I’ve been fortunate enough to once again chair the Steering Committee for the Develop in Brighton conference this year, which takes place from July 29th to 31st. Helping pull together speakers for the conference has proved the usual mixture of relieved high fives as great speakers have signed up, together with a little frustration at the inevitable ones that got away.
Overall, thanks to the generosity of the speakers, I’d say Develop in Brighton’s line-up is bested only by the illustrious GDC in terms of volume, and I hope we’re on a par on quality. Add the attractions of laid back Euro-style networking beside the seaside, the Develop Awards, and the absence of an 18-hour trans-Atlantic journey, and the case for every European developer spending time with us is strong.
I would say that, wouldn’t I? Well, the truth is I had some qualms when the idea of a large games development even in the UK was first floated. Happily, I was wrong.
My principle concern was that the majority of games developers in Western Europe are British, and Brits don’t all begin training in pre-school for their moment in the spotlight. Whereas even post-presentation Q&As at US events can seem like mini-operas, the typical UK developer prefers to keep his or her head down. In addition, I wondered about the sense of community in Europe, and in the UK in particular.
It’s a decade since I saw firsthand how much more professional US games studios were in those days, compared to their equally talented but often wildly disorganised British counterparts. The consequences are well-known, with UK studios relentlessly consolidating or going bust in the early years of the century to leave those who rose to the management challenges and now out-compete their international rivals – despite lacking the Government or homegrown publisher support – or who’ve found success within a larger developer or foreign publisher.
But ‘growing up’ wasn’t the only way the Americans were ahead of the game. More recently it struck me how much more community-focussed North American developers seemed. They appeared happier to share experiences, techniques, and even technologies and staff than UK outfits, especially senior management. Another clue – they used the word ‘we’ a lot when speaking at shows, referring to development population at large, rather than just their own company. And they were stronger for it.
My issue wasn’t only that what I perceived as the UK’s relative insularity would prove self-limiting for its studios – I wondered if it would make it impossible to find sufficient UK developers willing to share their thoughts with their peers.
On balance I was overly cautious – as demonstrated by the embarrassment of talent we’re again welcoming to Brighton. Still, it’s certainly true that some UK companies have seemingly decided the benefits of speaking at European conferences are just too intangible, compared to the more immediate pressures of working life. A few also seem to believe they’ll suffer some competitive disadvantage by sharing. Hardly a problem that’s dogged top US legends like Will Wright or Bioware’s Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, but there you go.
It’s certainly not for me to tell them how to run their business – the onus is on us to make Brighton something every single studio wants to get involved in. 2008 should hopefully be another step towards that.
If someone had told me three years ago that this year’s conference would boast a keynote including not just Ken Levine but all his Bioshock leads, that we’d welcome an A-list of British companies including (in no particular order) Frontier, Traveller’s Tales, Rare, Ninja Theory, Lionhead, Realtime Worlds and many others to the stage, that US speakers from Bungie, Naughty Dog and more would fly over to join us, that Microsoft would again send one of its top generals and seemingly half of SCEE would mark out Brighton on their calendars, that not one but two Japanese developers would present sessions, or that our inaugural online day would include presentations from heavyweights like Jagex, CCP, NCSoft and Linden Labs – not to mention the return of our already-established mobile day and an association once more with GAMES: EDU – well, I’d have given you a moment to catch your breath.
That’s not to blow our trumpet – it’s to urge any stragglers to book their place. It’s game developers who deserve the plaudits, anyway, for rising to the challenge and agreeing to reveal a little about what they’ve learned with us. See you there!