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Festival of Games 2010 Coverage

As it happened: David Perry, Adam Boyes, WINtA, Matsuura-san, One Big Game and more!

The Festival of Games takes place is taking place in Utrecht, The Netherlands, and brings together a strong line-up of local and international speakers alongside a focus on education, investment opportunities, and games businesses of all sizes.

During the course of the event, which runs from June 3-4, we'll be updating this event blog regularly with a flavour of sessions, interviews and general buzz on the show floor.

Friday, June 4

17:04 CEST / 16:04 BST (Phil): The last session is David Perry talking about the evolution of games, building up of course to the Gaikai cloud proposition.

Now, details on Gaikai have been released in stages over time - the latest chunk involves the plans for the service to be embedded in a range of websites, so that you don't have to leave whatever online environment you're in, in order to get involved.

But not everybody will see those options - you'll need to be on a connection that's close enough to a Gaikai server to allow a good experience (no details on how "close" is defined). And David was also pretty clear that the demo process doesn't really help sell bad games...

It's a fair point - I'm sure we'll see more on Gaikai at E3 in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, that's it for the Festival this year - we'll have more content from the Dutch industry spilling out over the coming weeks, so keep watching out!

15:56 CEST / 14:56 BST (Phil): Another session this afternoon looked at the downloadable console space - with an interesting perspective. Adam Boyes, who ran business development for Capcom from 2007 until recently, looked back at how the publisher "won round one" of the XBLA/PSN space.

Among some of the more interesting comments he made were the way that, because the company put out a lot of content on XBLA, they were able to influence the size limitations that Microsoft enforced.

For example, the original limit was just 50MB, but it became clear - said Boyes - that there simply wasn't enough room to put out good games. They submitted Rocketman at 140MB, but MS rejected it... so Capcom offered it to Sony as a PSN-exclusive instead. MS rethought its position and raised the limit to 150MB. Today the limit is 2GB...

There were some interesting learnings as well, particularly a recognition that achieving success in the end can often involve a degree of learning from failures along the way. "I made some s***y decisions at the helm; but I can stand up and say that because I made a lot of good ones too."

A point about DLC, for anybody thinking along those games, is that most companies in the early days tended to sit on games for a while before green-lighting additional content - in order to get a sense of how a game was performing.

However, says Boyes, DLC is only good for 48 weeks after release - so if you sit on usage data too much, it'll be six months before it goes out the door, and probably too late to make it worthwhile.

And on the difficulty of games: Only 5 per cent of people finished level one of Bionic Commando: Rearmed, despite it being a digital sales success. And only 0.001 per cent of people completed the entire Megaman 9 game. Capcom added an easy mode for Megaman 10 - it seems people aren't good at games these days than they were in the Eighties...

14:39 CEST / 13:39 BST (Phil): An interesting snippet of advice for budding artists in one of this afternoon's sessions, from Roland Ijzermans. He's the art lead at Guerilla Games, the studio behind the Killzone games.

His advice for those starting out in the industry was to look to as many original sources for inspiration as possible: "If you find your sources online, for example, there's a big chance that others will do the same," he explained, speaking from experience.

09:43 CEST / 08:43 BST (Phil): Matsuura-san talked about his career, and some of the games he's created, before going on to look at the place in human society and experience for music and play - drawing on similar elements to his talk at last year's DICE Summit Asia.

Moving on to the One Big Game collaboration, he revealed that WINtA stands for War Is Not the Answer. It's on the iPad in this demonstration, but it should also be out on the iPhone in a few months.

The ultimate aim will be to create a platform that, on one hand is a good music game, but on the other allows graphic artists and musicians to contribute their content to over time. Lots of tracks to be added after launch, it seems.

Basic gameplay revolves around tapping areas on the screen as they're highlighted - each section roughly equates to a syllable or so from a song (*a tune written by Matsuura-san himself, inspired by lyrics from a Marvin Gaye song - very funky).

