This week I was fortunate to attend and host at Steel Media’s Pocket Gamer Connects in London. A cast of thousands and a full diary of parties in and out of the event, I was privy to some absolute corkers of secrets and gossip. Some 2,500+ game developers were in attendance and it’s a doozy of an event (and waaaaay better than GDC—in my opinion). At Pocket Gamer Connects, and because the London event is always in January or February, it’s an almost crystal ball into the future, so I’ve got a few hot takes for you thirsty tech bitches.
A Grower Not A Show-er
It was really interesting to explore the possibilities of where we're going with mobile technology and more importantly, how the user is adopting new tech. One thing that's definitely true in mobile technology is that we're saying a really long goodbye to Google and Apple. They haven't performed well for us, and, as developers, we've performed amazingly for them. The relationship between Apple and Google and the mobile developer has not been reciprocal for some time. With the additional headaches where these titans have been continually adding new laws, new regulations, new ways of doing things, and NFTs: it always seems to be in the favour of Apple and Google and not the end user or the mobile developer themselves. It was therefore really refreshing to explore what is out there, and how people are looking at different ways of being able to distribute their games, entertainment, or experiences beyond the obvious distro platforms. One of the biggest things that emerged was the hardware as a service. Of course, there are lots of different devices, but the hardware manufacturers seem to have doubled down on distributing apps, games, and entertainment. This isn’t anything new, we did it before 2007, but then we got into bed with the Californian tech bros. In 2023 (and probably since 2021/22), we'll probably start to see much more emergent activity on platforms such as Samsung, or third-party providers such as Digital Turbine, even multiplying through payment and growth provisions through companies like Bango (Dale Lawrence’s presentation was awesome).
A lot of discussion was aimed at areas outside of the usual North American/European regions. There were loads of speakers from different development areas: from the MENA region all the way to APAC. My thought is that overall, the process of European and North American game development has, to this point, been incredibly comfortable, hugely sure of itself, and, wait for it, dare I say complacent. I can’t help but keep my eyes on studios such as Nexon (they did MapleStory you know), who are starting to really explore the possibilities of what they can develop within Europe and the North American regions on a wider scale implementing a totally different business model methodology. Companies from Netmarble, Smilegate, and a handful of Chinese companies are now starting to look at the possibilities that Europe and North America have on offer, as well as the Middle East and North African regions. And speaking of regional development, it was great to see that Trade & Invest British Columbia came to Pocket Gamer Connects to talk about the endless tax relief and funding that is available in Canada. One thing that you know if you work in game development or any type of innovation/content-based sector is that ideas are really cheap. Turning those ideas into something that's tangible is really costly. So how do you get supported? Well, in order to realise your dreams, no one really does it better than Canada; they've always been very strong in this space. Whether it's in the French Canadian regions, or whether it's in British Columbia, but definitely, it looks like Canada is not taking its foot off of the accelerator any time soon, creating more knowledge transfer partnerships between games and creative media by bringing a richer seam of developers that don't just develop games, but also might be cinematics, VFX, etc.
On the second day, I listened to a lot of talks and I walked around a lot of stands to really get under the skin of what the activity and more importantly, what the appetite was like inside a community which is relatively post-pandemic—and though had a strange productivity spurt went back to normal quite quickly. What it did show me was that there were a lot of new businesses and a lot of new studios cropping up over the course of the last couple of years. From near sourcing and outsourcing to brand-new studios that are really just focused on their own IP and content. For me, I thought this was the most difficult part. If you're very fresh and you're looking to be able to break into the industry, networking is vital to extending your business development and your profile. Who is gonna hold those doors open for you? A lot of conversations I had with new developers over the course of Pocket Gamer Connects resulted in them telling me candidly that there had been moments recently where they'd wanted to give up either because the European funding outlook is pretty dry, or because investors, though there, are pretty reluctant to take a gamble on fresh studios.
The Dark Destroyer Of Dreams
When it came to NFTs, web3, the dreaded metaverse, and Blockchain gaming, etc. I was really fortunate to moderate a panel on the NFT Know-How track with some real luminaries that had, like me, solid game experience; and who are creating at speed and scale inside an area that was both new but actually not as weird and disjointed as you might expect. I was hopeful through listening to these, yes, guys, that the possibilities open are focused on versatility in everything from virtual currencies to payment and how NFTs are being used properly. Yes, somewhere in this vast marketplace, something or some brand is doing it properly rather than pumping and dumping crap into everyone’s lives. It was also lovely to see a hybrid of game devs and non-game devs coming together in the NFT, Blockchain, and Metaverse tracks to be more inclusive. Nice.
