GDC Europe 2011 – the Web as a games platform
I attended GDC Europe 2011 in Cologne back in August. If you haven’t run into GDC previously it’s the main games developer event in Europe and comes just before Gamescom which is an absolutely gigantic.
The most interesting topic of conversation was that we’re in a period of considerable change for the games industry as online and the Web become increasingly important. In a panel discussion Martin de Ronde of Vanguard Games summed it up by pointing out that what’s most confusing for the industry is that the period of transition is unclear. But, that the eventual outcome will be a future of many screens, with many platforms and that the aim for developers has to be to provide players with the ability to play anywhere and any time. For Ubuntu this is a very positive perspective as we know we’ll be on many devices and form-factors.
I sat in lots of talks and panels about on-line gaming and the Web – the speed and velocity of change is clearly still controversial. The general perception is that the Web isn’t quite ready for Core Gamers but that it could get there very quickly. Aside from the buzz around online games the other issue is the impact it has on development costs. In one talk about publishers it was pointed out that a PC game costs 2-3 million to develop, while a console game is 8 million (!) or above. Meanwhile, an on-line game will be considerably cheaper at around 500k.
The primary reason given for why Web games aren’t ready is the lack of bandwidth which makes it difficult to deliver a high production value. One insightful point was that the technical limitations mean it’s useful to think about specific genres since some will be easier than others to put on the Web. The costs and revenue potential is also very different, with the opportunity to do long-tail revenue with an online game. For me an implicit issue is that the software stack around “HTML5” is still immature so you’re bound to see issues and incompatibilities – this is probably something that we in Ubuntu have felt the full pain off in the past with Flash!
So where are the opportunities for smaller developers? Well everyone seems to agree that digital distribution is revolutionising the way in which developers can reach players. And that this change is going to be across every player segment and on multiple different plaforms. However, the challenge for developers is that they’ll need to form a relationship with players and do some of the things publishers have previously done – market and sell their game. Luckily the Web is a great platform for this.
From an Ubuntu perspective GDC confirmed that digitial distribution is now considered mainstream, so everything that we’re doing in Software Center and our developer programme is timely. For the future it seems clear that the Web is going to be a major gaming platform which will benefit Ubuntu users as it offers the promise that they can play on an equal footing to everyone else. Clearly, we’ll want to look for ways to influence and get our voice heard on aspects of the technology stack, since it will impact our users in the future. Moreover, our experiences as an alternative platform contain valuable insights for those developing and choosing the future software gaming stack.
Phew! so GDC was great, though it was a bit of a culture shock. Particularly, on the last day when I blearily made my way into the convention centre and in the corner of my eye caught three camels walking along the road – it made me jump in surprise! It turned out they were for free rides during Gamescom. Only at a games conference do you get that sort of marketing!