To be clear right up front, I did not attend GDC Online in Austin TX earlier this month. Over the times I have been there, it's the North American show I enjoyed most, albeit slightly less each year as the event grew, becoming larger as well as more corporate, a trend that seemed to pick up speed after the current owner purchased it. While this is certainly understandable and to be expected from a business point of view, I liked it better when it was smaller and less formal.
Still, I missed the opportunities attending affords to get invaluable face time with a lot of contacts. There's no real replacement for touching base with numerous individuals and companies within the space of a few days as a great way to get an updated snapshot of the MMOG industry. And it's often easier to learn things off the record when you get to sit with people over a couple of cold ones after official show hours.
Luckily, I do get some informal feedback in the course of my normal communication with various parties. When I know someone was there, it's only natural to ask "How was Austin this year?" Many replies are polite and not really very enlightening, but some contain information and opinions that help me to get at least a little bit of a feel for how the show went.
In this respect, I'm not primarily focusing on the games that were shown. Commenting on them would be kind of presumptuous. After all, I wasn't there to see any of the demos. And frankly, although I do read show reports to help keep up, I factor in that on average, they tend to run 30 minutes, seldom more than an hour, and that what you see during that time is selected by the companies. Is it a big surprise such articles tend to be similar, differentiated as much or more by the writers' styles than by their informational content?
That said, and within this column's topical umbrella, I did get a few things of interest related to this year's show. One is the impression that the overall presence of free to play was greater than ever. It's funny to think back not so many years to when conference sessions related to the area were almost an afterthought, scheduled in non-prime time slots, located in smaller rooms that wouldn't come close to filling up, and often with the same people sitting in so the presenters ended up largely preaching to the already converted.
In any case, it seems like 2010's twist on this ongoing trend was a growing focus on development in this hemisphere. This has been happening for a while now, but my sense is that this sector jumped in terms of the realization it's there and growing. It's hard to imagine catching up with the volume and thus the proportion within the market of games from Korea and China, but numerically at least, I think we can expect to see more that originate here, especially if we look beyond "traditional" hardcore, client-based projects.
While it's difficult to assess how credible they are, a couple of potentially interesting rumors related to F2P came my way. One is that a pretty high-profile title in development is being shifted from subscription-only to either a hybrid or dual models on segregated servers. You'll have to excuse me for not naming it right now. I'm trying to find out whether there's fire or just smoke. If it turns out to be true or even more accurate than false, you'll know soon enough and story will definitely be news.
The other isn't completely separate. It's that there seems to have been quite a bit of talk about various subscription publishers following Turbine and SOE over to the dark side. A couple of months back, I wondered whether there are enough conversions taking place to constitute a trend. The answer is a matter of opinion, but after Austin, my feeling that more are coming is stronger, albeit not by a huge amount since all I'm basing this on is some rumors.
Lastly, and perhaps most interesting of all, there's apparently talk of an F2P conference. As you might guess from my initial comments, I'd love to see something on a moderate scale, perhaps in the range of 500 to 1,000 attendees. My gut feel says that as the category continues to grow, and even more so if other major publishers enter the space, there's a decent chance such an event will happen within the next three to five years.