Last Thursday was the Northern Exposure conference, which focused more on the business side of games development. I had purchased tickets mainly out of curiosity as the only conferences I've been to in the past have been the technical variety, and I thought it wouldn't hurt to get a feel for the "other side" of things.
The day started well... I got up, walked into the kitchen and wondered why I was standing in a puddle of water, swiftly realizing that the door on my over-stuffed freezer was jammed open, not enough to set off the built-in alarm, but more than enough for the entire freeze to defrost. Not a good start.
Fortunately I'm an earlier riser and the conference starts late, which gave me time to resolve the situation by cleaning up the water, recovering things that could be cooked that day or otherwise rescued, and slamming the door on the rest to deal with later.
The conference itself was held in the Great Hall of Newcastle's Discovery Museum. I haven't been there before so I was looking forward to poking around before the conference; unfortunately it doesn't open until 10 which was when the conference itself started. Fair enough I thought, I'll poke around afterwards. Fast forward to the end, around 5 or so, and when I came out the hall it was to be greeted with an empty and shutdown museum. Le sigh... maybe next time.
The Morning Sessions
So, the conference itself. I didn't have any expectations up front and I was pleased with how small it was, both in terms and content. The number of attendees wasn't large; bigger than user groups I've been too, but smaller than things like DDD North. There was also only a single track of talks which meant I was very happy knowing I wasn't going to miss out on anything, especially as unlike other conferences I've been to this one I had to pay for (another reason why I chose to go, as I can't possibly afford the big name conferences!).
The first talk was by about the do's and don'ts of pitching. It was presented by Colin Macdonald of Channel 4 which was interesting; I didn't know Channel 4 had a games studio.
Next up was Gabrielle Kent. The second talk was about how you can create characters and worlds and take them to other medium aside from video games. I wish this one was a bit more in-depth than it was, but then again perhaps that isn't the point of the conference.
The third talk was the one that stuck in my mind and which is still rattling around my head now. Dante Buckley gave an interesting talk on remote working while creating his game Onward. The poignant part of the talk was its opening line - Take A Chance. I wonder how much of human history owes itself to such a simple phrase? I also wonder if I'll ever pull myself out of my comfortable wheel and take a chance myself. Dante's game isn't my thing, being a multi-player shooter, but his experience building it resonated.
One of the exhibitors was (I think!) Wolf & Wood Interactive Ltd. They had brought a VR headset and gaming rig with various demos. I've never had a chance to use VR before and so at lunch time I bagged a go.
I have to say, it was pretty amazing.
I only had a few minutes on it, but it dispelled most of the misgivings I had, the resolution seemed reasonable, I forgot I was wearing a headset or trailing cable, and I didn't get eye strain. Literally as soon I put the thing on I was fully immersed, except when I kept glimpsing my feet through the bottom of the visor. I evidently need more time to get used to it as I was finding it difficult to pick things up, but once I'd managed to pick up a studded club I was very adept at bashing the heads of target dummies.
Bar hard drives and memory, I haven't upgraded the core of my rig for a few years now (June 2013 was the last time I replaced the CPU) and I had been promising to build myself a Ryzen machine Soon(tm). I think I'll put in a meatier graphics card than I originally planned and try and get a VR headset. Could you imagine playing the Witcher 3 in VR? I bet it would be something. I know Skyrim has a VR edition, but given recent allegations against its composer, I won't be putting any money into that particular property.
This was the highlight of the conference for me and that wasn't even the reason why I'd went!
The Afternoon Sessions
The first afternoon session was by Alex Peters, speaking about SEGA's Searchlight program. Assuming I ever get off my behind and write a game that people would want to pay for, I still suspect I'd never go with a program like this. The Searchlight program is designed to acquire good companies and I've read enough stories about what happens when studios are acquired to know its is almost invariably a death knell. However, in Alex's defence he did state repeatedly that SEGA was playing a long game so maybe they will be the exception?
Alex mentioned he worked at Bullfrog on one of my favourite games (Dungeon Keeper of course). I really wanted to ask him when Peter turned into such a lying scumbag but managed to restrain myself (I am still bitter about Godus).
Becky Jackson gave an interesting talk on the value of art. As someone who's artistic skills are somewhat lacking, this I can appreciate! Another talk that potentially have been longer with more depth I think.
Si Lumb from the BBC gave an interesting talk on media convergence and how streaming will replace everything. I have to confess, it's not entirely a future I'm comfortable with. Thanks to DRM and walled gardens, companies already have far too much control over our content. I want to be in charge of my content, which means no DRM and no streaming, unless it is being streamed from my own servers and I own the content. Unsurprisingly, that means I'm not in the market to buy a Stadia or any other device that doesn't accept physical media.
Next up was a panel on Brexit. No photo as it was just talking heads. I'm not doing politics on this blog and so I'm just going to pretend this didn't happen.
The penultimate talk was by Craig Duncan and covered some things leaders should and should not do, amply described with many a Marvel graphic and quote.
The final talk (and the one with the longest title!) was by Tracey McGarrigan. It was pretty interesting, regarding how the "long tail" can help sales. Strikes me that Spiderweb Software are probably very good at the long tail. Interestingly, Tracey also made the point that you should start talking about your game as soon as you start it, rather than trying to be secretive so people don't copy. This does make sense, but at the same time there is some reality in the fear of being copied, just check any application on any app store you wish... it’s almost a certainty that it has been cloned multiple times. With that said, this was the talk that fascinated me the most, although by the time I ever have anything to market I'll probably have forgotten all the details!
Just as the day started with an incident, it ended with a (minor one) - when pulling the photo's off my phone I discovered I had the wrong size setting and they aren’t very good quality either. Odd, as usually I take better photo's with this phone than I do with my DSLR. As I was sitting at the back of the room and therefore had to use the zoom function, I assume it's a crappy digital zoom. Something to keep in mind for next time!
Speaking of next time, I did enjoy the conference. It wasn't very long (although there was an after party, I skipped this as being in a pub is a terribly dull thing for me) and I would most definitely go again if it returns next year.
One disappointment is that I still didn't take any opportunity to speak to anyone. Part of it was my usual reticence about trying to make small talk or instigate talk with complete strangers, but also I felt like a fish out of water... this was a business type conference and I'm not a business person. Except I am really and I need to think more like one. And I really need to try to speak to people. Oh well, there's always next year...
This post was first published Sunday 15th of September 2019 and was last modified Tuesday 17th of September 2019 at 18:23:48.