Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Boston GameLoop 2010

On Saturday I attended Boston GameLoop 2010 here in Cambridge. Organized by Darius Kazemi and Scott Macmillan, GameLoop is an unConference - the structure of which is best described by Rob Zacny in his write-up of the event. I won't bother with an overview here; Rob, Chris Dahlen, Maddy Myers, and others have already done so. Sometimes in doodle format.

Instead, I'll piggyback off of Dan Bruno's post, since I attended the same panels he did - with the exception of the last one, which I skipped because I was in the hallway having a great discussion with MIT GAMBIT Lab researcher and self-professed Kojima-phile Matt Weise. In the spirit of Dan's takeaways, here are some of mine, along with a few responses to others' reactions.

1. Let's get this out of the way first: Next year - and Rob, Chris & Dan, this is a direct challenge to you all, but especially Rob & Dan, since this was your idea - we will bring flasks, and we will take a shot every time someone says the words "Mass Effect," "BioWare," or "BioShock." Three shots for any non-Chris person who unironically utters the term "brainysphere." I'm putting time of death by alcohol poisoning at approximately 9:02 AM.

2. That said, I did find the discussions, laden as they were with references to the above games, pretty engaging. Rob is spot-on about some of them veering precipitously into armchair game design, but to some extent I don't know if that's preventable within the unConference (sick of the innerCap yet?) format. I'm not sure I agree with Maddy that the journalism panel was "so unspecific as to be almost laughable," but her points about the vagueness of the topics combining with the informality of the discussion structure to "devolve" conversations is well-taken. It looks like there's a building consensus that a little more structure would benefit everyone.

A few suggestions to that end:
  • Devote at least one panel slot to discussions organized into tracks: programming, business, project management, journalism, etc. These could be "keynotes" of a sort, led by established working professionals that Darius and Scott could enlist prior to the conference. Instead of determining on the fly whether these would be "expert"-level discussions, attendees would know going in that there would be at least one panel with reliably practical applications. And since GameLoop is growing, it wouldn't hurt to enlist a couple big names to help publicize the event.
  • Reserve one room exclusively for ongoing game/tech demos. It seems like it's a given at this point that folks will bring their work to show it off; instead of taking up a slot in the schedule, especially since it's tough to cram lots of people in one of those smaller spaces at the same time, why not devote one space to demos and have creators take turns manning it? (I realize that causes problems for small indies or one-man studios, but perhaps they could schedule a specific time for their demo and Q&A.)
  • With three years of GameLoop under their belts, Darius and Scott should have a good amount of material from which to predict, with some accuracy, some of the more popular topics. Why not prepare a list of "essential questions" in advance to guide discussions? These could be solicited from the community, and maybe even posted on the GameLoop site before the event to get people thinking about what they want to say. I don't think that would necessarily break the unConference format - if those topics come up, great, and if not, no one's the worse - but it might alleviate some of the meandering and give moderators the ammunition they need to keep things on track.
3. I've heard a number of attendees say the opportunity to network with other people both inside and outside the industry was a huge plus. No argument here. Getting to meet and talk with a bunch of awesome people made a ten-hour day fly by. For me, discovering the work of other bloggers like K. Adam White was an unexpected treat. That said: I can't speak for game developers, but I wonder if they'd find it useful to have a more formalized mechanism for expanding on their discussions of technical/high-level details, along with recruiting, demoing, etc. I'm not sure how to make that work logistically, but that might help these folks connect in ways that can have an immediate professional impact.

4. And while everyone I met was polite, articulate, and generally aw-shucks nice, I found myself having to just kinda butt in if I wanted to say something in the afternoon panels. The raising of hands only works so well; as a former teacher, I can confirm there's a real art to calling on people in a way that lets everyone's voice be heard. A little training for moderators would go a long way.

5. Finally, despite the various hiccups in the format, this was a damn fun day. I feel fortunate to live in a place where this kind of thing happens, where people who are passionate about games can gather and learn from each other in a welcoming environment. Kudos to Darius and Scott for an ambitious undertaking that I'm sure will continue to grow and improve.

For photos from the event, check out a slideshow here.

3 comments:

  1. Maybe I was at an advantage because I didn't go into GameLoop expecting to get something out of it. Freewheeling discussions, light networking, and "armchair game design" were more than enough; I didn't want a primer on a new language or a radical new design philosophy, so the lack of focus (which I can't argue with) wasn't bothersome. I can see why those with more particular expectations could be disappointed, though.

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  2. Agreed. One nice thing about the format is that because you don't know what to expect walking in, you can't set your expectations too high. Having attended far too many overly-structured conferences, I definitely appreciate a little freedom. At the same time, I can also see the benefit to tweaking the format every year in order to streamline discussions and give every type of attendee - developer, writer, artist, etc. - a little more of what they want.

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  3. Heh, to Dan's point, my takeaway from unconferences has always been: if you want to get something out of an unconference, you should make it happen.

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