Thoughts from a (girl) Gamer

Tara Voelker's thoughts. A lot about video games, a little about life

My GDC Schedule

Warning: GDC is notorious for making room changes. So double check your GDC schedule given to you at the event to ensure you’re in the right place.

Here are all the sessions I’m going to be attending. The ones I’m speaking at are highlighted. You’ll notice that Tuesday morning is empty, but that’s because I am going to be at IGDA SIG things all morning. Hope to see you there!

Session Speaker(s) Day Start End Room
Using Your Friends: Identifying the Top Interaction Mechanics in Current Social Games & Media [SOGS Design] Speaker/s: Mia Consalvo Mon 10:00 AM 11:00 AM Room 132, North Hall
New social games are released daily, yet many of the most popular games offer very limited forms of interaction between players. This presentation answers the question: how social are social games? 

It does so through analysis of 80 games, identifying the major types of interactions employed, and highlighting games offering unusual social mechanics.

The second part of the lecture explores how social media applications are using interaction in novel ways, such as Nike’s new running app, which invites users to broadcast the start of their run, turning friends’ responses into real-time cheering.

In closing, the lecture identifies the range of social functions offered by social games, and points to other types of interactions enabled via social media, to encourage game designers to think beyond the boundaries of game design.


Care and Feeding of Your Independent Game Studio Speaker/s: Arthur Humphrey Mon 11:15 AM 11:40 AM Room 135, North Hall
This talk will focus on nurturing a successful IP-based independent game studio in the current market environment. Using Last Day of Work (creator of numerous hits on multiple platforms, primarily casual PC/Mac and iTunes) as an example we will discuss strategies in developing effective new game designs, ways to make IP difficult to copy/clone, protecting your IP, leveraging your designs, growing your company without growing it (contract, licensing), pitfalls and secrets. We will also discuss recent forays into social and virtual goods. 

Last Day of Work has been growing since 2003 without taking one red cent of outside funding ever. With numerous hit games on a multitude of platforms and in more than 7 languages, LDW is happy to be the Cinderella-story among indies, and an inspiration for those who want to create a studio, keep it, and lovingly grow it.


REPLICA ISLAND: Building a Successful Android Game Speaker/s: Chris Pruett Mon 1:45 PM 2:45 PM Room 305, South Hall
What does it take to make a successful Android game? In this session, Google software engineer and developer advocate, Chris Pruett will discuss the development of REPLICA ISLAND, an Android-exclusive platformer which achieved a million players within 100 days of its release on a marketing budget of $0.00. Concrete lessons about Android software design, compatibility across a wide range of devices, phone-oriented game design, and negotiating Android Market will be presented. Pruett will also discuss key elements of the development process itself, including an automated player metrics system for post-release game tuning, the Android development environment, interaction with the community, and common developer mistakes. 


Turning Data Into Better Social Games [SOGS Essentials] Speaker/s: David Stern Mon 2:20 PM 2:45 PM Room 130, North Hall
As a leader in social gaming, Playfish relies heavily on data to understand game play behavior and ultimately create meaningful and lasting social experiences for players. In this talk, David Stern, Playfish’s director of analytics and strategy, will discuss how Playfish turns data into insights that help optimize the player experience. 


Social Mechanics for Social Games [SOGS Design] Speaker/s: Raph Koster Mon 3:00 PM 4:00 PM Room 134, North Hall
Many have accused social games of not really being social. But they are underpinned by many classic social mechanics that drive interaction and community-building. Some of these have been proven to work in other genres such as MMOs and are beginning to filter into the social games market; others are easily visible and quite familiar in real life, but have yet to be seen in the design of social games. In this talk we will draw from both proven game design and from anthropology and sociology and explore the social potential of social games. 


MILLIONAIRE CITY – The Story Behind the Numbers [SOGS Design] Speaker/s: Jason Loia Mon 4:15 PM 5:15 PM Room 132, North Hall
MILLIONAIRE CITY was one of the fastest growing games on Facebook in 2010, drawing in millions of daily active players, defying DAU gravity month and after month and ultimately going on to become the longest-running city-building hit on Facebook and iPhone. But despite the seemingly effortless growth, behind the scenes, Digital Chocolate wrestled with many complex design decisions, technical choices, and business variables. This session describes several of the most important ‘critical junctions’ in the making and the life of MILLIONAIRE CITY, and reveals key insights and lessons learned into areas from design directions to platform and business decisions. 


iPad Games: Touching the World on the Other Side of the Glass Speaker/s: Graeme Devine Tue 1:45 PM 2:45 PM Room 305, South Hall
The iPad is a revolutionary tablet device, but how do we make the revolutionary games for this device? There are all sorts of considerations when bringing existing and new ideas to the platform that go well beyond simple interface changes. In this talk, former Apple Developer Advocate, Graeme Devine, will examine what makes a great interface for the iPad, why that is important, and what you should be thinking about when you first approach making a game on this device. Using real world examples from current projects, learn how your application can have better multitouch controls allowing your players to touch the world on the other side of the glass. 


