Recently I attended the gaming conference Develop 2011 in Brighton. Digital entertainment (movies/music) is something Ubuntu users are excited and interested in. This means there’s an increasing opportunity for developers to create applications that those users want. So understanding the challenges, concerns and opportunities the gaming industry faces and how that might apply to Ubuntu was my focus during the conference.
Perhaps the most immediate thing that struck me is the burgeoning importance of online games. Nick Parker gave an interesting talk on funding development. The slide that stood out the most was one that showed ‘core gaming‘ (think PS3) has now peaked and that online (casual, MMOG, mobile and social) gaming is the real driver of growth for the industry. He pointed out you’re still talking about a core gaming market that’s hundreds of millions of dollars in size but nonetheless the traditional vendors haven’t yet grasped the online opportunity.
Generally, it’s difficult for new platforms to break through into games developers consciousness. At a basic level creating games is risky and expensive so develpoers target platforms with the maximum possible number of sales. To some degree online games offer a way out of this conundrum for alternative platforms: if the browser is treated as the platform then all operating systems have an equal chance. The devil is in the detail depending on the technologies used, Flash is fine from a Linux perspective, WebGL could be great but plugins (such as Unity browser plugin) are more of a problem. Perhaps the best talk I saw which combined these trends was done by Ikka Paananen who talked about the opportunities for immersive play within the browser. If you want to find out what he means try Supercells game Gunshine which works in a browser on Ubuntu just fine – in fact I lost a Sunday afternoon to it!
There also seems to be a lot of optimism about the opportunities for interesting games development: a lot of positive commentary around the opportunities around despite the wider economic conditions. A big part of this was around Indie development, with small teams able to create so much for a relatively small level of investment. A talk by Tony Pearce about raising cash for your game (supported by NESTA) illustrated this, not only was it a great talk but it was absolutely packed with developers.
Reinforcing the positive theme was a very motivating keynote given by Michael Acton Smith the CEO of Mind Candy, the company behind the super-hit Moshi Monsters. First, I’m embarassed to admit that I hadn’t heard of Mosh Monsters, it turns out that if you’re a parent then you know all about them – it’s that big! Of course, he was head-lining because it’s such a massive hit and with a suitably dramatic story where at one point they almost burned out. But, much of his talk’s insight could have been applied to any start-up or group creating new products. I heard two key things, one was that you you should explore the boundaries of your space with creativity, the other one he didn’t say directly but I was struck by how deeply he’d thought about the mechanisms and drivers that power his business. From a pure inspiration perspective the main sense was the essential energy the team brought to the journey as they explored (and continue to explore) creating something for their users. So there it is – explore creatively, think deeply and be energised!