I've opined before that I think game conventions are a net negative when it comes promoting or marketing your game. If it's a consumer focused event, then player feedback can be valuable. There is an infinitesimally small chance that press or streamers will find your game and help it blow up. But I think many games have proven the digital age it is very possible for you game to succeed without participating in any game conventions at all. But that's a topic I'll go deeper into for another day, as I've yet to give it enough thought to write anything coherent.
So what value is there in attending conventions? Why did we bring Academia : School Simulator to Bitsummit this year? Well for me, the best thing about game conferences is meeting fellow developers from around the world and hearing their stories. In where political and ideological divisions are becoming more and more stark and divided, it's more important than ever to build bridges and get to know each other better. So here are some stories from Bitsummit, with all the specific details brushed out to protect people's identities.
Note: a reminder that I am from the Philippines, which hopefully helps give context to some of what I say.
Three of my formative years were lived in Jakarta, Indonesia's bustling capital. This year at Bitsummit I met a few awesome young game developers who are really making waves both locally and around the world. We compared notes on whether Metro Manila or Jakarta was the worse city ( I decided it was a tie) and how linguistically interesting it was that even our slang words were sometimes similar (The slang for women's breasts is “dede” in Filipino, while it's “tete” in Bahasa Indonesia). We hoped to one day be able to grow the regional industry to the point where we could have our own GDC, aspirations we shared with a Singaporean dev that joined us for lunch.
In between dick jokes (remember how I said they were young?) they mentioned that they had read my article about publishing games in China and how that had shaped their decision to seek publishers there. Hearing these stories really affirms that the time I spend writing these blogs is worth it.
Just a day after the event, the news about a suicide bombing in Surabaya shocked the Indonesian nation. I've always ties to Indonesia, but now having made these new friends, I feel their pain even more intensely.
Drinking beer by the riverside is one Bitsummit's most time-honored traditions. I had a conversation with a Danish developer about old age in the game industry. He's pushing 40 and a little worried about it, and I was happy to have a conversation with someone older than me about my fears of aging.
I asked how he felt about the influential Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and he said that while he doesn't agree with everything Ingels does, it's kind of nice that he(Bjarke) is a larger than life personality coming out of a country and region that prides itself on the Jante Law (tl:dr living a modest life is A-OK). I agreed that it's good and necessary for certain people to be able to stand out and make their mark in the world and hopefully improve it. But he agreed with me when I said it's also important not to worship these people or require everyone to aspire to be like them.
He talked about how he owns a gun and hunts in the Danish countryside, but that he can't wrap his head around American gun laws. I just shook my head sadly and mentioned how disappointed I was that some people on our forums seem really eager to have school shootings in our game. I have a standing invitation to call on him and his team if we ever visit Copenhagen.
South Africa and Germany
There is something about bi-racial couples that really makes me happy. It's like my view of the world being interconnected and everyone being equal is encapsulated a relationship between two individuals, and it's a beautiful thing. One such couple was staying in the same guesthouse as us, and we had a little conversation over breakfast. There was a disagreement about how we felt about doing game conventions:
South African : I don't know what you're talking about, I get so pumped doing conventions, I'm fucking ready to! *stretches and flexes
Me and the German : Ugh, get out my face.
I met a Brazilian game developer who is living in Japan. I approached him because we were both building simulation games, and we talked about the difficulty of explaining and showing a simulation game in a convention that tends to favor loud, quick to play action oriented games.
We had a couple too many beers at the mixer, and it became clear to me that with each increasing beer he began to progressively bring out his grab bag of spoken languages and accents, which led to two awkward/hilarious moments:
Ukranian : Hey, I'm from the Ukraine.
Brazilian : *something in Russian!
Ukrainian: That is Russian, but I forgive you.
Third Party : These guys are from Australia!
Brazilian : *something in ridiculous Australian accent!
Australians : …
A couple of beers later (perhaps we should have stopped, but they were free) I brought up the current situation in Brazil and he went on a passionate defense of Lula da Silva and how the charges against him were trumped up. The short argument was that yeah, the left was corrupt, but at least they did some good things. The right will just destroy everything!
I should end this by saying I think he's a really lovely person, but when we meet him next time maybe I'll tell him to slow his roll with the alcohol.
I tried out a Japanese developer's game and I really liked it. We alternated speaking broken Japanese and broken English to each other, and I encouraged him to shop his game to publishers so that he finds a wider audience. I pointed him out to publisher that I knew, and then proceeded to take one of his flyers over to said publisher.
Me: Hey have you checked this game out?
Publisher : No, what is it?
Me: *explains game
Publisher : Oh awesome man, thanks for this, (you're) always looking to help others out.
I met a lovely couple living in Canada who were both game designers. We discussed the difficulty of calling their spouse their “partners”, especially in the context of a game exhibition where a partner more often means “business partner”.
One of them brightened up when I mentioned we had made Political Animals. Apparently she had really loved how it took certain risks by showing that politicians were just people responding to incentives. I told her that it really warmed my heart to hear that, especially since the game was a financial flop. She said she thinks it's well known in game designer circles because she hears it being discussed a lot. This is the first I've heard of that, but that certainly made my night.
We talked about how we were both so in love with Japan and were trying to figure out a way to settle down there or just live there for a few years, and how it sucked that Japanese immigration and residency policies made it really difficult to attract people here.
I should say I’m actually quite picky when it comes to my friends, but it was one of those wonderful moments where I felt like we instantly connected and would have been best friends had we lived in the same area.
Last Conversation : Iran
We shared a table space with a couple of Iranian developers. I had given them advice on how to get to Kyoto via Tokyo through email, and it turns out we shared the same guesthouse as well. We shared our extension cord with them, and before we packed up and left I had a quick conversation with one of them:
Iranian : Hey, thanks for being good neighbors and sharing your extension cord with us
Me: Oh no problem, its's really nothing. I uh...good luck with those economic sanctions I guess?
Iranian : *Sigh These fucking politicians.
Me : I know right? We just want to make games and get along!
Iranian : Exactly!
Note: I understand that this is a rather naive statement and obviously having made a game about politics we believe in some sort of political process. It does get frustrating sometimes that people on the ground can be friends while their leaders bicker with each other.
These are only some of the many conversations I had in Bitsummit. I left feeling a little more energized and connected to the world than I had been for a while. It's important to hunker down and build your games. But making games in isolation can become lonely and disheartening, and sometimes it's good to reconnect and feel like you're a part of a larger, global family of game creators. Here's to next year's Bitsummit!
Bonus Conversation : China
While in line at the airport I tapped a guy on the shoulder because his bag was wide open and the contents looked ready to fall out. He was very appreciate and friendly, and we chatted a little bit while in line. Turns out he's a Chinese businessman with “many businesses” in many countries and doing “distribution”.
Chinese : I distribute cleaning implements
Me: *excited Oh! Like vacuum cleaners? (excitement context: I love my Dyson vacuum cleaner)
Chinese : No, like liquid cleansers
Me: *hiding disappointment Ah.
Since he was friendly enough I offered him by business card before we split up, and he offered his in return while his girlfriend nodded approvingly (she was very keen for us to exchange contact info). When I looked at it, his business card was an “invitation” to join Amway. He texted me afterwards thanking me again for reminding him about the bag. Needless to say, I will not be responding to any and all further texts.
Thanks for reading, and hope you found this interesting! I'd like to take this moment to say you get get Academia : School Simulator now! If you're not ready to buy, please sign up for our mailing list, join the Facebook group, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our Youtube channel and help us spread the word!