18 lessons learned at Develop Live

Unable to attend last month's conference in Edinburgh? We have the best advice and revelations right here
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1. LITERATURE AND GAMES SHOULD JOIN FORCES MORE OFTEN

Develop Live kicked off with a talk by best-selling British crime author Christopher Brookmyre, who discussed how games influenced much of his writing.

When asked by UK studio RedBedlam if he was interested in developing of a game, he shocked the team with his enthusiasm.

“There was a sense of surprise that a writer would want to have anything to do with this, because traditionally writers have their work optioned to be adapted and then they want nothing else to do with it,” he said.

The 13,000-word design document Brookmyre wrote for forthcoming FPS Bedlam ended up becoming the basis for a book of the same name, and the author added: “It turns out having a published novel is a great way to do raise funding, rather than just having this big ideas document.”

The author was surprised more of his peers haven’t been involved in creating an FPS.

“It is the genre that’s closest to a novel,” he says. “A book’s narrative structure is linear and many people want the FPS to be the same. They want to be taken through a guided story just as they are when reading a novel.”

2. RELATABLE CHARACTERS ARE ALL ABOUT THE EYES

Cyberpsychologist Berni Good offered insight into the ‘uncanny valley’: where characters that look almost, but not exactly, human cause revulsion in players.

"Uncanniness increases with a lack of human likeness in facial expressions – particularly the upper face, with the brows, forehead and area around the eyes being most significant,” she said. “It’s really important to get the graphical fidelity right in this area.”

This is because a proven visual marker for psychopathy is a lack of facial or startled response in that eye area.

“When movement is removed around this area here, people get quite uncomfortable,” said Good.

She pointed to the example of early Heavy Rain characters, which were taken back to the drawing board when players weren’t associating with them. Meanwhile, The Last of Us was identified as a game that handled characters’ facial responses very well.

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3. FIVE WAYS TO MAKE A RESPONSIVE CROSS-PLATFORM GAME

For developers of browser games, Chunk’s interaction designer Graham Dobie gave an overview of how studios can create titles that run on any desktop, laptop or smart device:

1. Be aware of the viewport size. This is not the same as screen size because some devices don’t let you get rid of the browser interface, e.g. address bar. Research viewport ratios of every device you develop for.

2. Keep all of the interaction within a safe area in the middle of the viewport. That way, users will be able to access all playable items no matter what device they’re one.

3. Remember you don’t have control over the orientation of the browser, which can be used in either orientation. Use a graphic to prompt users to rotate their device if needed.

4. Be mindful of input options. It’s tempting to use the microphone and gyroscope on tablet devices, but provide an alternative for players using a keyboard and a mouse.

5. Keep the weight, i.e. megabytes of data, of your assets as small as possible. Consider compressing them where possible.

4. KICKSTARTER WAS LESS THAN A QUARTER OF BROKEN SWORD FUNDING

Revolution COO Noirin Carmody broke down the sources of funding for Broken Sword 5.

She said the studio had “substantial reserves” from sales of digital versions of its back catalogue of games so 75 per cent of the game’s costs ended up coming from the studio’s own money.

Though the Kickstarter funds of $771,000 were significantly less than the studio’s own investment, Carmody said the crowdfunding site offered a great platform for connecting with users – though it also increased the development cycle and number of features in the game due to the time it took to create the pitch and the subsequent stretch goals.

5. MO-CAP NEEDS MORE AND MORE DATA

Dimensional Imaging CEO Colin Urquhart told attendees that while traditional mo-cap methods, such as marker dots, are still widely used, they are not the most effective way to capture the best performances.

“There are a growing number of companies using head-mounted cameras with a marker-based system,” he said. “There are also a systems where there are no markers, but they’re tracking key features in the face.

“One of the disadvantages of all these systems is the data is quite sparse. To try and recover realistic facial expressions using a sparse set of data requires more work – you either need a more complex rig, or need to do a lot of manual tweaking to get better and better realism for facial performances.”

6. DEMAND FOR DIALOGUE IS RISING

Blockbuster games include more dialogue than ever before and this is expected to continue increasing in the years to come.

Gregor Hofer, CEO of Speech Graphics, observed that there are just 2,500 lines of dialogue in Half-Life 2 and 80,000 in GTA IV, but 160,000 in GTA V and 200,000 in Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

“There is a clear trend towards more and more dialogue, and all of it needs to be animated,” he said. “You can even see this trend within franchises – BioWare’s Mass Effect 2 had about 20,000 lines of dialogue, while Mass Effect 3 had 40,000.”

7. HTML5 VS UNITY: USE WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU

Amazon developer evangelist Jesse Freeman discussed how HTML5 and Unity compare.

Freeman said HTML5 is perfect for quickly making casual games. Cons for using HTML5, however, include not always picking the right framework, and not knowing where to even begin, given the sheer number available. Freeman added that limited tool integration and inconsistent performance across the board were other potential cons for HTML5.

Unity is great for devs as it is designed for complex 2D and 3D game development. Highlights for him included the use of C# for coding, the built-in physics, preview, debugging and component building features and the general ease of development.

