Lessons learned at Creative Coast Festival and Nordic Game Conference

Sebi and I dedicated an entire week in the middle of May to celebrating games and game development. On May 16 and 17  we went to what I think is the fanciest, most relaxed gamedev conference ever (that I know if, at least), called Creative Coast Festival in Karlshamn, then drove some 150 km directly to Malmö, where we attended Nordic Game Conference for the rest of the week.

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PRECISELY the car we travelled in! … I wish 🙂

I might have mentioned this before, but just in case anyone has forgotten: I LOVE MY JOB. And to top that – because yes, I am luckier than 99.9% of this earth’s population, and most grateful for it – I was also joined by Sebi who was the official photographer for both of these events. How cool is that! Obviously all pics that you see around here* are shamelessly stolen from his Creative Coast and Nordic Game Conference albums.

I have nothing but words of praise for both events and for their organisers, Johan Toresson and Jacob Riis. Since I am deeply involved in organising our own Sweden Game Conference in Skövde this fall, I cannot help but admire this Creative Nordic Week and to try and learn as much as possible about what makes a conference great. While having names such as Susana Meza Graham, Rhianna Pratchett and Hideo Kojima can certainly draw crowds, I do believe that the difference is in the details – select lectures on fringe topics such as Jennifer Kanaray’s Labyrinth Psichotica, Torill Kornfeldt on why game developers need biologists, or the amazing Ste Curran with Double Tab; plentiful water, coffee and fruits around every corner, exquisite and very well targeted concerts with performers like the amazing Chipzel and Lobst3r, topped by venues that invite for conversation and forging friendships. Did I mention Marioke?

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The great Ste Curran, the awesome Gemma Thomson and moi, Marioking the hell outta REM’s Losing My Religion. Luckily, no one recorded us 😀

But while I could go on endlessly in chronicling Creative Coast Festival and Nordic Game Conference, the purpose of this post is to list the most valuable lessons I learned at these events. Some of the lectures were recorded and I look forward to see them online; some of the lectures were in parallel with other awesome lectures so – note to self, must find a clone or 2 by 2017. These are only the lessons I was able to photograph*, in chronological order – enjoy!

Creative Coast Festival – Building & Maintaining an Audience on YouTUBE by Niklas Oden

Niklas is a partner manager at the Swedish YouTube network United Screens and one of the people behind Swedish Meal Time, a YouTube-channel who gained over 1 million subscribers. His job focuses on helping YouTubers which is why his focus at Creative Coast was to shed some light into the mysterious art of growing your Stream and YouTube channel.

Some of the numbers Niklas offered were aimed to debunk several myths such as the median age of people who watch YouTube, which is surprisingly close to those pf people who watch TV: 35 over 43 years old. And perhaps more important, that over 40% of regular YouTube users look at videos with products before taking the decision to buy. Products such as games.

Creative Coast Festival – The paradox of building value through constant change while remaining the same by Susana Meza-Graham

Paradox is a controversial name these days, yet I can’t help but admire what few think of as one of the most successful indie enterprises out there in the world. How did they get there and what can one learn from that? Susana’s talk offered a detailed and complex Paradox history, full of lessons learned the hard way that made Paradox the cohesive, focused company that is highly trusted by its fans to care for and maintain all its products.

Susana focused a lot on the business aspect, which is something of a taboo in the indie scene, but perhaps the most valuable lesson she shared is that a successful game is one that people buy and want to play.  Of course there are many ways to do that, but they all involve a lot of hard work, and Paradox’s take on that was reacting quickly and proving themselves as the kind of company that stays true to its nature (developing replayable, intellectual yet hard code games which are nonetheless accessible, stimulate players’creativity and centre on a highly engaging subject matter) and always fixes its stuff.