The Metaverse track cometh, uggghhh, and before each speaker started the main meat of their pitch, we had yet another definition of the metaverse. To be honest, I thought last week in Davos was bad enough where someone who shall remain nameless addressed the audience at one talk by telling us what the word avatar really means. I puked in my mouth a little bit. It’s ok, I swallowed it back down again.
I thoroughly enjoyed my tracks, and yeah, I presented for a full 4 hours, starting with Patrik Wilkens digital and virtual influencers and their rise to the mainstream, where they are doing pretty damn well by all accounts. That talk from Patrik was echoed today as I walked around the Hallyu Korean Wave exhibition at the V&A, where a good 30% of the exhibition was focused on digital avatars, digital fashion, and digital experiences as a whole. The aesthetic of the future is as important as the role of AI in my most humblest of opinions. Humble nothing, I will fight you.
Back at Pocket Gamer Connects, it felt good to exercise honesty and exorcise lies. I wasn't alone in my doubt and caution towards the current climate of NFT creators and developers because as usual—for people who haven't read my world trading standard for luxury NFTs—everything is, for those mountebank and sham artists, so completely open and transparent, that without regulation they don't need to do anything which is completely unacceptable. There is regulation when it comes to certain elements of NFT, and in my opinion, and as we all agreed, on my track at least, there should be more regulation to protect users and consumers.
If You Want It Darker...
I was a little bit disappointed that quite a lot of the presenters at Pocket Gamer Connects who were talking about NFTs could not really give me concrete answers about timelines, roadmaps, and price points. It feels as though web3 and NFT is still a little bit of a grift, and when asked pertinent questions, some of these studios and developers couldn’t provide a tangible outlook beyond their next brand partnership or their next drop. That left me cold towards whatever it was they were presenting (and in most cases, I’m still not sure what they were on about, and I actually work in this space).
The fun didn’t peter out, fortunately. Marcus Pullen—who is more of a futurist than he thinks he is—presented the metaverse as a constant stream of consciousness as a vision not just of where we came from and where we are going to, which is the usual churn of futurist diatribes, moreover, he talked about how we are applying specific methodologies from the past to where we are in this metaverse. Generally, I don’t enjoy the repetitive nonsense of quoting Neal Stephenson and William Gibson, which everyone reaches for when they aren’t entirely sure of the audience, but overall he provided a real supportive overview. From his work with Wunderman Thompson to board games, I think we all learned a lot.
Patty Toledo hosted a mammoth panel about inclusivity. Jon Hibbins hosted Andrew Douthwaite from Dubit who is killing it in Roblox. But the heavy stuff was seldom resolved. When Mike Ahyow talked about laws to protect us online that had not been touched since 1988 and Tony Pearce discussed monetising verch in the metaverse—I mean, who wants to develop something for nothing? Not me—philosophical discussions and near future discussions about how we're going to fix some of the problems that have dogged us over the course of the last few years were, like cold cases: still unsolved.
We all agreed that a crypto winter is a crypto winter, and that we should all just probably have a bit of a breather. We should be planning and strategising what it is that we're going to achieve when this crypto winter is over and work towards that. A lot of the people who were at Pocket Gamer Connects as developers, publishers, or creatives within this space didn't feel in the slightest aggrieved or upset by what had happened during the previous phase. In previous articles that I've written, it's a crypto winter: we have to roll with the punches. It hasn't just been a crypto winter either. It has also been a fiat winter. We’re going through an economic crisis where we're glueing the smashed vase together but we can still see the cracks. Should we be pointing the finger and laying the blame? The smashed vases are everywhere. From the UK transport system to prison reform in the US.
The idea that FTX and TerraLuna or Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX and TerraUST and Do Kwon have somehow been instrumental in the world economy collapse just seems a bit insulting to the people who are working really hard to try and overcome some of the obstacles either from a security or a content perspective.
Pocket Gamer Connects showed me that the metaverse, web3, blockchain and blockchain gaming, and even NFTs are as fertile and as rich a seam as they ever were, if not more so. Look at Yahaha—they are doing crazy business. So, regardless of what people keep telling you about how the metaverse needs to be rebranded or how NFTs need to change their names, or that game developers think NFTs are crap, be damned! There's still a definite appetite and interest out there, and games are just getting started in this space—building empires of technology, currency, economy, and content—the games industry is gonna steal your girl and you won’t even notice it happening because you weren’t there to stop it. So it’s funny that our new messiahs in this space couldn’t even be bothered to grace us with their presence in London. Games as the driving force of the future? You’d better believe it.