Martin de Ronde was pretty handy at it - 96 per cent score, and only a couple of slip-ups. Then Kellee Santiago (thatgamecompany) was up on-stage as a volunteer from the audience. She wasn't so good. 42 per cent, but not bad for a first go in front of a big audience.

You have to tap the areas at the right times, as they'd be played in the song, otherwise there's a bit of a horrible slow-down effect - it looks pretty good, and has a decent chance of capturing the iPad gamer I'd say.

09:16 CEST / 08:16 BST (Phil): Right, all set for the second day of the conference here in Utrecht, and first up is the keynote by NanaOn-Sha's Masaya Matsuura.

A lot of interest in this session, not just because Matsuura-san has interesting views on game design, but also because he'll be unveiling his new game - in collaboration with Triangle Studios - for One Big Game, called WINTA!

Thursday, June 3

17:20 CEST / 16:20 BST (Phil): So three team members from Stolen Couch get up on-stage - each one represents a colour. The game mode is called Chime Versus, and it actually looks pretty good. Sadly for me, the green player won. No free charity game for me... which is probably a good thing. I'd feel bad.

Anyway, that's it for today - Matsuura-san is first up tomorrow with news of WINTA. See you then.

17:10 CEST / 16:10 BST (Phil): Aha - the audience cards now make sense, sort of. Martin's going to give away 50 free copies of Chime to selected members of the audience here, and there's a multiplayer version of the game ready to happen... live!

It's been put together by a team from the Utrecht School of the Arts, called Stolen Couch, with special permission from Zoe Mode. Altogether the work took about 3-4 months. Still not sure how the audience will get involved, but I'm on the red team.

17:02 CEST / 16:02 BST (Phil): David Perry is working with Little Chicken, a small Dutch developer - the game idea he's come up with is based on something called 3D Death Chase, and the challenge he's issued is around some tropes shared by games such as Grand Theft Auto. They're being pretty careful not to let too many (or any) details slip.

DP's going to "make time" for the game, despite his commitments to other projects like Gaikai, but warned Thomas Sala - the studio's boss - to expect plenty of emails at 2am... Thomas is pretty pleased to be working with David, for sure. Anyway - hopefully some more details on that game "later this year".

Matsuura-san is also happy to be involved with OBG - he's keen to deliver a "good feeling" to gamers, and believes that One Big Game can help with that plan. He's working with another Dutch developer, Triangle Studios - Remco de Rooij is the boss there, and we'll be publishing an interview with Remco in due course.

Details on that game will actually be announced tomorrow, although de Ronde mentioned the game was called WINTA. Matsuura's keynote is at 9am, so we'll bring more information on that project then. It does seem to be for the iPhone, however.

16:25 CEST / 15:25 BST (Phil): Martin started with a bit of a run-down on where OBG came from, so for anybody that doesn't know, here's a bit of a summary:

One Big Game is an attempt to basically give something back to society. Videogames is a big business, said de Ronde, but we're not doing as much as other entertainment media in terms of charity work, for example.

But a standard model of giving, where $1 donated is a maximum of $1 in benefits (excluding for the moment tax relief), Martin was interested in finding out if it was possible to turn that $1 into $10. With lots of creativity in the industry, people working on their own 'pet projects' he hoped that a business model could present itself.

"Why can't we do what Band Aid did, and apply that to videogames?" Initially the idea was to create one main next-gen game... and while everybody loved the idea, there were a few problems. For example, the need for a "grand design," the need for a developer to make it, and then the financial effort - to invest $10 million in order to generate $30 million.

"Is Peter Molyneux, who is in the Xbox camp, allowed to make a game together with Shigeru Miyamoto? Those were some of the problems we came up against."

So the idea was refined, moving to the plan of multiple smaller games, which could be delivered whenever the designer was able to - a much more relaxed system. A host of Flash games was the next idea, but monetisation was an issue - so the Middle Way ended up being the console downloadable platforms.

Zoe Mode was the first developer to take the plunge, with Chime on XBLA. A Flash edition will also actually be released, de Ronde announced. He wasn't able to release sales figures, but he did say the conversion rate from the demo was around 25 per cent, which apparently is pretty good.

