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AGDC: Notes From Fighting The Last War

Everyone likes World Of Warcraft. Or drinking heavily.

In his talks, Raph Koster bemoaned more than once how Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime’s keynote address was to a full house, while Sulka Haro and Min Kim (of Habbo Hotel and Kart Rider fame, respectively) gave audiences to less packed audiences, which is a mistake since Habbo and Kart Rider have an equal if not greater impact on the greater market. The cynical part of me would note that this may be due to people not showing up first thing on Day 2 and Day 3 due to parties on Day 1 and Day 2. Still, trade shows have a disturbing trend of having a *theme*. Last year’s AGC theme was “Second Life! Make more!” This year’s AGDC theme was “Web 2.0! It’s the future! Adapt! Now!” Which ironically enough, was Raph’s talk *last* year. Most of us are slow. We obsess over what the big news was last year, much like hidebound militaries that always train to fight the war that they just got finished with.

Morhaime’s address was, well, um. I liked Rob Pardo’s keynote last year. So did Morhaime, as much of his was cribbed from it. He also reinforced some points that literally everyone watching the presentation should know. “Blizzard is known for polish.” “You probably shouldn’t release your game early.” “You may want to consider having a test server.” Then again, I bet Morhaime drives a much fancier car than I do.

Raph Koster explains it all for you

So if you want to know what everyone else is going to be frantically waving their arms about next year, it seems prudent to check out what Raph is talking about this year. Unfortunately it won’t be much help, because Raph took the year off from throwing bombs about the industry’s future to explaining just how to make one of those Web 2.0 things everyone else is waving their arms about. You can get a good sense for it from the slides here. Thankfully Raph isn’t one of those speakers that reads-every-slide-point so it went along at a much faster clip than the presentation would imply.

I’m not sure all of this was relevant for MMO developers in the classic sense; but as another presenter said it seemed there were two warring conferences anyway, and though Raph has his feet in both, he’s pretty clearly spending his time thinking about the web side of things at this point. Still, there was quite a bit of good takeaway even for those of us who still obsess over combat resolution tables and permadeath arguments, mainly in the wisdom of seperating interface from core design and developing massively parallel game systems rather than trying to force everything into a traditional competitive model (which I think is actually part of World of Warcraft’s success).

Damion Schubert talks about cup holders

Proving that we will listen to Damion talk about anything, we then listened as he gave a gloriously, wildly unfocused talk on online game design. The whole thing. It’s a tribute to Damion’s skill as a presenter and the strength of his ideas that this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. His talk veered wildly from tips on reducing decision points for players leaving your game (hint: you probably can’t do a lot about guild drama or little Timmy discovering girls are cool) to adding a new combatant to the game vs world debate, namely”community”, or the social aspect of games. He postulated that all game communities drive their games to the natural center of game vs world vs community in terms of requested/demanded features; not something I personally agree with (the demands of Maple Story customers are somewhat different from those of Star Wars Galaxies players) and also explained how you could learn a lot about customer satisfaction from cup holders. Specifically, how they fit in cars (or don’t) and how repeat car buyers tend to check for comfortable cup holders and comfortable MMOs.

Parties, feh

Didn’t do too much of the party circuit this year; mainly because I’m a cranky old man who likes drinking at home where pants are optional. I did try to score a ticket to the CCP/White Wolf party solely on the recommendation of people who said the White Wolf party at GDC was a Fellini-esque spectacle of debauchery, but (a) it was actually much like every other party at AGC, namely a lot of geeks crowded into a hot open bar, and (b) White Wolf wanted you to leave a resume with them as collateral. Well, to paraphrase Lucien LaChance of the Dark Brotherhood, dear brothers, I do not distribute resumes, I collect them. So my partying was limited mostly to friends and associates, which is probably as it should be.

CEOs Gone Wild

AGDC’s improvement on last year’s rant session was to have CEOs do the ranting. My takeaway from this is that you probably shouldn’t let your CEO out in public. (I was the one who asked the Q about WoW RMT.)

CMP, feh

AGDC was under the new management of the GDC folks this year (as noted by it being AGDC and not just AGC) and the experience wasn’t a good one. The convention was vastly overbooked, with the exact same amount of space as last year, combined with (at least from anecdotal observation) at least a good third as many more people. What this meant was that if you didn’t run from one session to another, you weren’t going to get a seat. More than once I simply couldn’t attend any sessions because I didn’t show up 20 minutes early and was turned away at the door. The pinnacle of this was when I was seated patiently at one along with a full house of others, only to be told 5 minutes after its scheduled start “Sorry, it’s cancelled.” Oh well. Since game developers are notorious slackers who have the attention spans of gnats this did improve as people started blowing off the conference, especially on Day 3. But still, it was quite irksome to not actually be able to take advantage of the conference pass my company paid for. I did get to have some interesting bull sessions with other developers, but, um, living in Austin I do that all the time already.

I routinely recommend to online game developers that if they attend one show a year it should be AGC. I probably still do now, after this year, but it will be with reluctance and caveats. AGDC is more like GDC than AGC now, and for those keeping score that is not a good thing.