Creative Coast Festival – Think business! WTF is money, and does it matter what I’m working on? by Robin Hjelte

Robin runs Forgotten Key, a gamedev studio currently in the Netport incubator who has been developing the title Air for the past couple of years. Aer is a beautiful adventure that allows you to fly through an enchanted world full of secrets. The game received numerous praises from publications like Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Kotaku and Destructiod, yet Robin’s talk , titled in a manner that made me wonder about their operational struggles, offered an excellent insight into what a young indie team encounters in terms of business, opportunities, strategies and much more.

Creative Coast Festival – Bonus

Creative Coast Festival featured almost continuous talks on two parallel tracks, and since all of the carefully selected lectures where super interesting, it was at times quite frustrating to have to choose. Here are just a few that really caught my eye:

Labyrinth Psychotica, a beautiful, haunting take by artist Jennifer Kanary Nikolov(a) who uses virtual technology and – to some exempt- game mechanics to explore what its like to be in psychosis.

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Creative Coast Festival – Labyrinth Psychotica, Simulating Psychotic Phenonema by Jennifer Kanary

Game Design as a Self Reflexive Practice, an emotional, compelling and quite convincing lecture by Memoir En Code’s Alex Camilleri about using game design as an introspective technique to know yourself better, and dare to create complex and deeply personal gameplay fueled by your own memories.

How to travel and work, you can be a Working nomad by Martin Kvalle, who spent almost a year exploring, working and living in more than a dozen countries across several continents. Martin always says amazing stuff, but he embedded this particular lecture with audio footage from some of the places he has been to, which pretty much lifted up everything to a whole new level.

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Creative Coast Festival – How to travel and work, you can be a Working nomad by Martin Kvalle

Oh!

Nordic Game Conference – Tips for a Successful Steam Release by Tom Giardino

It’s quite a thing to receive precisely 10 tips on how to successfully release a game – on Steam and Not Only – directly from the behemoth that  dominates the global digital distribution landscape. If THEY don’t know what one should do, I don’t know who does. And while Giardino’s advice seems common sense, I find it surprising that so very few indie developers actually apply it. Here’s the gist of it, in my own words, but do check out ALL the slides and watch the summary recording:

  1. Have a plan. I know this is a producers mantra, but you WILL fail if you don’t have a plan. You need to know what you are aiming for, what you have, what you lack and what is the heart of your game, before you invest even one minute into it.
  2. Focus on the right features. Seriously know, understand, analyse and plan what you truly need at launch.
  3. Market Early. Market Often. Some games needed more than 4 years for Some People to remember them. There is never too early marketing and there is never enugh time to iterate and find the message that resonates with your biggest fans the most.
  4. Make a good trailer. The essential here is that the story, the hook of your video starts at Second 0. A logo does not tell a story. Do no waste your most precious intro seconds by showing logos. And of course, your trailer is your pitch.
  5. Make a good capsule art. Do not confuse your players, because this is the fingerprint of your game. Make it clear crisp, essential. Make it memorable (and to remember something you need to get it, instantly)
  6. Localize!!! 60% of Steam users do not use the platform in English! And there are fast and cheap free ways to understand where to focus: localize your store page, and read your metrics.
  7. Test! Steam even allows you to setup your beta access, so use a private beta branch.
  8. Don’t Be Exclusive. Valve always encouraged everyone to launch in as many places as possible. You can get Steam keys, you can sort them, use them, tag them, track them, so you can be generous, and you do not have to lock yourself needlessly out of opportunities. Just – beware of being TOO generous with your Steam keys. They represent, in fact, your hard earned cash, so treat them as such. Request small batches of keys to distribute (ie to press) and track your redemptions.
  9.  Pay Attention to Feedback. Listen, and make a sincere effort to understand, regardless of the shape in which the feedback comes. For any game, your players are an essential part of your development process – so treat all feedback as such. Just remember: there is no such thing as bad feedback.
  10. Update with Purpose. Don’t spam, use updates as something valuable, that builds up your game and creates a good reputation (which always goes a long way).

