Vlambeer's Rami Ismail delivered an impassioned speech about confidence at the close of Game Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP), arguing for passion and vulnerability in game development that's backed by self-belief.
Ismail described games as the most interesting medium of our time. "We're talking about a medium where you can literally take somebody, put them in a world that we create, and let them interact with that world in a way that we want," he said. "We can communicate things that could never be communicated before." When you talk about books, you refer to places and worlds and plots, while movies are about characters and obstacles, but games are about "I" - I beat the enemy, I solved the puzzle.
Games can make people feel responsible, or make them feel regret. And game developers love that they have this power. But it's scary, Ismail said. "Releasing a thing is terrifying." When he and Jan Willem Nijman founded Vlambeer, they'd just dropped out of university and had big tuition debts. "And here I was about to release a little 2D platformer about collecting crates," Ismail said. "That was my big plan."
Australian and Dutch game developers, he noted, don't like being confident. "We pride ourselves on not being confident." He showed a video of Hello Games' Sean Murray after the on-stage reveal of No Man's Sky at E3 last year, pointing out how Murray's discomfort turned to confidence once he started talking about science fiction books. "That's what he's passionate about," Ismail said. "You believe it, because he believes it."
Confidence is not arrogance, Ismail argued. Confidence is about talking about things the way they truly are. It's about standing up for what you believe in, and making choices that you stick with. "If you want to make a premium game," he said, "make a premium game." A great way to not make money is to make something you don't believe in. "Make your game. Be confident," he stated.
"Make something that's you. That you can be proud of... Other people [should] feel that this is what you want"
Everything you put in a game communicates, and so everything should go towards communicating an idea, Ismail argued. Marketing is communication, too, he pointed out, so it's in everything you do. And everything you don't. You have to ask yourself questions and set parameters, or you could end up making the wrong thing. And confidence in all of these avenues makes a big difference in how they're received.
Ismail asked two attendees to pitch him their games on the spot, then said that developers need to learn how to communicate what makes them exciting. "Nuclear Throne is the first game in my life that I've created with random generation," he said by way of example. "And because it's random, I don't know what's going to happen. And that's fascinating." Confidence in communication improves your marketing and your game, he suggested.
"Make something that's you. That you can be proud of," he said. "If you want to make market research, and do the best monetizable game in the history of mankind, go for it." But to make it great, Ismail argued, it has to be something that makes you so excited that "other people can feel that this is what you want."
Ismail made a case for confidence being embroiled in every facet of game development. "It's about finding things you want," he said, and about having the courage to try something, stick with it for a while, see if it works, then fix it if it doesn't. "Not choosing to do anything isn't a choice," he said. Confidence is talking to people, and listening to what they say. It's being vulnerable and passionate, and proud of failure. It's submitting your game to every event, no matter how early it is in development. It's taking opportunities when they come. And it's forming your own opinion.
Most of all, though, he pleaded for everyone to ask themselves "why am I here?" What are the fundamental truths behind your passion for games or game development. "Find what makes you excited, then go from there," Ismail said. "There are an infinite number of things that affect what's going to happen next... but we're here because we think that there's something here that's important to us. So we're in this industry based on a shared passion. And that's okay. It's okay to be passionate."