CoFesta 2007 report

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A funny thing happened at the CoFesta event in Tokyo. Of the four Americans they had invited to speak, three of us wound up talking about very similar things. We hadn’t planned it that way, but Robin Hunicke, Raph Koster, and myself all ended up giving presentations about making videogames more available and interesting for more people. It was a very weird coincidence, and wound up feeling like a block of planned-out content that culminated with Raph’s speech about his exciting new venture, Metaplace.
My presentation had evolved gradually and then solidified very quickly in the final weeks before the event. The event organizers had very graciously invited me to talk about “whatever I felt like”, but I suspect they might have thought I would talk about engineering, since that is largely my background. However, freed from my previous speaking constraints while working at other companies, my overarching interests came to the fore. (No company I’ve worked for has ever deliberately curbed my self-expression; it’s just that when working for a larger company one has to be more careful about what one says so that you don’t accidentally end up in the press or in the financial reports. 😉 ) The presentation I gave was called “Democratizing Game Development”. But really, it should have been called “How do we make creating and sharing games available to everyone, everywhere?”
In the past month I’ve been exploring games created around the world. Games that were created by small groups and large, “serious” and not-so-serious, and I found the differences in games produced in different cultures to be fascinating. The game produced by Gwimgrafx in Kenya, by the Islamic Student Association in Iran, by W3dtek in Lebanon… they all tell stories about the culture they came from, whether deliberately or not. These games told me things about the people who created them, and educated me about the concerns that they have, about the issues they face in their lives.
But game development is expensive, and it is complicated. So there aren’t many games like these. But what if game development was simpler, and what if distribution was easier? What more could we learn about the world through the games made by people? Could we learn things about other people, other cultures, and bring people closer together? This was the soul of my talk, and I started out by approaching it from the big picture, then dived into nitty-gritty technical details of how we might be able to achieve this at the end. I really enjoyed the experience of putting the talk together, and have some plans to continue my exploration of this.
Robin’s approach was with respect to playing games – how can we make games more appealing, to a wider variety of people? She had a wonderfully sticky metaphor, calling traditional AAA “big” games “chocolate cake games”. These are games that are big and rich and that perhaps you can’t eat all of in one sitting – but they are satisfying huge experiences. Robin considers herself now more of a “box of chocolates” gamer. She prefers smaller experiences, and a wider variety of them that she can pick and choose from. Neither type of games is inherently superior; many game players have liked both at some point in their lives, or like both simultaneously now. Robin explored the differences between these styles of games, as well as her own evolution as a game player and how her current preferences influence the kinds of games she likes to create.
Finally, Raph’s presentation at the end of the day’s sessions was a strong talk that probably could have been used to land venture capital funding (and perhaps was!) It really seemed to be an exploration and justification of the reasoning that surrounded Raph’s decision to found his new studio Areae, and create Metaplace. It was very strong, and I won’t attempt to summarize it here – let’s just say that the conclusion of his presentation was that he founded Areae and created Metaplace in an effort to solve both the problems that Robin and I had brought up. Hahhahhhaa 🙂 So that was a pleasant surprise.
One of the attendees mentioned to me afterward that he felt like Robin and I had “rolled out the red carpet” for Raph’s talk. That hadn’t been by design, but the experience does suggest that the issues we raised are real ones, and that we as an industry are exploring new and creative solutions to these new challenges. I think they are good problems to have, frankly, and I am looking forward to Raph’s solutions, as well as others to come.