Should we be doing more to recruit new players?

Almost ten years ago I was hanging out with some non-game industry friends and we were playing Buzz! – a well known quiz game at the time. I wasn’t working in the games industry yet, but I was well into writing my Masters thesis on MMORPGs, if not completely finished. I was blogging about games here and I was a contributing writer on two other games blogs. I was giving lectures on games and I was constantly procrastinating reading about games. So my friends cunningly tried to avoid the “Video Games” category in the game feeling fairly confident that I would beat their asses without breaking a sweat. Eventually one poor sod had to go up against me. And you know what? I couldn’t get a single answer right. Not one! I didn’t recognize any of the games that were mentioned and I remember the room becoming eerily quiet. My friends were awkwardly embarrassed for me and I was stunned. The only games that were mentioned were kids games that were associated with kids movies. I had no clue about any of them. I didn’t have kids, none of the games blogs I was reading at the time had even mentioned any of these.

Discussing the awesomeness of Firewatch to the a room who hadn’t even heard of it

I think this is one of the first times I really understood how segmented this industry is. 16640695_10158361202625235_6815700435215193673_nAnd now that I’m in the industry I’m constantly disappointed with the lack of knowledge of indie games when I meet gamers. Last year I was in a panel discussing something about games, I forget the theme, but after the panel had been discussing Firewatch passionately for 10 minutes, I asked the audience who had played or even heard of Firewatch. One person raised his hand acknowledging that he had heard of the game (this may be a slight exaggeration but it was dramatic). We were in a room full of people who play games with a passion.

I remember feeling a bit saddened by this. How can we discuss the awesomeness of games when the general public has only played 1% of them (totally a made up statistic by me)? The value of us discussing it to this crowd is that they probably went home and looked it up after. But it seems too small to me!

With so many indie games struggling to reach profitability and yet the number of gamers seems to be increasing, I wonder if there is something more that we can do to remind the average game consumer that there’s a rich variety of amazing games out there.

From the inside of the industry it certainly feels like the platforms and consoles are doing their best to promote games and they always make sure to bring indie game titles to their shows and more. I think that’s brilliant. But a friend of mine, who recently left the games industry to work for a young and hip internet company called me one day and said with amazement “Linn! These guys haven’t even HEARD of Steam!”.

Defining and reaching a broader market

This has to mean that there’s an untapped market out there, right? How do we tap into that? Here are three of my thoughts on the topic:

  1. A marketing campaign for games in general.
    I sometimes feel like the world of video games is an exclusive club and it’s

    600_245713792

    Taken from a Code Kids event at The Bergen Public Library

    dangerous to tell others about its wonders and gorgeousness. I guess we’ve just been through a scandelous time because of it. I believe that reaching new markets will take some capital investment. Whilst the industry recognizes that it’s the games from the independent game studios that are pushing the boundaries and coming up with new creative gameplay expressions, more often than not, these studios will not have the funds to market to new audiences. Even if they’re signed with a publisher, I believe the marketing budget is targeted at the audiences that they know.
    So I’m wondering if we should gang together and create a campaign to spread the incredible diverse array of games that are out there? I have no idea what it would look like and where to target such a campaign. But I wonder if it would be worth some time and effort to look into what we can do?

