So the first PAX DEV has just wrapped out, and I feel very privileged to be a part of it. Even at over 600 attendees, it felt like a intimate event; a chance to be open, honest and just talk with the brilliant minds in the industry about games – software, hardware,  psychology and philosophy. It’s the kind of event that makes you excited to be a part of a dynamic, complex industry with so much potential and reach.

A big kudos to Penny-Arcade and their enforcers – all the panels I attended were extremely well run, without any sort of technical or scheduling problems. In addition, the presenters were outstanding; every event was filled with valuable information from the starting minute until the close.

If I had to give a one word theme for PAX 2011, it would have to be engagement. The theme linked together many of the events I saw, discussions on how we as developers can better generate, deepen and sustain engagement – games are remarkably effective vehicles for engagement, and we want to learn how to utilize them better.

My highlights from Day 2:

The ‘Practical Systems in the context of Darkspore’ talk was eye opening in revealing just how many systems were built into the game and how extensively they were tweaked; there was some serious design work and iteration done there.

Dan Cook’s presentation was top notch, as expected from anyone who has read his lostgarden.com blog. Fun note here – he was the second presenter to feature a hilarious ‘Capt. Kirk and Spock uncomfortable moment’ slide. Always a crowd favorite!

I really enjoyed ‘the PAX 11-13’ panel as one of the most practical discussions of the conference (The PAX 10 is an exhibition of the best 10 indie games of the year). The judges discussed the runners up for the PAX 10, and why they didn’t make the cut, providing valuable feedback on what worked and what did not. I was actually very impressed with the quality of the games that weren’t selected, which makes me very excited to see the quality of the PAX 10 over the next couple days.

Morgan Jaffit and the rest of the panel on ‘Cubicle to Basement: Corporate Devs Go Indie’ were just fantastic. As someone who studies business, indie games, and especially indie game companies, I was still floored by the amount of new knowledge that I learned from this panel. Some great tips from Morgan:

  • Cultivate your business contacts before you go indie – they will be very useful to have later
  • Just ask – Ask other indies if you need help, ask partners to advertise, ask investors to give you money, and just keep asking; From the time you start to the time you succeed, you will probably hear 10,000 people tell you off
  • Games are the new movies, and have an aura of glamour to them – use this to your advantage!
  • As an indie, your advantage is to be fast – it takes EA 6 months just to greenlight going after a new market segment; you can finish your game in that time window
  • There are markets without gatekeepers (or very forgiving gatekeepers) – PC download, Android, iPhone, etc. This is the best place for indies to succeed!
  • Be careful with who/how you partner. Don’t lose control of your product through your partnerships

Finally – I’d like to thank Toy Studio for giving me the opportunity to meet with the great minds of our industry, and I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned here to enable us to build better games for our audience. That’s all for my PAXDEV wrap up but stay tuned for my coverage of PAX Prime Friday through Sunday!