Investment, fan feedback, growing the Polish games scene, China and much more: Here's what we learnt at Digital Dragons 2019

Investment, fan feedback, growing the Polish games scene, China and much more: Here's what we learnt at Digital Dragons 2019

On Monday May 27th and Tuesday May 28th, the Polish games industry descended upon Krakow's ICE Congress Center for Digital Dragons 2019.

The two-day event saw talks from the likes of Obsidian's Josh Sawyer, investment giant Paul Bragiel, Superhot Team's Tomasz Kaczmarczyk and many more that we sadly weren't able to see. That's on top of discussions about the state of the Polish games industry and what needs to be done to sustain and grow this market.

Oh, and there was lots of networking, partying and wandering around the truly beautiful city that is Krakow.

Here are some of the things we have learnt from our two days at Digital Dragons 2019

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 How to market your game in China when Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked (and no-one likes Twitch)

    How to market your game in China when Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked (and no-one likes Twitch)  logo

    China is seen by most of the Western games industry right now as the Holy Grail. There's a wealthy middle class with cash to splash and the region is potential lucrative for the right product.

    But WhisperGames CTO Xianzhe Li says that for developers and publishers looking to promote their games in China, it's a whole different ball game to back home due to the fact that many of the social media platforms that are popular in the rest of the world are either blocked or are not popular in China.

    "Social networks are very helpful when it comes to marketing your game in China, however, Facebook and Twitter are blocked so you need to use Sina Weibo," Li said.

    "Almost every Chinese media outlet has a Weibo account, so you can reach them and try and get some coverage of your game in China. You don't necessarily need to use Chinese language, but of course, if you have Chinese language support, it'll be better for communicating with your audience."

    He continued: "YouTube is also blocked in China and nearly no-one watches Twitch. All Chinese players tend to use Douyu or Huya. These kinds of streaming platforms, however, require a big budget investment. The good thing is that unlike Western streamers, big Chinese streamers are always signed exclusively with the platform. The biggest streamers on Douyu or Huya are signed with the platform, so you only need to talk to the platform rather than the streamers individually. This also means you don't have to pay them one-by-one with different prices - you just need to negotiate with the platform to see about arranging events with them. There are also some cases where you don't need to input too much budget and just send keys to platforms. If they see your game is interesting, they will help because the platform is always looking for content. They're seeking the next big hit on their platform. Individual streamers are maybe looking for payment."

  • 2 Poland should be making billion-dollar companies (and why investors don't get involved in games)

    Poland should be making billion-dollar companies (and why investors don't get involved in games) logo

    There's already a number of wildly successful games companies in Poland but investor Paul Bragiel believes that more needs to be done to create billion-dollar companies in the region.

    In a fireside chat, the money man – who announced a new $100m fund for Polish companies called Smok Ventures at Digital Dragons – said that the next generation of founders need to be wildly ambitious with their plans.

    "I don't want to work with people who want to make small games; I want people who want to build a company," he said.

    "Some people want to just make a cool game and that's awesome - everyone should do that. Some people want to stay indie as fuck, but some people want to build a true company. How do we go out there and get into the next Supercell? That's a billion-dollar company. That's what I want and that should be the ambition of Poland. The Polish people should be asking: 'How the fuck do we make billion-dollar companies here?'. There are a few already - some of the old-school ones - but with the next generation, we need to take it to the next level."

    Bragiel also discussed why there were comparatively so few investors in the games industry, both in Poland and around the world, saying that it's a business that a lot of money men simply don't understand.

    "I see a lot of similarities between technology and the divide between Silicon Valley and San Francisco," he explained.

    "Some people invest in technology; some invest in movies. People don't know how to evaluate a good game. Of the Polish VCs, no-one I know has ever spent time in a games studio. If you've never touched the games industry, you don't know what it takes. It's really hard for you to evaluate something right? Secondly, people say games is a hit-driven business. That's partially true, but it depends on how you look at it. If you go out and build a portfolio, some of the winners will pay off for the losers. You need to get your head around that personally rather than betting all your money on one or two companies. Another reason why people avoid the games industry is that a lot of people in the games industry don't want to build big companies; a lot of people are here to create cool games but they don't think about the business aspect of it. A lot of venture capitalists don't take these companies seriously as a result. If more developers had the mentality of wanting to go out there and build a powerhouse company, VCs would come in more regularly."

