The Game Developers Conference is an event that many companies are unaware of. Outside game development of course. The idea that there's enough to talk about to create a whole conference on game development surprises many, while the fact that this year there were more than 20,000 delegates can cause honest astonishment.
Affectionately known as 'GDC' to its thousands of attendees, the show gives game developers a chance to explore the latest tools, technologies and strategies for designing, creating, distributing and supporting games for this vast array of devices. There are presentations and talks from the luminaries, visionaries and gurus of the games world, as well as a show floor decidedly less formal than almost any other business conference you care to name.
Game development is big business these days. The industry is no longer confined to Xboxes, PlayStations and back bedrooms these days. Games have grown and evolved to reach almost every digital device. From mobile phones, tablets and web browsers to consumer electronics and social networks, it's now very difficult to buy a new gadget which doesn't allow you to play games on it. Games development is also a serious business. The 2012 event reflected this rapid evolution and massive growth. There were companies attending from every corner of the interactive entertainment sector. Mobile gaming is now an accepted, respectable part of the overall games industry, while the emerging 'indie' sector was celebrated with its own festival and awards ceremony within the larger conference. Even the social gaming market, which was an interesting but insignificant new trend only a couple of years ago, was now front and centre of the programme, with a dedicated conference track.
Issues including creating free to play games, the sale of virtual goods, supporting a social game, creating original content and focusing on players were presented and discussed. Heavyweight speakers from some of the industry's leading publishers and the world's largest media companies were on hand to explore the incredible growth in the social gaming market.
The results were fascinating. The development community has seen a year of firsts and huge achievements within the social market. From player numbers reaching unheard of highs, through to Zynga's IPO, social gaming is demanding more attention and more respect.
For Huzutech it was a great affirmation that the social gaming sector will be one of the high growth aspects of the games industry for some considerable time to come. More and more consumers are discovering that free-to-play online games can be accessed and enjoyed as part of their daily digital lives. This is drawing increasing numbers of media companies, brand owners and license holders into the market, which is, in turn, making it more attractive for development studios.
While this currently means simple, often turn-based games, with social attributes such as high score tables, multi-player modes and wall posts, a growing number of companies are looking the larger experience, as well as the meta-game or community around the actual title.
Forums and communities are now longer the focal point of online games. Players are migrating to 'distributed' communities, which encompass multiple social networks and online channels.
Even Zynga joined in the clamour around multi-platform gaming, with broad hints being dropped that it may consider its own platform in the near future, or bring its titles to the existing consoles.
All of which shows the brand owners have recognised that a user's online experience has to be richer and more sophisticated and offer far more than a 'play and forget' experience. They need, in short, a virtual world, in which users can compete, collaborate and participate in multiple activities, join games, explore and enjoy a broader and more inclusive experience than currently offered.
The 'mainstream' games industry retains a certain level of cynicism regarding the content of the current generation of social games. Yet the social gaming track at GDC was very well attended and pulled in some of the market's most high profile speakers.
Huzutech was overwhelmed with the level of interest and enquiry from participants at the event. From the license holders to start-up developers and technology companies, it would appear social gaming's time has come in the wider interactive market.
Roll on 2012!