  2. More visibility in mainstream media. 
    This is half the reason why I’m so intent on getting more articles about games into women’s mainstream media and magazines. I want games to be more accessible. I certainly don’t want anybody to feel like they don’t have the skills to play games. There will always be room for specialized media for games that has the knowledge and experience to cater to devoted gamers. I would like to expand our reach to more mainstream media as well, but to do this we need to find another form of rhetoric other than consumer journalism. The work that Spillpikene (Norwegian group of women writing about games) has done on this issue is really impressive and should definitely be considered an example.
    I keep having the same discussion with with people in the games industry and journalists. All of us agree, but we never seem to be getting anywhere. Particularly on my end of things. I keep wanting to start things but never truly following through.
    I’m very impressed with what Brie Code is doing by designing games for non-gamers. I love the attitude and vision of her work. But I also genuinely believe that there are so many undiscovered games out there which the sceptics, the ones who think gaming is a waste of time and boring, would love.
    In search of the right rhetoric, I’m currently working on curating a talk for people who’ve always been curious about games – but have yet to understand their appeal. First I’m organizing a dinner with a bunch of local business women I’ve met on my journeys that are keen to get engaged with games, but have yet to understand their appeal. We’ll see where it goes from there.
  3. Festival/Award/ – Sundance/Cannes for games
    I know what you’re thinking! Not another one, right? We’re all already constantly exhausted and jetlagged because of all the trade shows for games! Yeah …. I almost didn’t put this here. It’s just when I think of the films industry I’m not so knowledgable. Sure … I’ve picked up a thing or two from our local film festival and I’ve been a member of a film club or two through my life time, but I’m not one of those that actively seeks out indie films on iTunes or something. I think of myself as a mainstream consumer of film. But when I see the words “Sundance” or “Cannes” on the film – I instantly think that it may be worth my while. I think BAFTA has done some great work there and many many others. But I’m not finding it hitting home among mainstream consumers yet.

Clearly – I don’t have the answers. But I would like to contribute to the conversation and this is my start of that.

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New Kickstarter from Norway

My good friends at Antagonist are in the middle of their Kickstarter campaign and you should definitely support them!
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1854868411/through-the-woods/widget/video.html
It’s a promising game with many very specific nordic features like art inspired by Kittelsen and Hertervig. The nature of and the forest seem to be extremely Norwegian as well as the folklore and mythology that’s put into the game.  But nothing is more Norwegian than these guys with their lumberjack beards and Norwegian sweaters.

Skjermbilde 2015-05-27 19.30.35

They’re a determined group of developers and I believe in them. I believe that they will reach far! I love that audio is such a core game mechanic for their game and it seems they’re trying out some good new ways of thinking about narrative in games. What’s not to love?

They’ve also received some love from the Norwegian game developing community, which says a lot about them. So much love, in fact that a new hashtag was born #ThroughTheBeards. Please join us!!

LinnAntagonist2

LinnAntagonist2

TEDx Bergen

I asked to talk at TEDxBergen months ago but it took me ages to figure out what it was I wanted to talk about – so little room to practice + I was promised a timer on stage – but suddenly realised that there wasn’t one when I needed it!  It’s such an honour to be asked … I hope I get another TEDx chance someday!

My favourite was Jill Walker Rettberg talking about wearables and data! So interesting and well presented!

Observations from the Norwegian game industry

As I’m figuring out what my official thoughts on what we should be doing in Norway to make the industry in Norway grow – I thought I’d use this blog of mine to brainstorm publicly about some of the impressions and thoughts I’ve had along the way. I’m still working through them, so please feel free to share your opinions, thoughts and insight.

The state of Norway

There are 99 companies in Norway working on game development with less than 400 employees. In other words we have a lot of indies with about 4 to 5 people. Norway has one large studio, Funcom, which has moved most of its production to Montreal. Other than that our studios are small and function either as start-ups or as a side company for a larger advertising or tech agency.

That said, there are about 10 independent game studios that have been doing rather well for many years. Most of these have found additional income through “work for hire” from different industries such as education, advertising and, of course, oil. I don’t have official numbers to back me up, but I think the oil industry in Norway gobbles up the best minds in Norway within programming. Understandably so, as it is one of Norway’s top industries next to shipping. They have money, security and prestige. I’m an oil brat myself – so I’m definitely not complaining.

But Norway isn’t very good at the entertainment industry. I feel extremely guilty and unpatriotic towards my country writing that, I mean, we did produce The Fox after all! We have an amazing government that funds the arts and we’re so lucky that they recognise computer games as a culture industry and game developers will in 2014 receive record support of € 3 million. I’m certain that this is more generous than many other countries and we are indeed very lucky. But it’s not nearly enough to build a commercial and sustainable industry. We need to start taking the culture industries seriously and we need to invest in creating a commercial industry that can pay and invest in itself.

