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Ten things we learnt at Devcom and Gamescom 2018

Ten things we learnt at Devcom and Gamescom 2018

After six days in Cologne, PCGamesInsider.biz returned victorious and, well, really very tired having spent close to a week running around the Koelnemesse venue.

It a successful week for us with a lot of great content for the site that you can look forward to reading in the coming weeks.

Incidentally, we also walked a total of 42km over that six-day period, collected a huge number of business cards, ate one pork knuckle (5/10, very fatty and a lot of hard work) and drank [REDACTED] glasses of Kolsch.

It was a huge week for the games industry, too, with over 500,000 people coming to Cologne for Gamescom week. In the region of 370,000 visitors from 114 countries stopped by at Europe's biggest games event. Of that figure, 31,200 were trade attendees.

Devcom has also announced that over 2,000 people came to the developer-focused show.


Click here to view the list »
  • 1 The MMO market is about to explode

    When I first joined the games media back at the end of 2013, the MMO market was all but done. Outside of a few big players like Final Fantasy XIV and The Elder Scrolls Online, very few new projects were being greenlit in the sector and the ones that were didn't go on to have much in the way of success.

    All of that has changed in the last few years - and it's down to a combination of factors.

    For one, the MMO format is now proven to work on console thanks to titles like Destiny and The Division, meaning that PC developers now have the confidence to take a risk on a brand new project because the extra commercial clout of the console space - with in the region of 115m PS4 and Xbox Ones under TVs around the world.

    This is also, in part, due to the way that Sony and Microsoft have approached their online platforms for this generation. Speaking to PCGamesInsider.biz, Trion Worlds' boss Scott Hartsman said that rolling out regular updates on the PS3 and Xbox 360 was all but impossible, something that has been rectified with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This means that developers can provide a similar service to how they have historically managed MMOs on PC.

    Aside from the increased market potential, tech innovations now mean that it is simply easier - but not easy - to make an MMO. To pick one example - and no, we're not being paid by them even though we write about them a tonne (but if they fancy spending some cash with us, it'd be welcome!) - Improbable's SpatialOS is allowing smaller developers to achieve some pretty big visions. By having a cloud-tech platform that's ready to use, studios don't have to have as much of the tech infrastructure expertise at the studio. This means that more resource can be spent on actually making a game and thinking about how to innovate and do something different to the crowd.

    Additionally, a company like Jagex getting into publishing with its Partners label means great things for the market with the Cambridge-based game maker focusing on 'living games'.

    While all the above will create a huge amount of competition in the market, the industry will win out as developers are forced to try new and interesting things. But there is the risk that some developers will be burnt and not be able to cut through the noise.

    All of which is to say that a boom is coming, but expect some articles about the MMOpocalypse in about four or five years.


  • 2 Companies need to stop complaining about myths and rumours when they're doing nothing to control the message

    In Cologne this year, PCGamesInsider.biz sat down with several companies - who for the time being will remain nameless - that complained about the number of myths that surrounded their technologies or platforms.

    By and large, these were firms who ran services that were seen as controversial. The press wrote stories about them, forum posts spread false truths about them and ultimately their names were tarnished.

    The thing that these companies have in common is that until recently, they didn't make a great deal of investment in PR. Folks working in comms and public relations in the games space don't have the best reputation - again, unfairly (with a few exceptions) - but they serve a vital purpose. They control the narrative.

    All it would have taken to stop myths emerging around these companies would have been someone emailing journalists or posting on forums to dispute the accusations levelled against their firms. Okay, it might have taken a bit more than that, but having someone offering facts and stats to help control the narrative would have been absolutely invaluable.

    That's changed now - thankfully - but it's going to be an uphill battle before their reputations are cleared.


  • 3 The game dev community is a force for good in these dark times

    It's no secret that we live in some pretty troubling times. In the UK and US, as well as across Europe, there has been a far-right movement that has dominated the public and political discourse for some three years now - four or five if you're in the games industry - which has led to a rise in racism as populist politicians appeal to the population's underlying - and often unjustified - anxieties.