On the flipside, Unity can “get in your way” at times, he said. Freeman stated for someone like him who likes to build everything in his own way, Unity would sometimes cause problems because he wasn’t developing “in the Unity way”.

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8. SURGEON SIMULATORS ARE REAL

Nothing to do with the hilarious Bossa game, mind. But medical illustrator Cilien Kearns revealed there are scores of apps designed to help train surgeons for various procedures.

Charity Smile Train commissioned a simulator to prepare surgeons for all complications when fixing children’s cleft palates and lips, making it much safer when they come to operating on patients.

“Another example is one iPad app that uses augmented reality during liver transplants to show an overlay of 3D data from scans of that patient, allowing surgeons to know which vessels they need to find,” said Kearns.
“It means the operation takes less time, and has less complications. Surgeons say this will replace equipment worth $500,000.

“In any society in any part of the world, healthcare is a fundamental cornerstone. Anything you can develop that has this kind of innovation and potential money-saving is something that healthcare industries across the world have a lot of reason to invest heavily in.”

9. AUDIO NEEDS MORE ATTENTION

Sound designer and Abertay graduate Eden Morrison believes audio has become “a second-class citizen”, citing conversations with professionals who have worked on projects where “sound was an afterthought”.

Morrison argues audio is essentially half of all the sensory feedback players receive from games, with visuals being the other half – and yet more effort arguably goes into the latter.

Anything you can develop that has this kind of innovation and potential money-saving is something that healthcare industries across the world have a lot of reason to invest heavily in.

Cilien Kearns, Medical illustrator

“We can spot visual repetition very quickly, but with sound effects and music it takes a lot longer before repetition becomes noticeable,” he said. “But do we want to get to the same place as film, where some sound effects have become so generic they’ve become industry in-jokes, like the Wilhelm scream?”

10. HOW TO KEEP VIRTUAL REALITY PLAYERS SAFE

Virtual reality draws players into such an absorbing environment, developers have a responsibility to keep them safe, according to Preloaded’s Katie Goode.

“This means physically taking care of players so they don’t get sick or hurt,” she explained, “and also giving them a great experience to match the amount of time and money they’ve invested into your game.”

Motion sickness is one of the major worries about VR and one of the most common causes, Goode says, is turning. So devs must ask whether or not they need players to turn in their games, or whether having the players control their own motion by physically turning – naturally limiting the speed at which they turn – will be better.

“Adding on-screen hands for reference is a grounding technique; it ensures that players don’t get dizzy when going up and down stairs or turning around quickly,” she added.

“You want to avoid large actions and focus on smaller interactions to avoid accidents. Also, if players are untethered with a wireless headset, they’ll feel like they can wander everywhere. If you encourage them to control their movements, a lot of players tend to try to naturally walk forward. Keep your environments quite small so they don’t walk halfway across the room.”

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11. DEVS COULD BE DOING much MORE

Scottish Games Network founder Brian Baglow believes that the industry could lose revenue to other sectors in future.

“We’re still rescuing princesses, collecting coins, blowing shit up and shooting people in the head with ever-more photorealistic detail,” he said. “The bigger opportunity is to look at interactive media as a transformative technology that is changing every creative industry – and we’re kind of ignoring it.

“When TV, film and so on decide they’re going to take interactive media seriously, they’re probably going to approach a digital design agency, not a games developer. But agencies don’t bring the creativity, passion, originality and spark that we’re really good at.

“Our audience has grown. Everyone out there is a potential gamer. The biggest hobby in the UK is knitting. But who’s made a knitting game? We’ve not yet explored how games can affect the way people engage with politics, healthcare and fitness, or education. We can do more.”

12. NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT

Indie dev James Parker interspersed his popular talk with a puppet, The Wise Old Games Owl, satirising anyone that claims to know everything about the games industry.

The owl’s predictions – such as ‘nothing will go wrong if you bet your business on a Clash of Clans clone’ – had the audience laughing, but Parker had a point to back up the comedy.

“Predictions like this are never predictions, they’re just observations of emerging trends,” he said. “No one knows what they’re talking about. No one predicted the success of Minecraft, or Flappy Bird. And if you copy what’s successful, you’re already too late.”

He added that studios still have to follow trends to an extent, and that issues can often be attributed to following trends too early or too late. But, he said, not knowing the future is a good thing.

“It means we all have a lot more control over our destinies,” he said. “When everything rests on a coin toss, you can follow your best ideas rather than go with the crowd.”

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13. DEVELOPERS AREN’T TESTING THEIR GAMES EARLY ENOUGH

Usability experts urged devs to seek feedback on their work as soon as possible.

They argued that many developers make too many assumptions about how gamers will play their titles and what they will understand – despite the fact that some studios have seen testers take as long as 20 minutes to work out how to start their game.

“Some people go into usability testing when their game is finished waiting for an amazing pat on the back, and when they don’t get that, it’s too late to do anything,” said Lumo Developments’ Steve Stopps.

“The magic happens when you make developers watch people play their games. Just telling people what’s wrong, just giving them the paper reports, doesn’t work.”

14. THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO BE A ONE-MAN BAND

Indie developer Nicoll Hunt offered advice on how games makers can operate as a one-man business, discussing the three pillars of time, money and skills.

Hunt said: “You will always be the bottleneck for your development so you need as many hours as possible.”
He also advised “heavy rationing” of Twitter, Facebook and email usage, and recommended crowdfunding as a good option for funding a one-man studio.

“You have a smaller need for money so you can ask for lower targets,” he said. “Alternatively, consider freelance work.”

Hunt said a one-man dev’s skills become more important than ever: “With no one to fall back on, you need to be better at everything you suck at. You don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to be competent.”

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15. IT’S TOUGH TO COPYRIGHT GAMES

Perhaps something that studios already knew, but Newcastle University’s reader-in-law Daithi Mac Sithigh offered some insight into why this is so difficult.

“In the present day, it’s not just about understanding what legislation and case law says about the position of games and intellectual property,” he said. “It’s also important to take into account app store review guidelines – the ‘real’ law.

“European courts still struggle with what games are in terms of copyright law. They’re software but they also have artistic elements. And there are different copyright laws for software and for everything else, so your art might be protected but the rest of your game might not.”

The legal expert said that, rather than copyright and trademarks, devs might be better suited to seek protection from the law of ‘passing off’.

“This is based on convincing courts that you have goodwill in your product, someone is misrepresenting their product and this is causing damage to you,” he explained, pointing to the example of TopShop selling T-shirts with Rihanna’s image, which could be misconceived as official merchandise.

He also recommended informal means of protection: studios supporting each other when identifying clones and promoting genuine games.

16. F2P GAMES HAVE TO GRAB PLAYERS FROM THE START

DeltaDNA CTO Chris Wright revealed that retention rates on free-to-play games are lower than a lot of people might think.

“Up until about five years ago, we all believed that people who bought our games played them to death,” he said. “What we actually find through analytics is the vast majority don’t get past their first session.

“If you can get 50 per cent of your players to come back and play a second session of your game, you’re doing well. Many lose 80 per cent of their players in the first session.”

Wright also warned that some developers are pushing players away too early.

“Not all players are the same: some of them want a lot of help at the start, but some don’t,” he said. “They don’t want long tutorials, they want to get into the game.”

He also warned that including monetisation messages too early – particularly before players understand all of a game’s mechanics – they will not play any more.

Talking about diversity isn’t a comfortable place to be. I’m waiting to be attacked.

Gina Jackson, Next Gen Skills Academy

17. NETWORKING IS VITAL TO INDIES

During a panel hosted by Microsoft, various Scottish indies offered advice on how to forge valuable connections.

Mogworks’ Donald Sutherland encouraged devs to attend any events they can, adding: “It’s not just about what you’ll learn on the day, it’s about the people you’ll meet and where that can lead.”

Pixel Blimp’s Isaac Howie-Brewington said: “Tell people what you’re doing, even if it’s not done. The people we spoke to worked with us towards a launch window that would be optimal for us based on our type of game, which is information we wouldn’t have had if we hadn’t shown the project at an early stage.”

Geared Kids’ CEO Kasim Qureshi urged new developers to keep trying, even if their debut title struggles: “When a lot of people release their first game and its doesn’t have the success they originally hoped, they can be disheartened by that. It certainly happened to me. But you have to learn from the mistakes you made and try again, not just hope to make it big straightaway.”

18. WE NEED TO PULL TOGETHER TO MAKE OUR INDUSTRY MORE INCLUSIVE

UKIE CEO Jo Twist closed out Develop Live with the BAFTA Scotland Panel on diversity. Entitled ‘Changing the ratio’, the panel called for the games industry to pull together to make it a more inclusive and welcoming place.

Twist said there was currently a “real problem” when talking about the issue, as the right research was not in place to display all the facts. She highlighted reports from Creative Skillset and IGDA presenting different figures on the number of women in the industry, making it difficult to know just how big the issue is. You can read Develop's recent investigation into the issue to help clarify the situation here.

Though the discussion often focused on women, the panellists explained that diversity also meant different ages and backgrounds. As panelist and Next Gen Skills Academy acting MD Gina Jackson explained: “It’s about having different voices, different social experiences and different backgrounds”.



Tigerface Games’ Kate Ho added: “It’s not just about gender”.

It was also noted that the debate isn’t limited to just games, the issue is also present in the VFX and animation sectors.

“If you look at Silicon Valley, it’s amazingly multicultural and welcoming to a whole set of different people,” said Jackson. “It means conversations can be had, clashes of ideas can be had.”

Jackson said one of the key issues she faced when approaching the topic of diversity was the air of fear when speaking out.

“Being on this panel isn’t a comfortable place to be, talking about this isn’t a comfortable place to be,” she admitted. “I’m waiting to be attacked.”

Jackson also stated when writing articles online, she would never read the comments through that same fear. She added that to tackle the issue of diversity in games, the responsibility needed to be shared amongst everyone, rather than expecting others, or indeed just women or minorities, to do it.

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