Still no clue as to what these audience cards are about, though.

16:12 CEST / 15:12 BST (Phil): Oh no, not Ian Livingstone - that appears to have been an error. But both Matsuura-san and Perry have been involved in the 'not-for-profit publishing venture' One Big Game.

16:10 CEST / 15:10 BST (Phil): The last session of today at the NLGD Festival of Games is a bit of a mash-up - One Big Game's Martin de Ronde is hosting, but the stage will be busy. Ian Livingstone, Masaya Matsuura and David Perry are all joining him up there, while cards with "team member" colours have been handed out to all audience members. Curious.

15:36 CEST / 14:36 BST (Phil): One of the main afternoon sessions was a talk by Avista Partners MD Paul Heydon. He explained the extent of just how the online games business is exploding, and offered some guidelines for anybody looking to raise capital themselves.

Today the total public company market capitalisation of the entire industry is about $109.6 billion, with Nintendo taking the biggest slice of that with a total stock value of $37.7 billion. The PC/console sector (non-Nintendo) is next with $33.8 billion, while the online sector is third with $22.0 billion - despite being a relatively recent entrant to the business.

But... what are investors looking for in potential investments? Paul explained some of the good answers to that question. They included a focus on fast growth, the ambition for an investor to add value to the company, or the development of a disruptive platform (among others).

And what about what you should (say you'll) do with the money? Investors want to see it spent on building out the management structure, accelerating marketing, adding in the ability to offer competitive salaries and diversifying your portfolio.

However - a word of warning - don't let the pursuit of investment distract you from continuing to run and grow your business. Great execution will strengthen the proposition, but poor execution will scare investors.

Meanwhile, don't try to raise too much money, added Paul. Only raise enough to grow the company for the next couple of years - otherwise you'll dilute your own share too much.

Just before his session I sat down with Paul to talk in more depth about some of the interesting opportunities in the games industry - we'll publish that feature in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

12:17 CEST / 11:17 BST (Phil): I just had a very interesting chat with Kellee Santiago, co-founder of thatgamecompany - the developer behind flOw and flOwer. As well as a general discussion about the studio's early life, and the challenges of growing the team, she explained that with the kinds of games the team puts together, it's unlikely that they'll look to expand much beyond the current roster of around 15 people.

"I don't anticipate that our team, in a single project, would grow much more than it is now," she explained. "We have about 10-15 people if we were to bring some of the contractors in house. There's definitely an element of our process that's rooted in rapid iteration, and it's very difficult to do that with people outside of the office.

"Right now that's been a real grounding aspect of our team size - we really rely on a lot of iteration and polishing which requires people in almost the same room with each other, and very tight communication loops."

Given TGC's position in the industry, and reputation as a company that produces fresh game concepts, Kellee genuinely hopes that more people follow suit, so that their branch of the tree becomes more crowded.

"We're probably one of the few game companies that say we want people to copy us, because we don't want what we do to be niche - we want it to be something that every publisher and developer is exploring, new ways to communicate through videogames."

We'll publish the full interview with Kellee in the coming weeks.

11:14 CEST / 10:14 BST (Phil): The Dutch industry is on the up, according to this morning's press conference at the Festival. Previous years have seen 10-15 per cent growth in profits, and while that has slowed in the past 12 months, the number of employees working in games rose from 1800 to 2000, with as many as 100 roles thought to be available today.

The growth of the NLGD Festival has mirrored the industry, with the first event attracting 200 people in 2005, but this year that number is expected to hit 2000, with companies opening up an increasing number of overseas offices - according to NLGD co-founder Seth van der Meer.

The idea behind it is to promote the Dutch industry as "a good climate to conduct business".

Meanwhile, Weber announced that its online social game for kids - Dreambear - has entered closed beta phase. The company has a presence in both The Netherlands and Ireland. There are 500 positions available, and more information is available at the official website.

And this year's Game City event has been confirmed as November 18-19 here, while there's an assurance of at least two further editions.

