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An Interview with Phill Cameron about Edinburgh Interactive and gaming hot topics

Cameron discusses gaming hot topics




Cameron discusses gaming hot topics

Cameron discusses gaming hot topics



Edinburgh Interactive was originally started up in 2003 as Edinburgh International Games Festival.  The brainchild of TIGA (The Independent Game Developers Association) CEO Fred Hasson, and backed by Scottish Enterprise to get it going it was immediately well received by the interactive entertainment industry.  As a result EIGF evolved into Edinburgh Interactive in 2006, with an overall aim to focus on growing interactive areas.  This year the public agenda included new games and technology, introduced in free public screenings, and advice sessions from industry professionals on how to get into the interactive entertainment industry.  The Conference proper was packed full of sessions for industry professionals covering everything from Gamification to Mobile Media, Multiplayer advances and the UK Gaming Industry as a whole.  2011 saw the MD of Nintendo UK heading up what is proving to be a key event on the technology and gaming event calendar.

Phill Cameron is a Freelance Games Journalist writing for the likes of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Gamasutra and Eurogamer.  He recently attended the Edinburgh Interactive Festival for Gamasutra and we were interested to hear about his experience at the event.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Phill. Starting with the event as a whole, what was it that drew you to attend as both a gamer yourself, and as a writer?

The majority of the time, as a games journalist, I’m covering the games, rather than the people who make them. This can lead to a very limited perspective on exactly what’s going on in the world of games development as a whole, and so events like Edinburgh Interactive, GDC and Develop make a lot of difference in both broadening my own personal horizons, and those of the people who read what I write. Edinburgh Interactive, in particular, is interesting because while it is heavily game-focused, it also has talks from the peripheries, addressing the wider world of interactive technology.

It sounds like a really useful event to go to if you’re interested in what is happening in that wider world.  A hot topic at the moment in is Gamification; In your article for Gamasutra, ‘Gamification Can Bring A ‘Gaming Layer To Everything We Do’, on a talk you attended by Playgen, you state that: ‘And while it’s not necessarily that gamification is a concept with merit, there is definitely something in tying our inherent competitive nature into our everyday lives.’  Do you think that gamification in this context will continue to grow in popularity or is it reaching saturation point?

Honestly, I think that Gamification is an odd concept to begin with. Being so heavily tied to marketing, there’s a lot of parallels to draw between the adoption of both literary and filmic techniques in advertising, in that we’ve seen impressive, movie-like adverts, and we’ve obviously got a lot of written content to absorb daily, but then you’ve got games, this form that’s launching itself into a wider and wider audience daily. So it’s not surprising that you’ve got advertisers wondering how they can use this new medium to sell more products. The only problem is people don’t really tend to enjoy adverts. And when you’ve got something interactive, that /requires/ people to do something, rather than sit there passively waiting for this stupid thing that’s telling them about soap to stop so they can watch some more True Blood.

Of course, the instant you make that interactive element of your advertising /fun/, people will stop just waiting for it to be over. The problem is, Gamification is such a new concept, and it’s trying to do so much at once, that there’s been a lot of failed starts. A good deal of what people have re-appropriated from games under the mantle of ‘Gamification’ doesn’t really make sense once you’re out of that controlled virtual environment that you find in games. What’s the point of points, when there’s nothing behind them? But on the other hand, I’m sure there’s a good deal that /can/ be taken from games. It’s just figuring out what’s useful and what’s not.

So is Gamification going to continue to grow? Probably, but it’s not going to become something that people really react to until they’ve got the basics down, which, so far, I don’t think has been done particularly successfully. However, like I said, it’s a new concept, and so it’s going to take a while.

So while the concept is growing is Gamification for the hardcore gamer, or consumer targeted do you think?

Definitely consumer targeted. The hardcore gamer can interact with these things, but it will be as a consumer, rather than a hardcore gamer. Even if you were to look at something like the Xbox 360’s Gamerscore, which nets you points every time you unlock a formal achievement in a game, that’s not something that’s people are enjoying as a hardcore gamer. It’s to tie you more heavily to your Xbox account, which is entirely consumer focused. I’m not even sure that counts as ‘Gamification’, but it’s certainly along to same train of thought.

Do you think social media will have a big impact on the gaming industry moving forward?

It already has. Just look at the incredible popularity of games on Facebook. Now you’ve got Google+ moving in with games, and the huge attention being paid by developers to iOS. Social media ties all these things together, lets friends compare scores and interact with one another within a safe, familiar setting. The social aspect of games has always been incredibly important, ever since the internet started, and as we get these more formal social hubs, it’s only natural that those are going to become part of the games industry.

There’s also the fact that games are costing more and more to make, at the higher, AAA, end of the industry. We don’t see twenty Gears of Wars every year. Developers and publishers just can’t afford it. But then you look at Zynga and the millions they’ve made with their ‘Ville’ series, with development costs just a fraction of what the big console releases are spending. It’s become a viable business model where there was a shrinking middle in games development. Now small studios have somewhere to thrive, where they might have struggled for recognition before. As to whether that’s necessarily a /good/ thing, well…

Yes- it will certainly be interesting to keep an eye of the games those small studios are producing over the next year.


Was EI more useful for a PC Gamer or a Console Gamer in your opinion, or do you think it was a useful event for gamers nationwide?

