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The first annual Austin Game Conference was billed as THE Conference for Massively Multiplayer and Mobile Game Development. An odd association, perhaps, but the conference did cover multiplayer mobile games, albeit briefly. The bulk of the conference was devoted to MMO’s, with only one track for mobile game development. Speakers from Sony Online Entertainment, NCSoft, Wolfpack Studios, UbiSoft, Turbine, and Mythic Entertainment among others presented talks in the Online Tech, Online Design, Online Service, Online Production, and Future of the Development Pipeline tracks. In addition, the conference featured a LivePitch matchmaking component and the latest in machinima, an animation hybrid that embraces technology from game development. Ironically, the LivePitch segment did not include wireless developers, only PC, console or online game developers.

Day One

Gender-Inclusive Game Design - Expanding the Market

Sheri Graner Ray, the author of an upcoming book of the same title, described ways to break down barriers to reach the female market. She explained that since the target audience of males ages 15-25 was not growing as fast as the game industry itself, it was important for the game industry to expand into other markets for continued growth. Traditional retail channels have not served the female population well. Females differ in learning styles, emotional stimuli, and attitudes toward failure. Game developers, in addition, depict female avatars to be more sexually receptive than male avatars as well as ignore the female market in documentation. Ray’s book is a practical discussion of how to include the female market in design concerns. (More will be discussed in my column when I update it.)

Social Systems in Online Games: Building the True “Global Village”

Patricia Pizer, Senior MMO Analyst at UbiSoft, described the role of MMO game designers as the social architects of a world. Since experienced players will always go through new content quickly, social networks are essential to retention. Even players described as “killers” generally spent 30% of their time socializing. In addition to the four player types, she added another, “The Samaritan.” The Samaritan likes to be on-line to help other less-powerful players, thereby receiving fame as a good Samaritan. She ended the talk giving examples of interesting new developments. For example, e-Genesis’ A Tale in the Desert, has a petition system to let players change the world.

Building an MMO in Your Garage: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

J. Todd Coleman, the co-founder of Wolfpack Studios, described how Wolfpack’s MMO, Shadowbane, went from mere scribbles on a napkin at a buffet to a published game. It was one of several talks that focused on low-budget MMO’s. Coleman and his associates, while keeping their day jobs, caught the attention of disenfranchised players when they published a website on their idea. They had had previous experience with MUD’s but no experience in game development. Still, publishers came courting and offered advances. With a deal, Wolfpack was able to lease space and start hiring.

Day Two

Game Design for the Small Screen
Developing Multiplayer Games for Wireless Devices

Most of the wireless track seemed to be panels that I did not find entirely useful. Not all of the publishers or carriers were represented. I attended GDC Mobile last March and a couple of the speakers are the same. I believe GDC Mobile would be a far better use of time for a wireless developer.

Crafting a Lasting Intellectual Property

Richard Garriott’s talk on the evolution of Ultima was well-attended. It was not until the fourth Ultima that social issues began to be raised. Players grew to know the various characters and the social commentary really binded the community. Garriott explained how he was able to transport his ideas to the development of Tabula Rasa. Tabula Rasa gave him new challenges because he wanted it to be interesting and intuitive to all cultures.

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