    But the head of Devcom Stephan Reichart has said that games can be a force for good and refuted the notion that racism and ignorance have won.

    "This is not the age of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson or other ignorant politicians, racists or idiots," he said at the show's opening on Sunday, August 19th.

    "This is the age of the most liberal, most open-minded and tolerant group of people I have ever met. This is your age. This is the age of game development. It has never been easier to develop games and it has never been more important to develop games that matter to change this world and to protect our society against all this stupidity out there.

    "Let this age of game development start here and now in Cologne and use your chance to do games that matter."


  • 4 There's finally a practical application for blockchain tech in video games

    As with anyone in the games or tech space at the moment, we're pretty sick of hearing about how blockchain is going to innovate, well, everything and anything.

    Having been to an entire conference on the subject this year, I can confidently say that there isn't really a single good application for this technology in the games space. Well, there's Cryptokitties - and the myriad clones - thanks to the ERC-721 token protocol and a number of titles that use blockchain for item trading, but nothing that really has a real-world application that justifies the use of the tech.

    That's until I met with Robot Cache, a new storefront that is using blockchain to track items - in this case games - as well as acting as a form of DRM. The company, set up by Lee Jacobson and games industry veteran Brian Fargo, uses digital ledger tech to keep a record of who owns a game they have bought from its platform.

    This opens up a wide variety of possibilities. It means that consumers can easily - and based on the demo I saw, I mean easily - sell titles they have bought on Robot Cache's marketplace. Not only do they get some cash from this, obviously, the game's developer and publisher get a cut. Honestly, everyone wins.

    Robot Cache is also aware of the stigma surrounding blockchain tech and is trying to position itself as a legit company in a sector filled with a lot of very sketchy operators. One way it is doing this is by allowing consumers using its platform to mine lend some processing power to mine the Ethereum cryptocurrency - but this is an opt-in process and they themselves reap the rewards of their labour by getting Robot Cache's Iron currency which can be spent on more games or cashed out for real money.

    Honestly, it's a breath of fresh air having built up such cynicism about digital ledger tech in games. Let's just hope Robot Cache delivers on its promise.

    Oh, and for all your blockchain video game news, check out BlockchainGamer.biz.


  • 5 Managing your fanbase is key to your success

    Kicking off the second day of this year's Devcom was Blizzard Entertainment's Saralyn Smith who took to the stage to explain the games giant's approach to making the most of its massive community.

    The senior director for global community broke the Overwatch giant's process into three Fs - Focus, Feedback and Fellowship.

    Focus, Smith says, is "simple, but not easy", explaining that it's important to pay attention to the community at large and the trending conversation. This needs to be a part of every single meeting at the company - not just the community and PR team.

    Additionally, Smith explained that every single voice matters and that Blizzard is always looking for insight from, well, anywhere. One example she cited was the hiring of an "outspoken guild leader" from the EverQuest community. That person was Jeff Kaplan, who now directs Overwatch.

    "Every voice matters - we aspire to live by this," Smith said.

    "Our culture is one where every voice might contribute something. We iterate, we listen, we improve."

    Part of this is getting feedback from the community to help the game - this can be something as simple as having a survey after demos or on-stage Q&As with developers at its Blizzcon event.

    Additionally, it's important to keep an eye on what is going on in the community. Smith said that one kid went to Blizzcon and had a T-shirt signed by the Hearthstone team. They went home and their grandmother washed the top, wiping out the signatures.

    Blizzard's second F is feedback - the idea that you need to listen to the community and get a feedback loop going to know their thoughts. The big, early step that needs to be taken here is establishing communication methods. This is something that Blizzard has been experimenting with for years now, with everything from livestreams to answer questions from the community or videos such a Jeff Kaplan's Overwatch updates. These get millions of views, so the games firm obviously is onto something!

    Additionally, to manage the StarCraft community, Blizzard releases a weekly forum post that questions and complaints from the audience in order to address their concerns. Smith says that this reliable cadence is "very popular and appreciated."

    Having an open conversation on Twitter is also important, with developers often replying to concerns from the community on their own accounts. Even if replying from a game account, Smith says it's important to provide a human response to questions and not avoid the difficult concerns.