Edinburgh Interactive is an industry event, and a smaller one at that. While there were some relatively big developers and names there, they weren’t ones that most people might recognize. All this means that it’s not really an event for people who just play games; it’s for those interested in how they’re made, and the more business side of things. So that mostly means developers and those involved in the games industry first hand, rather than the gamers themselves.

From game creators to gamers – On Day One there was a talk on ‘The craft of animation and storytelling in games’ by Kevin Beimers, Art Director, Straandlooper Animation.  How important is character development and scriptwriting to the enjoyment of playing a game overall for you?

It depends on the game, obviously, but of those /trying/ to at least make an attempt on providing an engaging narrative, it’s incredibly important. You can botch a poor story up with a genuinely fun game, but it will always feel like there’s a great big chunk of it missing. The characters and writing give you your motivation, and give the world that you’re occupying life. Without those things you’ve got little reason to go around killing men and climbing crates. Or one of the many other non-violent things that happen in games all the time.

We’d agree with that: a well thought out narrative giving characters reasons to do things within the game creates a better experience!


Did you get along to the talk on Mobile Media? What were the key points made by Jason Daponte (The SWARM)?

His talk was interesting, but at the same time seemed to be based on a lot of theoreticals. Focusing on the dwindling size of mobile devices, and what that means in terms of how exactly we can interact with them. He brought up a picture of a pair of hoodies with integrated 3G devices that enabled the wearer’s to play a game of tag when they’re out and about. The basic idea behind it all was that we’re becoming more connected, with there now being more mobile devices in the world than there are people. When you think about it, it’s about right, with phones, music players, cars, all hooking into the network whenever we switch them on. We’ve got the internet at our fingertips at all times, and so Jason Daponte was looking at what we could do with that constant access.

Constant access is definitely taking over, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how technology influences the Games Industry. We have to ask how the great debate went, closing Day One of the conference: ‘This house believes that the UK Games Industry is one life away from Game Over’. That must have been a heated discussion?!

This was an interesting one, because while you had two developers on either side of the argument, neither of them really wanted to come out and say that yes, the UK Games Industry is on its last legs. The argument, instead, was about whether it was in a transitional period or whether it would return to being a publishing force to be reckoned with. Ten years ago, there were some really big UK Publishers, but they’ve been squeezed out in recent years, leaving all these talented UK development studios at the whim of foreign publishers who, it was argued, would put national interests before international, meaning that our development studios would be first on the chopping block when things didn’t go the publishers way.

On the other hand, it was argued that all that didn’t matter, because the games industry here has already moved on. We’ve got a burgeoning independent development scene, as well as a huge amount of studios working in the mobile space. So the industry is healthy enough, it just might not be the huge, mega-million powerhouse that it was around 2000.

In reference to the session on 12th August by Mark Gerhard, Jagex, do you think the industry is trying to play catch up to ‘The Multiplayer Revolution’?

Not particularly. I think it’s embraced the multiplayer revolution. You rarely see a game released these days that doesn’t have some sort of multiplayer component, and even if they don’t have multiplayer they might have leaderboards and other ways to interact with other players. It ties in with the success of social media and mobile, where the big games can take advantage of the fact that everyone has an internet connection, that most PCs have Steam installed, with a friends list and all the community features that come with it.
The fact of the matter is that the idea of a single player game, where you’re entirely disconnected from the outside world, is becoming almost like submerging yourself in a sensory deprivation chamber. Cutting yourself off from other players feels almost unnatural. When you’ve got the success of something like last year’s Demon’s Souls on the PS3, where, despite nominally being a single player game, the entire game world is permeated with the evidence of other players, their deaths, their messages, the idea that in a few years we’re still going to have ‘offline’ single player will seem somewhat alien.

So the multiplayer revolution isn’t necessarily something that the industry is playing catch up with, but it’s certainly something they’re going to embrace fully in the next few years.

And we’ll be watching it closely as it does!


On a slightly different subject, tell us about Steve Ackerman from Somethin’ Else’s talk about getting ‘Benedict Cumberbatch On a Spaceship and how you could too’

With a Talk Title like that, you’re going to go and have a listen, aren’t you? Somethin’ Else made an interesting game on the iPhone called Papa Sangre, which denied you all your senses but hearing, forcing you to fumble around in the dark with only the game’s audio to guide you. It did pretty well on the Apple Store, and so they were contacted by Wrigleys to help them with their Five gum. They did a game called The Nightjar, following a similar concept to Papa Sangre but on a spaceship. The Five branding was subtle, with the look of the game informed by the packaging of the gum, and a quick advert when you load up the game.

Most ‘advergames’ get about 1000 downloads in the first month or so. The Nightjar hit 100,000 in the first week. So yeah, apparently if you take this sort of advertising seriously, you get proper results. Rather than just some terrible flash game that shoe-horns in the product in a ‘fun’ way.

That sounds like a game we’re going to have to try out- we can see why you attended that talk! What an interesting idea to use only the game’s audio to guide you.. we’ll be looking that up after this.


Finally, what was the most inspirational moment of the event for you?

Well I got to have a little talk with Ian Livingstone, Life President of Eidos and creator of Games Workshop, at the drinks on the first night. I got to tell him he stole a good chunk of my childhood, so at the very least I got some satisfaction out of that.

Well you’ve sold the event to us, Phill. Thanks again for answering our questions and we look forward to hearing from you again!

For more from Phill follow @phillcameron on Twitter or visit his Blog:

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