Before wrapping up my PAX coverage in this post as I recover from my 6 AM flight plus 8 hours of cross-country travel, I wanted to mention just how unique the atmosphere of PAX is. It’s got the multi-million dollar booths like E3 but also has rooms where you can sit down and play zombie Catan for a couple hours, workshops for painting your own tabletop figure and vendor stalls where you can buy custom molded iron d-sixes. Where else can you sit in your hotel lobby with total strangers and discuss Borderlands, Bioshock and re-casting the original ‘Star Wars’ with modern actors? (my favorite picks: Daniel Craig as Han Solo and Morgan Freeman as Obi-Wan Kenobi) Also to note, PAX has a really open atmosphere – I ate breakfast with the headliners from the first night’s concert (VGO), danced next to Jerry Holkins and said hello to Robert Khoo in the line for live D&D. But enough digression – onto the interesting information:

The Zero to Indie in 5 Steps panel brought together successful indie developers to discuss the most important steps/questions in indie development. Some of my favorites:

  • It’s better to do something small well (To paraphrase David Heinemeier Hansson – build half a product, not a half-effort product)
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew
  • Remove your ego from the equation – you can’t make the next World of Warcraft
  • It’s important to have game development experience beforehand
  • A lot of the process is the same for indies or mainstream games, and it’s important to understand it
  • Don’t waste your time (and money) figuring out how to put the pieces together – learn from the mistakes of your employer
  • Even a single year in the industry can be a huge advantage – nobody wants to be the noob
  • How do you find good team members?
  • Find people who will buy into your project and your vision – it’s hard to work when you’re team isn’t 100% committed, and without a dedicated core team, you won’t finish
  • It’s best to work with people you know or get references from people you know from your local community
  • It helps if you can select your team while you’re in the industry – once you are in the door, you have a great network to leverage
The Pitch Your Game workshop was an opportunity for the audience to present their game idea in 45 seconds. It was funny, education and inspirational; there were a few really great ideas shared here, even after the judges warned ‘This is not the place to share an idea near and dear to your heart, we will crush your dreams’. Some of the best/worst/funniest:
  • Odor based puzzle game, where you play as a game convention attendee trying to meet with your favorite celebrities (Judge: Wait, so your game is trying to offend it’s core audience? Maybe we could make this an education game?)
  • Scientist superheroes – control an alliance of famous scientists from history as they battle evil (Newton could manipulate physics, Tesla control electricity, Einstein could slow down/speed up time…)
  • Nicholas Cage Hates the Moon – motion game where you try to mimic the unique acting style of Nick Cage!
  • Words with Guns – A FPS game where every player has a ‘letter gun’. The gun begins uncharged but can ‘suck in’ letters scattered across the level and will do damage based on the words created. (Judge 1: Hmm…what does the Venn Diagram of FPS players that can spell look like? Judge 2: That’s not a Venn Diagram, that’s two circles!)
The Insider Insight panel was hosted by Geoffrey Zarkin, the president of EEDAR, a data analysis service for video games, described as the ‘Pandora of Gaming’. From observing over 28,000 games, EEDAR has uncovered some interesting and sometimes shocking results, such as:
  • Since 2004, the number of games being released per channel (console, PC, mobile) has doubled
  • The average review score of games has been going down, but when Wii games are removed the average actually stays the same
  • Games on the Wii twice as likely to have Ninjas
  • For the first time last year (2010) there were more digital releases than boxed retail releases
  • Games with high review scores sell well; Games scoring in the 90-100 Metacritic range sell 4-5 times better than those in the 79-89 range; Out of thousands of games released, only 60 games scored above 90
  • After the Sony ‘Welcome Back’ program where Sony gave away digital download games bundles, the number of games purchased via digital download (excluding the free games) went up 2% – a significant increase
  • In a controlled study around Plants vs. Zombies, with none of the subjects having played the game before, those shown a good review beforehand (85%) would themselves rate the game higher (~91%), while those shown a bad review (75%) would themselves rate the game lower (71%)
  • Less games are coming out with multiplayer – 30% of the games on the current generation of consoles do not have multiplayer
So overall – I learned a ton, I laughed a ton and I met a whole bunch of great people who also love games. More than the big screens, elaborate displays or the schwag, it’s the people there that make you say ‘Yes, I’d definitely go back to PAX next year‘.