28,000 professionals from the games industry came in droves to the Game Developers Conference GDC in San Francisco in March. These also included 26 Swiss game studios invited by Pro Helvetia, who did more than put up a good show. A review of the GDC 2018 from a Swiss viewpoint. – by Marc Bodmer
Conferences like the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco always have something in common: they are overwhelming. Unfortunately, this fact says nothing about the quality shown, but more about the sheer and incalculable quantity. That is why I actually don’t really like events such as game fairs and festivals. Single titles threaten to get lost in the masses, to remain undiscovered and in the end the impressions merge.
Nonetheless, such events are valuable because they allow an overview and show the status quo of an industry as well as its future orientation. Moreover, they provided the opportunity for exchange with developers and designers within a relatively confined space. 28,000 people from all over the world came in masses to the GDC 2018 in San Francisco – a new record.
Pitching must be learnt
The first port of call on Sunday was the Pitching-Event, which was organised by Swissnex and Pro Helvetia. Now we can question whether such an event shortly before «zero hour» really makes sense. The answer is a sonorous YES!
As opposed to the Anglo-Saxon culture, we do not know «show & tell», a low-threshold format which trains children from an early age to stand in front of a group of people uninhibitedly and to represent their own point of view, at a pre-school age: that’s my teddy bear and he’s cooler than any other cuddly toys anywhere in the world. Also, you can look for debating societies and similar platforms, which are common at the US colleges, in vain here.
Therefore, Swiss designers mull around on the stage and hide their light under a bushel instead of utilizing the opportunity of the hour and the spotlight. Here, they would have every reason to appear self-assured. They have all worked for months or even years on their titles and already survived the hurdle of pre-selection by a Pro Helvetia jury. Clearly it isn’t everyone’s thing to beat the advertising drum, but that’s not what it’s all about. It is rather a question of showing the passion behind the games which have not always been created under the easiest of conditions. Passion and healthy Swiss modesty are not mutually exclusive. Moreover: why should anybody be interested in a computer game if not even its creator or maker appears convinced?
Large variety at the GDC 2018
This year’s Swiss Games vintage not only stands out with its quality which again excels, but also with its wide range. There’s «Nimbatus», the drone construction game from the Stray Fawn Studio, which moves every nerd to a state of spastic ecstasy and was also promptly awarded Best in Play at the GDC Play. The alpine horror scenario «Mundaun», from the Lucerne lone fighter Michel Ziegler, which is lovingly animated with pencil drawings, received an honourable mention. Johnny Badhair, also an affair of the heart, this time from Chris Solarski, can already look back on a development time of three years and collaboration with the internationally esteemed US artist Phil Hale. Flurin Jenal strives to achieve the democratisation of the Game Design with «Struckd», a virtual kit for video games with which some 200,000 people – mostly from Brazil – have fun. Whether it is to be appraised as a game or not, opinions of «Kids» from Michael Frei and Mario von Rickenbach differ. The follower of the cult success Plug & Play doesn’t follow the game conventions, nonetheless has its entertainment value and provides some food for thought. Following best arcade tradition, «Retimed» from Annika Rüegsegger and Max Striebel joins in the race and is really great fun with its Matrix Bullet-Time version. «Retimed» is also the first title played as e-Sport in the Swiss Made Games League as of April. It looks like all hell will be let loose there. More about this under the abbreviation smgl.ch.
If we take a look at the diversity of the 26 Swiss studios present in San Francisco and their international success compared to cinematic and literary work in our country, it is even more gratifying that the Swiss Federal Council explicitly spoke in favour of State subsidies for games in Switzerland in its recently published report. Bravo!
Switzerland in European comparison
The European Game Showcase, which is again a visitor on the Swissnex premises, enables exciting, direct comparison of Europe’s independent developers. Here, we can clearly see that the Swiss designers and game makers under no circumstances need hide behind their competitors. The Helvetians are well upfront with their innovation and handicraft. That became clear on this evening.
This quality doesn’t remain unnoticed, but you can’t live from awards alone. However, commercial success is increasingly joining hands with artistic recognition. Thus, from the Stray Fawns genetics games niche, in excess of 80,000 games have been sold and a stable community has been established. The game construction platform «Struckd» has 200,000 users per month, most of whom live in Brazil. According to «Struckd» manager Flurin Jenal, 1.5 percent of «Struckd» users construct their own games. At a first look, that doesn’t sound much – however it is more than for other social media where a mere 1% contribute active contents.
Exciting collaboration was announced at the GDC 2018: the West Swiss studio Spooklight will support the mysterious company Magic Leap in matters pertaining to Mixed-Reality. With this, the Americans wish to exert considerable influence on the future of entertainment. That is why Magic Leap contacted Spooklight two years ago and committed them to confidentiality.
Great interest in Ctrl Movie
My personal highlight at the Swiss Games Breakfast was that I saw Tobias Weber from Ctrl Movie again. I hadn’t expected that, therefore the surprise was all the greater. It was nice to see how interest in interactive film technology remains unabated. Late Shift fans repeatedly became evident. The encounter with a Turkish lady who claimed to represent comparable technology which was allegedly ready-for-market in 2015 was also interesting. The large handicap: its developers are located in Istanbul, making international cooperation rather awkward.
Blockchain and Games
The GDC 2018 in San Francisco has again shown how advanced game development is and serves as a hub medium for a wide range of technologies. Thus, it was conspicuous how many suppliers in the Blockchain and crypto currency areas were present in the halls. However, when talking with them, I gained the impression that they understand roughly as much about the topics as I do – namely not a lot. By the way, Koh Kim, former Games Division Manager at Google, who has specialised in Blockchain and similar technologies, also shares my feeling. First concrete applications for her will still take another two to three years. In addition to the complexity, the major reason for this the volatility of the crypto currencies. As long as they gain no specific stability, they will at the most remain interesting as a speculative item for normal citizens. Nonetheless, the Swiss studio Everdreamsoft has positioned itself with «Bit Crystals», offering a Blockchain ecosystem for gamers, collectors and creators. But here, too, we must wait and see when the hype dust settles. However, Everdreamsoft’s involvement shows: Swiss game developers are also involved upfront in this complex area.