The Games Developer Conference (GDC) has come and gone. Which top 5 game trends, as Charlie Sheen would say, are the #winners at GDC? And what game trends didn’t make the cut?
It may be pain to develop for and the billing infrastructure is still not up for snuff, but the hottest trend of GDC this year is Android. Everyone I spoke plans to release games for Android handsets and tablets.
Google should be given credit for improving the micro-transaction infrastructure and they had a huge presence at GDC (Apple, announcing the new iPad 2, was no where to be found).
The reason everyone is gung-ho about Android is that there will be more Android than iOS handsets and tablets sold this year due to their open system and there is a feeling that the iOS space too crowded for any new developer to get noticed. Android on the other hand… is a wide open field.
iOS Game Publishing
Every game company that has remotely had success on the iPhone wants to be an iOS game publisher.
Why? As mentioned, the iTunes market is too crowded for any app to get noticed. Unless you spend big marketing dollars, have a big company behind you sharing the risk, give your game away (which sort of defeats the purpose of making money) or wait for lightening to strike (for example, Tiny Wings), good luck getting into the iTunes Top 50 Lists.
Enter the publishers, who can share the risk, provide support, and fund marketing and even development. Which, of course, is ironic, since Apple’s 70-30% split was supposed to empower developers and make publishers obsolete.
Of course, not all publishers are bad. EA Partners plans to spend big money to fund iOS game development, Fuse showed me an amazing analytics program that would be a huge value add to any developer partner, and Playphone is offering a social mobile platform and a $10 million marketing fund for its partners.
Mobile Social and Location
I didn’t need to attend GDC to know that 2011 is the year of mobile social (playing Facebook style games on your mobile phone), but GDC confirmed it.
What’s interesting is how mobile social is going to develop. We saw many games that are being developed to be played cross-platform, between the iPhone, Android, and in sometimes, Facebook. The coolest cross-platform game I saw was Blackstar (screen shots do not do it justice).
We also are starting to see mobile social games that integrate geo-location (the upcoming, Nightclub City: DJ Rivals, though not sure how mass market DJ culture is) and alternative reality mobile games (Shadow Cities). We know people like to check in via location on their phones. Now game companies are developing game apps to make checking in fun.
Everyone else is working hard at creating critter games, or games that involve cute little critters like birds, squirrels, monkeys, generally doing physically violent things to each other in a cute way. A good example is Namco’s upcoming Bird Zapper.
The big trend around gamification (which is adding gaming elements to non-gaming experiences) is that a lot of people seem to hate it. Apparently, it’s not enough of a game for the true game developers to like it.
My observation is that if enough game developers bash something as not a game at GDC, it means it will be super successful. Last year, the gaming intelligentsia bashed social and Facebook games as not real games. Before that, it was casual games that was destroying the video game industry. Both social and casual games, of course, are worth billions of dollars a year in revenues a year while the traditional video game market stands still.
So, buck up, gamification companies. Based on how much hate you felt at GDC, you are going to have a very big year (and get the last laugh).
The Biggest Losers
Take this with a grain of salt, but not one company I talked to is developing a game for Facebook because they think the marketing costs are too high. It could also be that people people that Facebook games is a mature market and that it’s challenging to compete with the likes of Zynga. I saw a lot of cool games that are coming out on Facebook, but only from the big players or if tied to a mobile version.
Also, not many people, aside from game developers based in Russia or Eastern Europe, are bullish about the downloads market. In fact, I felt like I was the biggest cheerleader of downloads at the show. Personally, I think 2011 will be a big for Downloads and I’m very gung-ho about the impact of cloud services (for example, Spoon), and expanded casual game services, such as Direct2Drive, Google Chrome, and Mac game apps, on the downloads market.