And the time is now. If ever there was a time for independent game studios to blossom it is now and Norway has a lot of wonderful talent. We have struck gold talent wise, now all we need to learn is how to polish and make it shine. And also mine it responsibly to sell globally so we can invest in more mining to cultivate more gold. I’m not certain I feel comfortable with the mining analogy – but you get what I mean, we need to think sustainability while selling and growing.

So I’ve spent the last couple of months looking into what other countries do. I’ve had a dream job these last few months, acting dumb and soaking in as much information as I possibly can about the game industry. I have a severe handicap as I’ve never worked for the game industry – only studied it for many years. But luckily I have been so priveleged to meet companions on the way who have been more than willing to share their opinions, experience and outlook with me. Some have been negative and rude, but most have been absolutely lovely and just as idealistic as I am.

 

#Konsoll13

I’m so extremely proud that we’ve successfully managed to put together a game conference in Bergen again this year!

#konsoll13 will be in Bergen 3rd and 4th of October this year! For the observant readers you’ll recognise that this coincides with The Philosophy of Computer Games conference. Same city, same time and a wonderful opportunity for game academics and developers to co-exist in the same space.

This year I’ve received some wonderful help. Yngvill Hopen and John Edward Armstrong have put together a wonderful program with guests such as Ken Wong, Emmy Jonassen, Ernest Adams, Ole Andreas Jordet, Ragnar Tørnquist, Jory Prum, Dag Scheve, Nils Anderssen and our dear friends Alex Trowers and Luke Dicken. We’ll be having talks and workshops simultaneously.

Yngvill will also be this year’s Game Master. We had a great chat this weekend and I guarantee that you will enjoy!

We’ll be in an amazing house called “The Literary House”, which I love! It’s a beautiful place for cultural happenings in Bergen and I’m pleased to offer game developers something so aesthetically pleasing and warm as the back drop for celebrating their craft!

We’re also having a Dragon Den where game developers can pitch their projects to our

Dragons Den illustration by Øyvind Lien from Turbo Tape Games

Dragons Den illustration by Øyvind Lien from Turbo Tape Games

expert panel. We’re already filled up with game developers willing to fight the dragons and there are some suprises in the mix that make me so incredibly happy! I’m also very pleased with this year’s panel which is Alex Trowers, Ernest Adams, Helge Hannisdal (founder of Its Learning) and Tor Ole Rognaldsen representing the film and game fund, FUZZ. Dungeon Master this year will be Bjørn Alsterberg from BTO.

A huge thanks also to Morten Formo who’s designed our wonderful website and will be in charge of media!

There’s so much great stuff happening in Norway these days and you’ll be able to witness all of it by joinging us:

Something’s Brewing in Norway – part 1

Something’s Brewing in Norway – part 2

Something’s Brewing in Norway – part 3

I’m still short on funding though, so if you want your logo with our work – please let me know so that we can make this the best exprience! We offer the following packages:

1) € 1300 for logo on our webpage
2) € 1900 for logo on all our advertising material, screens and t-shirts.
3) € 2500 for all of the above and a stand with roll-up or whatever you wish for.

PAX 2013

I’d really like to go to PAX Prime! I mean … I really really really wanna go. It seems like the perfect injection of gaming inspiration that I need. Since I have no money – I’m looking for creative ways of getting me there so if you have any good ideas – let me know! I can write, talk, network and sell. I think I need about $3000.

There’s two game companies that I adore and would love to work for someday that are going; D-Pad Studios and Rain.

D-Pad

D-Pad’s lovely and gorgeous Owlboy has been picked as one of the PAX10. So incredibly proud of and excited for them! What an honour! I already have an beautiful image in my mind of Phil Fish and Wil Wheaton playing Owl Boy together with huge grins on their faces! Just look at the beauty:

And today they’re releasing the game Savant – which you should play as soon as it’s released!

Rain

Rain will also be there with their upcoming game Teslagrad! I love this game – or I guess it’s more correct that I love where this game comes from and I love that it’s just the beginning of a wonderful world that they’ve created. And I’ve certainly enjoyed playing the game.

They’ll also be at PAX! If you’re there make sure to stop by and be smitten! Thomas and Magnus will be representing and they’re definitely two of my favourites – SO worth taking the time to talk to!

