today.