To: The Game Industry
From: Gen Katz, Editor
Topic: The GDC Has Matured
Date: Feb 2008

It finally happened - the first time there was a line in the ladies loo. As one of my architecture professors said, “When women enter the profession it is a sign that it has lost prestige”. Change happens. The Industry has matured with summits on Education, Casual Games, Independent and Serious games, and Worlds in Motion (interactive online space/socialization). Earnest Adams, the education keynote, – who is always worth listening to for his futurist predictions, said that with all the educational opportunities the industry will be facing a worker glut.

And this year’s color was girly PINK – almost Code Pink and practically Barbie Pink. But by Friday the Expo hall smelled strongly of boy essence. It still holds true that if you want to know where the industry is going – to the GDC you come.

“Games do good things for you”, was the overall steady message from the Serious Games Summit. Of particular interest for me, being a Californian, were the sessions on how to improve the Redistricting Game - which lets you redraw electoral borders and hear the citizens and politicians yell. What these games expose is the complexity of the problem without completely discouraging an attempt at a solution. As an example, PeaceMaker (Manifesto) showed how intractable a Palestinian/Israeli problem was for both sides.

Still doing good, Dean Ornish, Dr. Andrew Weill and Deepk Chopra plus biofeedback in Healing Rhythms (Wild Devine} are working on reducing stress and increasing “wellness”. Could possibly be a recovery program for game addicts. Remember Lumines (BVG)? It was found to reduce stress. For me it was Reaxxion (Mumbo Jumbo).

The Wii Fit was introduced by Takao Sawano and was one of the sessions where simultaneous translating units were available. He covered all the nuts and bolts of what may turn out to be a movement for universal family wellness. But for an inspiring story of creation – go to and read how and why Wii Fit was created. Four volumes with Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo interviewing the Wii Fit team makes for an awesome case study filled with amusing and inspiring insights: Shigeru Miyamoto’s personal statements about being aware of his body, the peculiar feeling the team had going to bathroom scale manufacturers, how the design evolved with the image of Sumo wrestlers needing two scales to be weighed and even further when it incorporated balance with the concept of Seitai therapy. There’s more, sound designers being sensitive in designing a not too discouraging “To Bad” sound and creating a “sparkly” sounds for the hula hoop, showing the effects of weigh gain or loss on your Mii figure - you just have to read it yourselves.

Peter Max in Social Media talked about how important avatars were to keeping people in the game or online site. Of millions of avatars, only about 1-3% stayed and those that stayed were people who were most pleased with their avatar, and that avatar building should be fun and quick.

Not everybody could get into the session with Kim Swift and Erik Wolpaw on Portal. The line went down the hall and snaked past the dining area and practically to the restrooms. Should have used the Esplanade Ballroom where futurist Ray Kurzweil gave the keynote with the ”come away” message that growth is exponential and things will have changed by the time your game is finished and that we are all waiting for Spore.

There was a disconcerting issue in, “Free to Play! Pay for Item: The Virtual Goods Debate”. Was it fair to pay for power to win or to buy items to increase acceptability when “games” were about competitive skill and achievement? It was posited that it was reasonable for a person who had money but no time to pay a player who had used his time to make a desirable character. Sounds to me like we are once again in a two tiered society – like in real life.

Bringing games to the masses means that they have to become more approachable. Katie Stone-Perez in her session, “Let me Win” really laid down an hour's worth of do’s and don’ts that brought me to my feet cheering. She talked about helping gamers succeed and that designers were stuck in retro arcade game design where the focus was on getting the player to put in more quarters. Lots of that stuff you have heard me rag about.

Episodic Games was an interesting concept on selling games. Jared Emerson-Johnson and Julian Kwasneski outlined very specific rules about presenting games that have periodically issued content: stories must be self contained, have lots of dialog, focus must be on the story, the schedule must be reliable and many pricing options should be available. Telltale games offers Sam and Max, truly a sophisticated funny game but I don’t know if I could wait a month for each episode. I’ll wait and get the season’s set.

Another indication of the industry’s maturation is the interest in archiving. Both the University of Texas and Stanford University are establishing collections of games, game documents, oral histories and even an “Game Over” section. Yes, the old guys are dying off. This conference is about 20 years old – 10 under the name Computer Game Developers Conference and approximately 10 as GDC after t changed its name in 1999. Way back in 1998 the slogan was “Where Games are Born”, this years slogan was “Learn, Network, Inspire” – that tells it all.