    This feedback loop was also vital in the creation of Classic World of Warcraft - the fans were demanding for a 14 year-old version of the game. This was something a small portion of the development team wanted, but because the community wanted it, they got it.

    This doesn't always pay off, however. Smith points to Brooklyn Nine Nine star Terry Crews making references to voicing new character Doomfist in Overwatch. The community was demanding this - as was Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson - but this didn't line up with Blizzard's development schedule.

    The final F is Fellowship - the pay off for all the work that Blizzard does with the community.

    This is about the work that comes from the community, be that memes or fan art. For example, the Overwatch team introduced a new emote based on fan art of in-game character DVA being a Mountain Dew swilling, Dorito munching nerd.

    Blizzard has also been turning to the community to build hype for their games - including collaborating with influencers, journalists and pro-players to reveal new cards in Hearthstone.

    It's also important to support not just the biggest personalities but also those up and coming. A few years ago, Blizzard spotlighted streamer Alliestrasza, who at the time had in the region of 70 followers on Twitch. She was featured on Battle.net and now has 100,000 followers and around 3.6m views.

    "You should also keep your eye out for that up and coming talent and invest in them," Smith said.

    There is, of course, a commercial upside to all this work to engage the community. Smith cited research from Fandom showing that invested gamers spend 230 per cent more than their casual counterparts.

    "It makes sense to keep your community engaged and happy," Smith said, saying that these core players speak up more often, are more influential and are more receptive to marketing.

    "We don't always make community happy but aspire to," Smith concluded.

    "Embrace the great fandom frontier - at Blizzard, we believe that game building is community build and community building makes our world a better place."


  • 6 Having a good community and game is better than $1bn

    As Jagex unveiled its Partners publishing label, the RuneScape maker revealed that that title had generated a massive $1.064bn since its 2001 launch. Not bad at all.

    But speaking to PCGamesInsider.biz, CEO Phil Mansell said that $1bn is cool - but its community and the quality of the game was way cooler.

    "The money is a good signal," Mansell said.

    "We were debating how much we should lead with that figure. It's a validation of what we're good at, it's a validation how RuneScape and now the overall brand are doing - and it helps us transition into Jagex Partners to get out. Money is one bit of the business but you don't get that without hundreds of millions of players.

    "$1bn is a massive milestone, but the real thing underneath is what we do in terms of service to players. You try and fit those things together. Money is great, obviously, but more important is people loving the game and wanting to pay for it. What is $1bn? It's the expression of value and love from your customers."


  • 7 Localising your game just isn't enough - you need to culturalise it

    Video games is a global industry which means projects from one country will end up in nations around the world. Localisation is a long-established and worthwhile process which makes your game, but IGDA alum and Geogrify chief Kate Edwards argues that more needs to be done.

    The industry vet says that localisation makes concepts legible - it's essentially the same product but in a different language. Culturalisation, by contrast, makes these concepts relatable.

    There are different types of culturalisation, too. The first is reactive, identifying and removing elements that will disrupt the user experience. The second is proactive - identifying, adding or removing elements that will make the experience relevant to a local audience. For example, Edwards argues that Bethesda could have replaced the double-headed cow create brahman from Fallout 3 in India with another animal, say a double-headed horse. But instead the developer just totally removed them.

    The final type is proactive which is making entirely new content for a local audience. Marvel tried this a few years ago with a fully-culturalised version of Spider-man for India. This did not succeed, however, as the local audience wanted a culturalised version of Spider-man in New York, not in India.

    More about this in our upcoming interview with Kate Edwards.


  • 8 Indie developers need to do 'crazy shit'

    Smaller developers should do out there projects.

    That's according to Arnold Nesis from Capricia Productions who today at Devcom gave a talk comparing the games industry to the music business.

    The studio CEO and co-founder said that the bands that changed the world are generally the ones who went against the grain and were initially rejected by the mainstream.

    "Do crazy shit - this is what indies are supposed to do," he said.