  • 3 Be careful about the feedback you get from your most dedicated fans

    Be careful about the feedback you get from your most dedicated fans  logo

    Game developers need to be careful with the feedback they get from their most hardcore fans.

    That's according to Obsidian Entertainment director Josh Sawyer, who said in session discussing Pillars of Eternity 2's launch that the studio had a backer beta for users that helped crowdfund the title on Kickstarter.

    The development vet said that the feedback you gain from this audience needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, with the same being true for projects in initiatives like Early Access.

    "There's some tricky things about backer betas - it's very limited content and it's a very limited audience," he told the audience at Digital Dragons.

    "Anyone who has done Early Access also knows there are dangers to this. For those of you who want to do this type of thing, understand that your audience is self-selected to the most hardcore and enthusiastic people. They give very big feedback, but it is also feedback for psychotic gamers. They have the strongest opinions, they're going to grind your game into the dust. It is very valuable, but it can skew your understanding of how your game plays for a wider audience. Also, the longer a beta goes on for, it becomes a well-trod path. Unless you're going to put a load of new content out every time you update the backer beta, people are going to run that over and over again and it can lead to a very strange perception of difficulty, for example, or quality of writing. No writing seems that great if you've seen it 20 times. There's a little bit of a problem sometimes with content that is overused and over-iterated on."

  • 4 Poland needs to get better at developing and keeping junior talent

    Poland needs to get better at developing and keeping junior talent  logo

    Poland has some real game development talent, but the country needs to do more to train junior talent as well as keeping them in the country.

    That's according to a panel about the state of triple-A in the region, during which Denis Larkin (right), the chief commercial officer at Keywords-owned Sperasoft, said that the big companies in Poland should be collaborating to educate and train younger game developers.

    "I truly believe that each studio should come up with an internship programme and do them on a persistent basis, even if it is two people in Wroclaw. It's important to start doing it," he said.

    "We also have an isolated approach, where each studio works on its own and aren't collaborating towards contributing to the talent here, growing it and building the future. There are a few things we could potentially do a bootcamp, with each studio contributing its own strengths. One might be great at VFX, another might be an expert in Unreal Engine development. There's competition between the studios, but this is about developing the industry over the next five to ten years. Also, if other world-class studio come here and open offices, it's great for the region."

    Meanwhile, Pixel Crow co-founder Maciej Miąsik (above far right) said that it might be worth talking to Poland's government to see about making the country attractive to big companies, but also into investing in the industry in general. One of the issues he sees is developers leaving Poland once they've been involved in one successful game as they have become a valuable asset.

    "People are realising that the money is being given away all over the place, so it's wise to get our share," he said.

    "We understand that if we try to control the industry or advise the government to spend their money in a wiser way, we can get some pretty good results for everyone involved. We also have a problem with losing talent. We are bleeding talent. We are very capable in triple-A development, but every time they release a new title, a lot of people will leave and go to the West. They are becoming very valuable assets for other companies. I don't see an easy way to prevent that."

  • 5 Share x sheets with programmers if you are doing 2D animation

    Share x sheets with programmers if you are doing 2D animation  logo

    Studio MDHR's Cuphead is without a doubt one of the most beloved indie titles of the last few years, wowing the games community with its animation and art style that was reminiscent of cartoons from the 1930s.

    Speaking at Digital Dragons, one of the project's five animators Tina Nawrocki said that it was only at the end of the game's development that they learnt there was a way of making life for its programmers.

    "In 2D animation, we do timing charge to figure out what our ease-in and ease-out points are, but we also use exposure sheets (x sheets)," she said.

    "It's a spreadsheet and you write down the frame and what the action is. I'd do that for myself, because that's how I was taught, as did [fellow Cuphead animator and Disney vet] Hanna Abi-Hanna, but it turns out that the programmers would have loved to have had those because then they'd know what all the frame numbers were, when there was a loop, when there was a repeat. They were frame-by-frame looking through our Quicktime videos and writing down what was happening in individual frames themselves. We didn't know they were doing that, so we should have just given them the x sheets."

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.