Wrap-up of the Webgame Conference

Jun 25, 2012
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La Webgame Conference 2012 annonce son programme et ses intervenants

As mentioned a couple weeks back, the Rude Baguette had the distinct pleasure of being selected as a media partner for the third instalment of the annual Webgame Conference.   Olivier Issaly, co-founder of the online games group Owlient (now a part of Ubisoft), had the wisdom to start the conference a few years back and it has grown substantially since.  SNJV has now assumed the organisation and execution of the conference.  This year they really put on a slick, well-organised, must-attend tech event.  The conference was held in the fabulous Gaité Lyrique and had all the bells and whistles that one would expect from a higher-profile tech conference (even simultaneous translation!).  In addition, the conference was extremely well attended and increasingly international, with 30% of its 350 attendees coming from outside of France.  I particularly enjoyed the speakers, who were from diverse parts of the industry.  For me, some of the highlights were:

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– Julien Codorniou, European Head of Gaming Partnerships for Facebook:   As tweeted at the conference, when Facebook talks people listen…you could hear a pindrop in the room during his presentation.   However, the thing that made his talk so interesting was that it was useful.  He did a terrific job of explaining why developers should be developing on Facebook’s Open Graph and why it’s imperative for them to be developing on mobile.  I understand from speaking with developers that Facebook has not always been the easiest to work with.  However, I think their current approach as conveyed by Julien will go a long way in changing that perception.  A couple quotes from Julien that were particularly memorable:  (directed at game developers) “At Facebook we will never compete with you by building games or investing in game companies” and “If you’re not developing on Open Graph and mobile you’re not a real Facebook game developer”

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– Damion Schubert, Lead Systems Designer at Bioware:  Damion came all the way from Austin, TX to speak at the conference.  As his expertise is primarily on the game development side of things, he focused on key advice for the development process.  The overarching theme of his talk was that we often think of hardcore gamers (with a high proportion of ‘whales’) and casual gamers as distinct groups, when, in fact, there’s a lot of ‘whales’ in casual.  Damion’s main point was that “Almost everyone is hardcore towards something” and that for all types of games there is a spectrum of engagement that gamers process through.  As a result, developers need to understand this spectrum for their games and their users and determine how to develop in such a way where they can affect this spectrum (e.g. how to extend the period a gamer is ‘devoted’ to a game or re-engage a gamer whose commitment to a game has waned).

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– Benedikt Grindel, Director of Live Operation at Ubisoft Blue Byte:  Benedikt presented a solid case example of the challenges faced by console or PC game companies as they transition to online games.  What he did a really good job of conveying was that game development is not necessarily the toughest challenge. He stressed that the lack of a flexible organisational structure, resources, and skills required to transition from off-line to on-line can also pose considerable challenges.  Another fantastic thing that Benedikt did was do his presentation in Prezi.  As someone who has WAY more powerpoint experience than I care to admit, I really found that a refreshing change.

– Debates around business models:  At the moment, the hot business model in online and mobile games is freemium, so free-to-play but charging a premium for advanced features, functionality, or virtual goods.  It was really interesting to see throughout the day the speakers not only debate this model, but discuss the pluses and minuses of other models as well such as banner ads, video ads, in-game branding/sponsorship, and subscription.  Although freemium looks at the moment to be the winning model, it’s important in an industry that’s changing so fast to continue to challenge the status quo and debate alternatives.

So the conference was obviously really solid this year.  What are a few things they could change?

– Firstly, I think that it would be great if there was more visibility of smaller, entrepreneurial game studios.  There were some key participants at the conference that small developers need to engage with such as VCs, larger game studios, and game platform groups.  It would be really valuable for all parties if there was some type of forum (beyond networking) that would enable these groups to connect.  To achieve this, perhaps they could incorporate a start-up competition/pitch session, trade-show, and/or smaller break-out sessions focused on topics such as funding, exit strategies, internationalisation, etc.

– In addition, the conference was only one day (in addition to the party the night prior). I think it could easily be two.  There were so many topics that would have been great to have had more debate around – mobile gaming, market differences, future of gaming/trends, how to get your game published, how to increase a game’s visibility, etc.  Perhaps smaller breakout sessions around various topics could be a good way to do this.  This would also give the opportunity to make the conference even more interactive.

So, bravo to SNJV for putting-on a great event that I also should mention is very good value for money (only 100€ if register early… a real deal)!  It’s clear that the conference is rapidly gaining in visibility and notoriety.  We’re looking forward to attending next year and seeing how things will continue to evolve!