    "If we go back to the music industry and look at which artists actually made it, we see some really cool patterns. Here are some critics talking about a band: 'They are not merely awful...They are so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art, that they qualify as crowned heads of antimusic'. That was said about The Beatles.

    "The amazing thing is that this story keeps repeating itself over and over again. It happened to every good musician ever - it's not just bands we like, it's bands that changed the course of history and did something dramatic that changed music forever. Jazz was seen as inferior to classical music. Rock was the music of the devil. And metal... well, they were eating bats and stuff. There is a reason why this keeps repeating.

    He continues: "Art, at the end of the day, can only be taught backwards. You can only teach what has been done and what works - you cannot teach what works tomorrow. People try again and again and fail because no-one can predict [the future]."


  • 9 If you don't ask for top talent in your game, you won't get top talent in your game

    Right, so, yes, this year's God of War is a PlayStation 4 exclusive, but it's one of the highest profile releases of 2018 to date and there's a lot of lessons to be learned from its development.

    Speaking at Devcom as the show's opening keynote, Sony Santa Monica creative director Cory Barlog took us behind the scenes on this more refined and narrative-focused iteration in a franchise historically centred on murdering Greek deities.

    Barlog said that it's important to just go for it when it comes to the talent that you want. Burned from his experience on the original God of Wars - when Hollywood and TV talent wanted nothing to do with video games - the developer said that he was reluctant to get in touch with Jeremy Davies to provide his vocal talent for God of War's antagonist Baldur. After trying to find other talent to fill this space, Barlog said that nothing was really working. So he decided to just get in touch with Davies to see about getting him on board.

    "I wrote letters to several Swedish actors that I wanted to get into the game but lots of roadblocks kept coming up - scheduling, they weren't interested or didn't want to leave the country," he says.

    "I thought about Jeremy Davies - we figured he wouldn't even talk to us, but we decided to just put it out there. It was then that I realised I had made a mistake - you should always, always, always pursue someone you want. You never have any idea whether it is going to work. I rang Jeremy for a 20-minute call and we ended up talking for two hours. At the end of that, he said we should work together because we both think creatively."


  • 10 No-one is really sure why Devcom exists

    Devcom debuted in 2017 and replaced the GDC Europe event, which was centered on games development. After a few years of diminishing audience figures and dwindling sponsorship, UBM, the company that owns the brand, pulled the event.

    Enter Aruba Events, which has decided to put on its own development show.

    Last year this was a pretty tame affair - to be expected as it was the first year - that spanned five days but the 2018 edition was reduced to just two.

    The event attracted some pretty big speakers, including Sony Santa Monica's Cory Barlog and Saralyn Smith from Blizzard Entertainment, and the show floor was packed out with some really interesting indie titles, as well as a reasonably impressive crowd. But speaking to people in Cologne last week, no-one really knows why Devcom exists.

    One of the reasons for GDC Europe's slow demise was the exponential growth of Gamescom. That show has expanded greatly over the last few years, taking over more and more halls in the Koelnmesse venue, and that's to say nothing of its growing number of attendees. Having a separate event purely for indie developers that takes place right at the start of the week makes little sense, especially as it feels very distinct Gamescom show. And let's be realistic - that's the reason people are in Cologne for the week.

    None of which is to put the boot into Devcom - as mentioned before, it was a bustling show that attracted high profile industry reps. But it hasn't a USP yet - it hasn't got that something that really justifies its existence. Perhaps moving forwards it should be more closely tied to Gamescom. 

    Still, for a show that's only been going for two years, Devcom certainly shows some promise and is already attracting the names and people it needs to grow in the future. 

    Disclaimer: PCGamesInsider.biz's Alex Calvin and PocketGamer.biz's Iain Harris were flown out to Cologne and back by Devcom, and they paid for our accommodation for two nights.


Editor - PC Games Insider

Alex Calvin launched PCGamesInsider.biz in August 2017 and has been its editor since. Prior to this, he was deputy editor at UK based games trade paper MCV and content editor for marketing and events for London Games Festival 2017. His work has also appeared in Eurogamer, The Observer, Kotaku UK, Esquire UK and Develop.

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