Austin Game Developers Conference, or AGDC as we know it, comes at the end of the summer in a busy season of video game conventions. AGDC is the place for MMO developers to meet and has remained the "online" game conference over the years drawing top talent from around the MMO industry. Gordon Walton, Co-Studio Director at Bioware, Matt Firor, President of ZeniMax Online Studios, and Izora De Lillard, GDC Austin Event Director at Think Services Game Group sat down with us to talk about what the conference has to offer. For those who do not know them Matt, Gordon, and Izora are true veterans in game industry. Gordon Walton and Matt Firor are now developing two major future online games. The team got together to talk about what they hope to see at the conference and where the online game market is headed in 2010.
The 2008-2009 year was an interesting time for MMOs. What do you see as the highlighted topics among developers at the show?
Matt Firor: I would say this conference, this year, really shows the breadth of where online gaming is. It is not just one thing anymore, it is kind of everything from casual games to super high end AAA titles. It used to be much more MMO focused and now it is much more online game focused because the term MMO is starting to become less and less appropriate, because all games are pretty much online these days. If you look at the line up it is everything from little casual based indie games to big EA studio games...there's your intro Gordon.
Gordon Walton: Laughs. I think you covered it perfectly. Everything is moving online and this conference has always been about online gaming and now just the palet is wider. There are so many more things to paint with.
What is AGDC doing to bring smaller games into the eyes of the big publishing companies?
Gordon Walton: I'll start out and say, I hope nothing! I say that in the nicest possible way, but very little good can come from a small studio being mixed up with a big publisher.
Matt Firor: Especially in the online space.
Gordon Walton: I think they are so much better off doing their own thing. I think the conference does a lot for letting smaller people have their work be known. At leats within the industry which is a good starting point to get to the larger market. The big publishers have very little to offer the indy in the big scheme of things, in my view. We're just not in the same business.
Izora De Lillard: I a lot of indies do not want to be picked up by major publishers.
Gordon Walton: Well the intelligent ones yes. There are just too many eyes on every deal. If I was a little guy I wouldn't want anything to do with the dinosaurs, I would be dancing around between their legs, the appropriate kind of mammal that we should be.
Matt Firor: I totally agree with what Gordon said, I was just going to say that, you know these days more and more, especially in the online world, you don't have to go to a major publisher at all. Look at all the IPhone apps that people are doing by themselves. Although Apple is arguably the publisher, but it is totally indy based. Lots of casual online game publishers out there do not go anywhere near major publishers, because they just get in the way. It is definitely changing away from that big publisher paradyme.
Izora De Lillard: Any attendee that comes to the event can either rush with open arms to publishers or stay away. One of the things we are bringing to the conference this year are the IPhone and Indy summits. As well as programming throughout the conference geared toward those summits. Overall the event is all about sharing information to make better games.
Gordon Walton: The real focus of the conference has always been about knowledge and information sharing. So, no matter which part of the market you're participating in hopefully there is valuable information you can pick up while there. Find the right people to partner with. If you want someone to do your distribution there should be someone there, if you want someone to do your back end or billing, you should be able to find that person. The idea is to have that information in different places at the conference. Really it is to try and bring out the best practices because it is an evolving medium. Which means we're learning every year, we're doing stuff differently every year, so the best practices are changing every year.
Do you expect any major changes in the trend of MMOs to come up at this conference? Something that will break the questing/leveling model?
Matt Firor: There is something to be said for the model that works. People tend to not go towards models that they don't know work. That being said, there truly can be some more innovation within the model we have. If it ain't broke don't fix it is kind of the paradigm there. I think we're too the point where if the game play is similar with a few risks but the story is different, the thing that is lost in the question is that the story is always different. If you go back a few years and look at Fallout and Planescape Torment, two completely different games yet same engine, just a little different combat system. The devil is in the details in the game, not necessarily in the fact that you have a menu bar with hot keys for combat, which is what MMOs have evolved to now.
Gordon Walton: The generic game thing is the challenge. I do not think it is an IP thing I think it is a differentiation thing. You need to differentiate regardless of IP. I think IP alone is insufficient differentiation might be the lesson of the last year. We need to differentiate our game play. They want to be delighted, they want familiar and they want something new at the same time.
Matt Firor: They want to be able to sit down and play with very little introduction.
Gordon Walton: They also want to be inspired.
Matt Firor: If they find something new they keep playing.