Saturday, April 28, 2012

NYC Gaming Meetup: Future of the NY Gaming Scene

Adam Ludwin of RRE Ventures, Eric Goldberg of Crossover Technologies, Demetri Detsaridis of Zynga New York, and Jon Stokes, who independently developed Whiskers, got together to discuss the future of the NYC gaming industry.
  • The biggest change in the NY gaming industry in the last couple of years was that it produced game development companies that were good enough to be acquired. Area/Code and OMGPop were both acquired by Zynga.
  • Games can now be developed by small teams. Before, games required large infrastructures that NY simply did not have or support. 
  • Money can be found in web technologies now. Developers don't need console experience anymore. There is a democratization of distribution channels and lower barriers of entry for developers. For example, Temple Run was made by a married couple, Tiny Wings was a solo project, and Nimblebit is a group of three people making successful games. People want to make games like a compulsion.
  • You need to be top 10 on the AppStore to be even considered a success.
  • Publishers look at innovative games or something that enables technology such as TwitchTV and OpenFeint.
  • Zynga was the first and most aggressive company to open up new platforms on Facebook. If you're not the first mover, the market you are entering would be too competitive.
  • Playfish and Playdom are direct-to-market companies, but where are the consumer facing companies in NY? NY is too expensive to open up a 75-man studio and there are also no good engineering schools at the level of Stanford or MIT. In addition, NY has relatively low venture capitalist-to-population ratio.
  • NY will be at Los Angeles's caliber in 3-5 years, but it is harder to catch up to Seattle since they have Microsoft.
  • Platform publishers (Microsoft, Sony, Apple, Google, Facebook) are the most money-making companies and they are all located in the west coast. It is difficult for a booming NY scene without a platform holder in this space.
  • NY needs to find a niche. Austin makes all the MMO games and Boston is the center for innovative technology. NY is traditionally known as the indie and artistic space for games.
  • NY is the best place for serious games, games for learning and change, and gamification. The state produces the most grants for these movements.
  • The power of developers is in distribution and how many people they can reach. Arkadium has many distribution partners and Valve runs Steam, which has a huge distribution capacity.
  • Creativity is the most distinguishing factor in games. Companies should move away from the Zynga template model. There is too much noise, similarity, and repetition in the industry right now.
  • Modifying and optimizing a game based on analytic data is very engineering heavy. Need more creatively designed games.
  • NY should have the largest media and distribution access. But Viacom tends to screw things up and Time Warner shifts their efforts to their Warner Bros. HQ out in the west.
  • The indie development scene needs to take active steps to work together in order to stand out. A prime example of a win for them is the Humble Indie Bundle. Kongregate and XBLA are good for indie game attention. Apple's AppStore, however, is not.
  • Parking Wars was a hit game, but A&E didn't want a hit game; they just wanted an ad. The game caused them a lot of trouble including blowing up their servers and taking down their website. Advertisement companies don't want games because ad and game revenue models are different.
  • OMGPop spent a lot of time iterating on Draw Something. Investment is invaluable. Companies should "keep on swinging" until they produce their hit.
  • Draw Something is never punishing and has a completely irrelevant-by-design scoring system, which lead to its casual success.
  • Jon Stokes likes physical space games like Johann Sebastian Joust.
Audience Question and Answer
  • Games are about rules and game programming is about breaking rules.
  • Eric Goldberg is skeptical of one-size-fits-all programming solutions like XNA and HTML5.
  • How do you get into game development? Play all kinds of games from King Maker to Settlers of Catan, learn to code, take internships anywhere, and go meet other game developers at conferences and seminars. Always be making games whether it be paper, card, or board games.
  • IGDA NYC made a list of all game development companies in NY. They will make a list of all games from NY as well.
  • To start a new development company, you should set the quality standards really high. Build something similar to Mojang, Rockstar, or Foursquare. Go into a platform where you don't have to compete with someone with an unfair advantage such as Zynga's stronghold on Facebook. Look for somewhere with less distribution static like Steam or even the open web.
  • Indie developers should communicate with the public (ie. blog, build something into the game that allows user participation, etc.). They must understand the revenue model whether it be virtual goods or ads, and leverage partnerships. Developers need an inside person at Apple or Microsoft and get the game in their hands 3-6 months in advance with the hope that they'll highlight the game and give it publicity.
  • Some good prototyping software are GameSalad, Corona, and Gamebryo.
  • What are the panelists thoughts about the DRM in future game consoles? This is the last run of the consoles since OnLive/Gaikai and cloud gaming will eventually take over. The console makers are proposing to impose DRM in their consoles such that used games would not be playable, but they'll eventually redact their decision when players flock to other distribution channels. They would act like cornered animals and try to revert it, but it'll be like "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic." They will not screw it up as bad as the music industry, but definitely come close.
  • 10 years from now, gaming will be on the cloud and the money would be in peripheral gaming. Inevitably, buttons are better than touch.
  • What's holding HTML5 back from being a bigger standard? It has many advantages such as being online, having no walled gardens, and having no 30% fees. The two things holding it back are that there's no universal HTML5 development platform and slight difference among different browsers.
  • For translation and localization, developers need to find international partners that understand the local language and culture. This is especially true of Asian and Middle Eastern territories, since many topics are taboo there. The game needs to update to match the cultural landscape.

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