On the other hand, these events have the ability to convince writers of almost anything. When attending, we must promise to always stay skeptical -- no matter what anyone says to us. Let the information sink in for a while before we take it as gospel. Let the varying ideas of the various speakers blend together a bit -- then let's form our opinions.
I am most excited to see how the last year's wave of free-to-play games and switch-overs will affect the chats. In '09, social gaming was the whipping boy (everyone said he/she hated it, yet everyone seemed to be planning some sort of social game), so will free-to-play receive the same treatment? Zynga or free-to-play -- and shakes the foundations a bit, then our teeth are bared. This is a good thing, if you ask me. Turmoil and change are always good things. Social games made developers question what gaming even meant, and free-to-play is making the largest developers wonder how it works and how they can offer the same choices for their players.
"Will free-to-play be discussed like social gaming was last year? Despite free-to-play's long history and success, will it be featured in most panels while being slaughtered at the after parties? This is what I want to know."
While social gaming will still be king this year, free-to-play seems to be the current buzzword. Fortunately, predictions can often be so off-base that they have no basis in reality, so it's important to always remember how trends come and go. Do the developers know this? From my experience, developers often listen to those comments and buzzwords a little too much, or in the case of many newer and upcoming MMOs, they listen to the sound of money being made and try to imitate the product that made the breakthrough. Ironically, the developers with the largest budgets seem to want to take the least chances. Can you blame them? If they stray too far out of the box, players might not be comfortable.
Does this mean we will now see massively multiplayer Minecraft copies appear? Possibly. Does that mean that such games would actually make any money? I doubt it. The charm of a Minecraft is that it is Minecraft -- a unique experience that came along out of nowhere. You cannot re-create that.
This is why I am so eager to get to GDC -- to get a pulse on what the developers are thinking. I'm glad I am always the skeptic I mentioned above. After all, GDC is a gathering of industry professionals, minus the fans -- typically it's not the convention that huge announcements come from (that's GDC in California). It's the weekday gathering of the industry's best minds, coming together to discuss their art. That can be dangerous if you think that nothing but truth issues from the event. Discussion does flood the area, true, but a group of developers all together in one area acts as differently as a man surrounded by his friends. He might be the world's kindest gentleman, but give him some freedom with his tongue and he might confess to all sorts of "truths." This is normal behavior, of course, but it bears noting.
Will free-to-play be discussed like social gaming was last year? Despite free-to-play's long history and success, will it be featured in most panels while being slaughtered at the after parties? This is what I want to know. Is free-to-play, as a payment model (but not a genre -- it should not be considered a genre) really being considered for so many new and existing games? Is it really as popular as I've seen? What about cash-shop usage -- does the minority still generally pay for the majority? I have recent evidence to support that, but how do recent switch-overs like LotRO and EverQuest II figure into the equation? Will their comparatively complicated tiered payment models be the blueprint for future developers?
Whatever I hear, I will try to stay skeptical. I will try to listen well but will question everything. All the numbers, charts and graphics in the world mean nothing to me if we do not consider that they might one day be useless. There has to be a fluidity to truth for it to be taken as such. I want to see real discussions about free-to-play -- and I want to see developers discussing its arrival and that it might be a good choice for their games. A subscription or other similar payment plan is still a good choice for many games, but I wonder whether the "old school" mentality will ever admit to the power of free-to-play? Will some even go so far as to let a good game go down in flames instead of trying something new and different?
We'll see. I love GDC, despite a lot of the noise. It's truly amazing to see some of my gaming heroes standing there, even if their lectures go way over my head. I'll record it, try to make sense of it, and write it down.
I can't wait.
Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!