Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A New Hope

It is a period of academic war. Rebel research teams, striking from a hidden office, have won their first victory against the evil University Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, A LACK OF STRUCTURE AND FOCUS, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire candidature. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Prince Greg races home aboard his starship/hatchback, custodian of the stolen plans that can save his thesis and restore freedom to the galaxy…

A recent trip to GCAP has proven very useful pour moi. I realised properly that the scope of this thing was excessive, but the problem seemed to warrant all bases being covered until I had a clearer picture of the best and most useful course of action. By useful, I mean useful to the potential stakeholders; students, industry and education. My initial and til recently current plan was to create an overview of the industry and produce, as a key outcome, a set of recommendations about how a games course should be delivered among other things. There was a vague notion of acting as an education liaison in there somewhere but it was not fully formed.

What has become apparent is the importance of 'useful' data; a key goal of this kind of research should be to produce something tangible and ongoing. That was another revelation (of sorts); any data collected should be set up in such a way that it is not just a snapshot of that period, but sustainable. This means designing a data collection method that will be repeated each year or 6 months.

This means a revamp of the research design and, thankfully, a lessening of the amount of interviewing I will have to undertake. 1 hour interview time equates to 4 hours of transcription time if you are an experienced transcriber. The case study, following discussion with a few likely types, would seem redundant as one arrangement between a university and a developer is unlikely to be similar to another arrangement. This means a case study would not really reflect the state of play.

Of greater value would be the conducting of interviews with studio heads and some educators to get their view on the industry and where the problems lie, perform some qualitative analysis on the results, and identify the key themes to construct a series of guidelines or recommendations. This aspect of the research is still valid as this kind of study is still largely formative. These recommendations would be coupled with the aforementioned 'hard data', itself rather more immediately useful to developers, educators and recruiters alike.

To summarize the outcomes: a series of recommendations about how game development education and relationships can be improved, coupled with a data series detailing educational background, age and experience and other fields of as many existing developers as possible. This data would serve as a reference point for a) developers who wish to recruit new employees b) educators who wish to ensure their courses are relevant and c) recruitment agencies.

Ok ok, let's just back the fuck off for a moment shall we? What precisely is happening and will happen in the future? Let's deconstruct, in fact let's tear it all down, analyse, revamp, rebuild. Okay, so I'm dropping the case study element as it seems unlikely to generate useful results. I'm introducing a heavier quant element, that being the sustainable data on game developers. A 5 year limit or thereabouts should ensure that those within that range would have had the option of attending a games course (assuming they have a formal qualification).

So, though I've mentioned it above, who does this new element benefit and how? Let's see. Collecting annual data about new additions to the games industry should allow devs, educators and recruiters to get a handle on who is getting in, who isn't and why. If the majority of new employees are not grads/have experience, this means there are not enough grad positions and steps can be taken to address this issue. If grads are getting jobs but few are game course grads, then there is clearly an issue with the existing crop of games courses. Beyond gathering data on every developer within the preferred range, identifying a group of developers and following their progress over a period of time would be ideal.

Question is, precisely what do I need to extract from the participants? Age, educational background (school, tertiary, short courses), prior experience, position in the company, others? I'll come back to this and flesh it out further.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

GCAP '10

Fascinating trip to GCAP this year (that is to say GCAP itself was fascinating, not the trip there. That was mundane and, dare I say it, rather painful).

If I could sum up this year's conference in one word it would be this one: marketing.

This word and subsequently theme was common to 80% of presentations, particularly the plenaries. David Edery's take on the lifecycle of a console is a useful guide for those wishing to maximize their chances of success when launching a new title on a particular platform.

The chaps at Endgame offered one of the few solely gameplay focused presentations as they outlined the difficulties they encountered when balancing, er, difficulty. Fractured Soul for the DS is a gamers game, if there is such a thing any more; if there is, this it is one, or something. A significant portion of their presentation was centred around the user testing process and the feedback generated by it. Heartbreaking might be one way to describe it. However, for the sake of a little pain, a well balanced gameplay experience is its own reward.

The Doublefine keynote was entertaining though not particularly relevant to those not running a large studio. Despite that, it did offer one particular lesson applicable to any developer; take risks.

Between sessions we were treated to a middling selection of pastries, none of which tempted me (though they were quickly snapped up by other more ravenous developers. Devs are a fine judges of pastryflesh). Lunch was distinctly DIY which seemed in keeping with the rise of local indie developers, though I can't say I was the target market given the lack of veggie options. Still, while I don't have the stats handy I'd suggest the average developers diet would consist of cakes, donuts and liquefied versions of those for refreshment (and possibly bathing purposes).

All in all, a successful trip. Gold Coast was fucking horrible though, that casino's lighting system looked like an offcast from the set of the original Tron. Couple that with the Elvis impersonators and the ghastly women who inhabited said casino and the inside of my drab yet spacious digs at Best Western were entirely preferable. That said, $35 for not cleaning my dishes? gefuckd