Lessons from GDC and Games Connection America 2018

27 Mar 2018, in Events

Last week we attended both Games Connection America and GDC in San Francisco. Games Connection is a deal making event with a strong presence of indie developers and medium sized game publishers. GDC (Game Developers Conference) is an explosion of technology and industry knowledge packed into 3 intense days. This is the 5th year in a row we attend both shows, and hereunder go some lessons we have learned from this year’s editions.

As a newbie to the games industry, this was my first GDC attendance. I was blown away by how big this industry is, and how many different aspects there are to it: tech, art, social, marketing, etc.

Albert Feliu, Co-Founder at PlayCom

Games Connection America this year had a significantly lower attendance than previous years. We are unsure if this has to do with an overall consolidation in the market towards fewer and larger developers and publishers, or just with a downward trend of this specific event. When talking with indie developers, it is striking that many of them are mainly building games for the love of the art, and have little or no focus on important aspects like monetisation or marketing. The conference was rather disappointing for us, with only one valid sales lead and little valid lessons learnt.

GDC on the other hand exceeded expectations, as always. An entire month would not be enough to absorb all the available knowledge, and to meet all the partners, clients and industry leaders. Here go 6 takeaways from walking the floor, attending talks and meeting smart people.

Lesson 1. The Battle Royale gameplay genre has entered the mobile space with force, and may impact the market in 2 ways. First of all in the graphical and gameplay quality of the games. Little by little mobile games are closing up on PC and console in overall user experience. Secondly in monetisation mechanics. Whereas free-to-play monetisation mechanics for mobile typically favour stats based competition, games like Fortnite clearly stuck to a pure skill based experience, with monetisation not affecting competition.

Lesson 2. Mobile games as a service. As mobile gaming evolved to free-to-play, lifetime of games has grown significantly longer. Successful mobile games are ecosystems with communities millions of dedicated players, and require a games as a service approach in all aspects of the game: operations, community management, content publishing, etc. This will create many opportunities for both large corporations and start-ups.

Lesson 3. VR is prominent, but AR is present. The GDC floor was full of VR companies, technologies and showcases. We were personally very impressed by the real time rendering of facial expressions presented by Vicon and Epic Games. Yet, despite all the new tech, the need for specific hardware is still a major setback for VR. The use of mobile as a platform for AR on the other hand allowed a game like Pokemon Go to reach millions of players and more than a billion in revenues.

Lesson 4. China is now. We already knew it, but it looks like the entire world now knows it as well. Both on the “beware of the Chinese coming to your market” as on the “go dig the gold in the Chinese domestic market” sides.

Lesson 5. Twitch is blurring the lines between game play and game watch. As a start-up you never cease to evangelize about where you believe the market is evolving towards. In our PlayCom case that is that game play and game watch will merge to a new medium for influencers to engage with their fans. When learning about the product pipeline Twitch is working on, we had that “yes! I think exactly the same way” moment. Twitch is working on several very interesting features that are very much in line with our vision, and at PlayCom we can only run hard to keep the edge of the market.

Lesson 6. March can be cold and rainy in San Francisco.