Last Friday marked an impressive debut for the Select/Start PLAY conference in Denmark. We went to the event, and here’s what we took home with us.
The huge size of the nametag table in itself was a clear indication, that even if this was the very first edition of the Select/Start PLAY-conference, attendance was not lacking. Expecting no more than 300 attendees for the first ever incarnation of the conference, the final number ended just north of 500, and attracted people from all corners of the local games industry.
With former Nintendo indie spokesperson Dan Adelman, Goldeneye64 creator Martin Hollis, DMA Design alumni and now technical lead at Gamemaker-maker YoYo Games, Mike Daily, as some of the headliners, there were plenty of reasons to come to Viborg in the middle of Jutland, this Friday. And as such, the people behind the conference had surely brought a huge amount of attention upon the young conference.
Of most interest to aspiring game developers during the first round of talks, was probably Maxwell Scott Slade’s talk about how he had managed to set up a company and make fun games with his two brothers, without going bankrupt. One of the cornerstones of his talk was, that being successful and making games for a living is not a question of blind luck. “Success isn’t random! If you plan properly, you can at least always get your money back,” he told the people in the crowded room. “If you want to make money, you need to be able to manage your time and production.”
He then explained how they had managed to produce their utterly charming games, such as Gumulon and Chippy, by basing their game production on 4 pillars: Gameplay, AI, Interface, and Content. By making sure that the quality of each pillar was roughly equal, the end products turned out way better than if the game development had focused on one area alone.
The legal aspects of game development was also represented at the conference, as game-centric lawyer and game developer, Eva Gaspar, gave some insights into the many complicated ways of looking at IP and copyrights. However, she also revealed, that not all things can be protected by law. Ideas cannot be protected by copyrights. You can only protect a specific interpretation of that idea. And computer games are in many places still not seen as singular works, but rather a collection of elements, that can be copyrighted separately.
At the other end of the spectrum was games writer Morten Brunbjerg‘s talk about how to invoke emotions in games. With examples from both films and games, he explained how to do, and how not to do emotions in games. Among other things, he showed how the player does not automatically mirror the emotions portrayed in games. Just because the character in the game is angry, does not necessarily mean, that the player has the same feelings.
Also within the theme of emotions was Ryan Green‘s incredibly moving talk about his game That Dragon, Cancer. A game retelling the story of Ryan and Amy Green’s experience raising their son, Joel, a 4-year-old currently fighting his third year of terminal cancer. The game is an example of how Green had tried to confront his grief, and work directly with it.
Paradox producer Staffan Berglén was also at Select/Start PLAY, where he talked about what to expect from a mid-size publisher such as Paradox Interactive. Especially the second half of his talk was littered with tips and tricks about how to work with a publisher as a game developer. For example, he revealed that at Paradox, what they look for are developers where there is a potential for long term relationships. He also outlined that Paradox doesn’t want to just fund development, and then be done with it. They search for developers that want to work with Paradox for more than the money. “If they just want the money, they should find a bank or investor instead,” Berglén explained.
He then went on to quote what is probably the most useful quote ever to emerge from a Steven Seagal-movie. In this case, the quote was used in “Under Siege 2″, where Seagal’s character, the ex-Navy Seal Casey Ryback, is thrown off a train by the bad guys and presumed dead (which he of course isn’t), to which the main bad guys reply that “Assumption is the mother of all f*ckups!”. According to Berglén, this goes for game development as well.
Former head of Nintendo of America‘s digital distribution business and content strategy, Dan Adelman, also had bunch of advice for upcoming indie developers in his talk, aptly named “Business Fundamentals for Indies”. One of his many suggestions for developers trying to get their games out, was to begin networking and talking to people a long time before release, and not just when you need their help. He compared the aforementioned situation to living next door to someone for 10 years, but only engaging in conversation with them, when you need to get something from them.
All in all, last Friday marked an impressive debut for the organizers of the conference, even if the list of speakers din’t really center around any coherent theme. Because even so, the people they had been able to get on stage, represented an impressive cross-section of both the traditional and the indie side of the business, with a slight overweight of the latter. So if they can keep it up, there is no doubt that next year’s Select/Start PLAY will be one game development conferences in Denmark, you don’t want to miss.