The Threadbare Games team (well, most of us anyway) went to PAX Dev and PAX Prime. It was fun, exhausting, and informative.
PAX Dev was surprisingly useful given that it was small. Usually I expect a 80/20 split between useless sessions and useful ones. This was closer to 50/50. Of especial interest was a great session on funding from Proletariat Games (spiritual kins to Threadbare) and an interesting (if sometimes rambling) talk from Randy Pitchford of Gearbox. Much to digest.
Prime itself was a non-stop onslaught of overstimulation. I LOVED the indie section; we’ll try to be there next year.
The best part of PAX, however, was the late night team conversations we had. As a team of folks new to making games it was really interesting to soak in the world for a bit and realize the vast wealth of things we have to learn.
It echoed a lot of points that I’ve been experiencing as an experienced tech/product guy but a neophyte to the gaming industry. First, making games IS hard and it IS different from making a non-game consumer app. Primarily in the need to have a ‘fun’ Minimum Viable Product (i.e. the smallest fun thing that can be used for testing) before you can get market feedback. Games, however, are not film. They’re not TV. They’re not built on the back of the narrative that a writer develops, they’re built on the back of a technology that a team develops.
I can’t speak to the publisher angle much as we’re an indie shop and are publishing our own stuff. However, as a small shop we ride the fiscal razor’s edge. We HAVE to constantly make the best fiscal decision we can, or close down. Sometimes that means killing a project because it’s going to take too long, sometimes it means doubling down on something we find less shiny than our newest project, sometimes it means spending a few weeks making the code better so we can make later changes faster. All of those decisions MUST have input from all the disciplines involved in making a game. They can’t purely come from the business side. Nor can our designer decide solely what must be built.
If a dev team is put entirely at the behest of the business team (as it appears in the dev/publisher dichotomy in games) then there will be tension between the two. Unhealthy tension since their goals aren’t necessarily unified. Business folks have to remember that games must be fun to be successful, devs must remember that games have to address a market at the right time, and designers must remember that perfection can’t be achieved. Everyone is trying to achieve the same thing, make fun games that people want to play at a price they’re willing to pay. In short, everyone wants to make successful games.
Our team is small, just 6 in-house folks (and a smattering of part-time assistance), but we’re a balanced team. Devs, business, and design are all required to make our games exist. Without the important contributions of each, our games wouldn’t be successful. As an industry we have to move towards a more balanced team approach. Games need d4s as much they need d20s. We can’t point fingers and perpetuate “us vs. them” thinking. Good teams make better games. We’re all in this together.