What's more, there will be more Dutch Game Association awards handed out, with two European awards, an Indie award and a Mobile award all up for grabs. European developers are more than welcome!

10:04 CEST / 09:04 BST (Phil): Oh - that was unexpected - at the conclusion of talk it was announced that Pac-Man is officially the most popular arcade game of all time.

290,822 machines were installed around the world over the years - that's a Guinness World Record folks, and Mr Iwatani looks pleased to receive the nice award, presented by Gaz Deaves, Video Games Records Manager at Guinness?

09:48 CEST / 08:48 BST (Phil): The Festival opened with a keynote from Professor Toru Iwatani, the man behind the design of Pac-Man. After a long career at Namco, he's in education these days, working for the Tokyo Polytechnic University.

According to Iwatani-san the design of the game was intended to appeal to female gamers, with initial possible concept areas that were focused on fashion or boys... "But these wouldn't have made a very interesting game," he said. "The girl I was seeing at the time liked dessert a lot," he added, which is where the eating gameplay idea first came from...

Clearly, these days we'd consider Pac-Man a classic casual game - but simplicity was actually one of the key game 'rules'. It was crucial, he said, that people understood the aim of the game just by looking - and any written pitch had to be summarised in two lines. "Games I play these days... you can't really tell what to do in a split second," he said.

And in case you thought that 1980 was too early for proper enemy AI, Iwatani explained how each of the ghosts would behave in the game in order to keep it "thrilling" - as opposed to a situation where all four ghosts (Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde) would just trail Pac-Man in a 'bee line' in a bid to catch him in the most efficient way.

So - the red ghost chases Pac-Man directly, while the pink ghost chases a point 32 pixels ahead of him. Meanwhile the blue ghost homes in on Pac-Man's mirror image, while the orange ghost moves in a random direction. This way the game remains fresh, while retaining a strong replay value.

I'll admit that, despite many years of gaming and a well-trodden path trying to work out a game's mechanics in order to beat that game, I never realised there was a specific pattern to the movement of the ghosts... which, in theory, should have been all the more apparent for the relative simplicity of the execution. Maybe that's one of the reasons it's endured as a game - and why Google's recent experiment to include the game on its home page a couple of weeks ago was such a success?

The finale of his presentation involved a big reveal - where the direction of Pac-Man should go next. "Namco Bandai doesn't yet know this," he said, before explaining that with the iconic character's mouth always open, the logical next step was...

Singing Pac-Man. I'm not sure if he was joking or not. If he was, it got a little lost in the translation.

Wednesday, June 2

23:53 CEST / 22:53 BST (Phil): Hello!

The Festival of Games gets underway tomorrow with an impressive speaker line-up, including Ian Livingstone (Square Enix Europe), Kellee Santiago (thatgamecompany), Martin de Ronde (OneBigGame), David Perry (Gaikai), Masaya Matsuura (Nanaon-Sha) and many more, so here are a few thoughts to kick off our special Festival event blog.

It's a week that's been prefaced by an illuminating industry media visit to the country, organised by the Dutch government's Ministry of Economic Affairs, showcasing some of the support that's on offer to companies based here, as well as introducing a sense of the 'plugged-in' nature of the business food chain - an apparently open-eyed approach that marries education to existing games companies, and one that supports both entrepreneurial start-ups and big businesses alike.

It's an interesting story that we'll present in part with news and interviews over the next couple of days and weeks, but in an economic environment that's likely to present challenges for the governments of more established games industry destinations in terms of fiscal support - the UK included - we're very likely to hear more of The Netherlands as a growing games hub in the next few years.

Anyway, that aside, tomorrow's Festival kicks off with a talk from Professor Toru Iwatani, the man behind the design of Pac-Man, 30 years ago - we'll publish an interview with him next week, taking in his thoughts on how the culture of games design has changed over the years, and what the Japanese industry needs to do to appeal more to the West... but meanwhile but notes on his talk will follow his session first thing in the morning.

* This was originally reported incorrectly as being a version of a Marvin Gaye song - but in fact it is an original track written by Masaya Matsuura.

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