This was by far the most useful talk for me.

And if my shameless full lecture photo capture isn’t enough, here is almost all the TL; DNR version captured on video:

Nordic Game Conference – The Emotional Layers of This War of Mine by Marek Ziemak

What 11bit does is excellence in design. I almost cried at this lecture, because it was brilliant, beautiful, deeply insightful and emotional. It taught me that developing games with a purpose requires not only the mastery of craft and experience, but also maturity and wisdom. All I can say is, play This War of Mine. Thank you, Marek!

Nordic Game Conference – Indiepocalypse: Why So Many Games Fail by Nick Parker

Nick Parker has been in the video games industry since 1992 and is currently working with selected game developers to raise capital and facilitate scarily big investments, As such, he has quite a unique and experienced insight into why most indie games fail. It’s really quite simple: a flooded market, lack of business strategy and failure to plan adequate marketing budgets. The takeaway? Top studios invest about 15-20% of their total budget in marketing, with a rough estimated cost of about 75000 Euros (Yeah, I Know), which should include Localization, 2 trailers, a fully developed website and also your game’s name in several major publications.

Of course, there is luck, ingenuity, brilliance however this does not make Parker’s insights any less valuable.

Nordic Game Conference – Collective Update and Tips for Pitching by Phil Elliott

I’ve been torn between Phil’s talk and Steam as the top Nordic Game lectures for me. You see, I cannot help but love a publisher that starts to speak with indies by asking: Do you really need someone like me? There is a lot of naivete and lack of knowledge amongst young indie teams, enough to spawn quite a serious amount of predators so finding a truly valuable publisher is an art in itself. But what Phil did is to offer an excellent guide for figuring out what kind of help you need, why and how you need it, and how to evaluate your offers.

I do think Phil’s slides speak for themselves but what caught my attention in particular is his relentless, passionate quest for honesty. Do be honest with what you seek and what you have, do tell your publisher that you are not yet ready to pitch, and do push all the doors, constantly.

 

Nordic Game Conference – Getting the Most Out of Your Entire Dev Cycle by John Graham

John was the one that got away, for me, this time at Nordic Game. I could only attend a few minutes, but it sure was a pleasure to see him talk.

As the very humble founder Humble Bundle, John reinforced the strong message of showing your game often, make noise, engage people early make friends, and oh. Have a PR & sales schedule.

Nordic Game Conference – Project Discovery by Andie Nordgren, Attila Szantner and Emma Lundgren

The entire lecture, thanks to the wonderful wonderful Fluffy.

Nordic Game Conference – Bonus

Tanya was here!!! She had a lecture about designing and creating procedural mythologies for Kitfox Games’latest release, Moon Hunters. I’ll be honest, she is too complex a designer for me, but it was truly wonderful seeing her talk at Nordic!

Double Tap by Ste Curran was a ting to behold. Which I didn’t. But it influenced absolutely everyone who attended, because it was a powerful, deep, thought provoking art piece about violence and games and the responsibility we need to take.

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Ste Curran’s amazingly powerful Double Tap performance at Nordic Game Conference 2016

AWESOME GAMEDEVS ARE AWESOME

I have been deeply touched and also surprised by the amount of people who actually read my Twitter and blog ramblings and show genuine, passionate interest for our Project: Freedom.

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Abbey Games + 11bit + Kitfox = Extreme Awesomeness in one single pic!

I still run on the immense happiness and gratitude for spending calm, valuable time with so many amazing people, too often far away from me

I love my colleagues! And because of them, I love my job!

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The Sweden Game Arena staff, demonstrating what sacrifices we have to make in order to keep our indies up and running <3

I have been left without words, just love, at the amount of true, genuine friendship one can forge in this industry. If there’s one picture that summarises this Nordic week, and the large and amazing community  we are a part of, its this.

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A South African, a Romanian and a Norwegian gamedev walk into a free WiFi bar… <3