They’re also on Steam Greenlight and they need your vote – so go do that now!

I’m also secretly hoping for both of them to officially release their games at Konsoll 2013.

I really need to come up with a plan to get myself there other than winning the lottery!

James Portnow wants to talk about how good games are

… and we should help him.

James Portnow from Extra Credits (and also much loved speaker at Konsoll 2012) has started a crowdfunding project called “Games for Good“. He wants to create a conversation about games that isn’t reactionary or in direct defence of games, but rather talk about the good that games do in a louder and more accessible voice. He’s observed that politicians in DC aren’t finding experts to educate and advise on game legislation and feels that we should become better at representing the industry. In this campaign he also wants us to start talking louder about games that do good and why. We’re doing something similar here in Norway with the Game Developers Guild – but I’ll write about that after Mr. Portnow explains his vision:

Honestly, I’m rather shocked that the computer game industry isn’t already heavily represented in American politics through lobbyists.

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Something’s brewing in Norway – part 3

This is part 3 of a series where I’m trying to describe the lay of the land of game development in Norway. The more I dig the more astounded I am over the talent that exists here and some of the wonderful projects that are about to burst outta here! For more please read part 1 and part 2.

Moving east we arrive at one of the most exciting game developing companies in Norway, Rock Pocket Games. These days they’re developing the gorgeous looking Oliver and Spike – Dimension Jumpers:

Still not convinced? Here’s some more people drooling:

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Something’s brewing in Norway part 2

In part 1 I started introducing the game developers in Norway starting with Bergen. So far I’ve mentioned Rain (keep an eye out for them at GDC – they’ll be at the Nordic Game stand), D-Pad Studios, Henchman & Goon and Turbo Tape Games. I still have a few more I’d like to mention:

Mentalfish Mentalfish logo

This is pretty much a one-man band named Petter Sundnes. I’ve had the privilege of working with Petter on a few potential projects and I enjoy his visions and game developing skills. We’ve also worked with students together and he’s an excellent and patient teacher  while introducing Unity (I’ve even started dabbling with it). His game mechanic skills are excellent, creativity top notch and management skills are great. I hope to work more with him in the future and is my number one choice to bring along for meetings with potential new clients.

Read more about Mentalfish here.

Vostopia

Vostopia is slightly outside Bergen in beautiful Voss. Vostopia’s founding father is Bjarne Rene who has the most impressive game developing CV that I’ve seen around here. I keep describing him as a person with gravitas, by this I mean he is a man with experience and connections and we all value his opinion greatly. But he’s also a genuinely nice and fun guy who’s very willing to share and contribute to building a sustainable game developing industry in Norway. Here’s a little profile piece from our local paper, BT (again – in Norwegian): http://lisa.bt.no/btmultimedia/prosjekt/vestlendingen/#story_13

Vostopia offers avatars or avatar systems for game developers. They’re very versatile and fun and I think it’s a very smart business idea. Are you creating a game in Unity I would definitely recommend having a look. Here’s their demo reel:

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Video Game Confidential: Susan O’Connor

From http://tedxbeaconstreet.com/susanoconnor
Video Game Confidential
Susan O’Connor

Susan O’Connor knew from the age of four that she wanted to be a writer. What she didn’t know was that she would grow up to work in the videogame industry, where the audience runs wild. “In games, agency matters,” says O’Connor. “Players want to control the action.” Out of necessity and desperation, she (and writers like her) have found new ways to tell their stories.

Like magicians palming quarters, some game developers hide their plots in plain sight. Their sleight-of-hand gives players the freedom they expect and the storylines they demand. But these magic tricks come at a surprising cost. What are these game narratives telling us about our world – and ourselves?

Games in O’Connor’s portfolio have sold over ten million copies and generated more than half a billion dollars in sales. In her thought-provoking TEDxBeaconStreet talk, O’Connor spills the beans about what she’s learned about writing, illusion, and desire.

A native of Austin, O’Connor now lives in San Francisco and splits her time between game projects, TV assignments, and surfing.