Retain Your Customers by Letting Go: Fixing the Short Term Tactics that Threaten Player Loyalty [SOGS Business] Speaker/s: Scott Rigby Tue 1:45 PM 2:45 PM Room 130, North Hall
The churn rate in social & online games is staggering. We often visualize churn as a bucket with holes in it, but in reality, the numbers dont even justify the existence of the bucket as players pour into one end and out the other. Research indicates that by focusing too much on driving short-term behavior, we actively harm long-term motivation to stay engaged. While we increasingly rely on behavioral metrics to make decisions, we often overlook motivational and psychological data that is critical to success over time. This talk reviews specific techniques for deepening meaningful motivation in the design of social and online games, as well as discussing strategies to collect quantitative motivational metrics alongside behavioral metrics to better gauge success. Multiple game examples/best practices are discussed, along with strategies for game design and testing. 


Social Genetics: The Demographics and Affinities of Facebook Gamers [SOGS Business] Speaker/s: Nick Berry Tue 3:00 PM 4:00 PM Room 130, North Hall
What do you really know about your social games customers? How old are they? What do they watch on TV? What brands do they follow? Who should you be chasing for sponsorship opportunities? Where should you be advertising? The more you understand about your customers, the more efficiently you can attract, retain and monetize them. 

This presentation will describe the results obtained from the mining and analysis of millions of Facebook data points. Eye-opening findings around Facebook’s top consumer brands and top social games will be discussed. Discover intriguing user preferences, from the brand of trainers FARMVILLE players wear and the TV shows watched by BEJEWELED BLITZ players, to the brand of fast food enjoyed by COLLAPSE! players and the unique combination of games different users choose to play.


Design and Execute the Optimal Monetization Strategy by Game Profile (Presented by Digital River) Speaker/s: John Hayase Wed 10:30 AM 11:30 AM Room 121, North Hall
Maximizing your game profit requires the expert application of market intelligence during the design and execution of monetization plans. Led by John Hayase, senior vice president of product development with Atari, this session will feature a panel of industry leading producers and revenue owners who will share their process for designing and executing the right monetization mix based on genre, target audience and lifecycle stage. This discussion will dissect live game monetization models. Intended for executives and designers responsible for monetization design, attendees will learn about the current options for monetizing games and strategies for applying them. 


Beginner Usability: How to Get Fast & Reliable Data with Few Resources Speaker/s: Jordan Lynn Wed 12:00 PM 2:00 PM Room 111, North Hall
This poster session is designed to help you start getting valuable information from Usability testing without having to break your budget. You might be thinking, But Im not a professional researcher! You dont have to be. This presentation wont replace the need for hiring a Usability professional, but it will provide you with information on how to get valuable, actionable feedback on your game without wasting time or money. You may have a publisher who handles your testing, but sometimes you need feedback faster than your publisher can provide so that you can make necessary changes and validate those changes. This session can help you get started. 


IGDA Games User Research SIG Speaker/s: Bill Fulton Wed 1:30 PM 2:30 PM Room 230, East Mezzanine
There are two parts to this roundtable: part one will be a compilation of epiphanies about what gamers do, feel & think while playing games, as learned during games user-research sessions. These short anecdotes (less than 5 min each) presented by a variety of members of the Games User-research SIG (GUR-SIG) may be insightful, humorous, or even outright scary examples of how people are actually playing the games we make, and have a ‘moral of the story.’ Part 2 will be a discussion of the GUR-SIG, what we’ve been doing, and what we’re trying to do. 


Designing Games for the “43-Year-Old Woman” Speaker/s: Chris Trottier Wed 3:00 PM 4:00 PM Room 303, South Hall
Chris will pull from her experience working on games like The Sims and FarmVille to explore what factors make a game take the leap from approachable to mass market phenomenon. This session is not about all women or female game developers. It is about your cousin’s wife who’s obsessed with collecting FarmVille animals or Sims custom content: what her day is like, when and why she turns to entertainment, and how you can best engage her when she does. 


More Pirates on a Burning Ship and Other Leadership Challenges Speaker/s: Laura Fryer Wed 4:30 PM 5:30 PM Room 305, South Hall
Leaders lead from where they stand, wherever that may be in an organization. True leadership means helping people, appealing to their better natures, and building the foundation of trust necessary for great work. Drawing upon lessons learned from shipping the Xbox and GEARS OF WAR, and building WB Games, we’ll explore the challenges of leading passionate and creative people to greatness. 


Industry Game Accessibility Ratings System: Promoting Mainstream Games to the Gamer with Disabilities Speaker/s: Michelle Hinn Thu 9:00 AM 10:00 AM Room 113, North Hall
One key issue that comes up whenever game studios include accessibility features in their games is how to announce these features so that gamers with disabilities and their friends, family, etc can easily find out this information while shopping for games. While there are a few review sites dedicated to providing the disabled gamer with this information, there has yet to be an industry-wide standard for including symbols on game boxes and in mainstream gaming websites and magazines. The purpose of this session is to discuss how such a system can be created, who would be the responsible group to approve accessibility ratings, and what design features this sort of rating system would include. Come help contribute to the discussion of an exciting new ratings system that can help even more gamers play your game! 

Applying Automated Metrics to Game Production, Measuring the Player Experience, QA and Operations Speaker/s: Larry Mellon Thu 10:30 AM 11:30 AM Room 113, North Hall
Metrics are valuable decision aids in all aspects of game development. The simple part is to collect data. The tricky part is to avoid drowning users with masses of raw, uncorrelated, non-repeatable measurements. A strong metrics infrastructure is as essential as the data itself. Further, a dataset must remain current. As games and processes morph over time, a projects dataset, and its metrics feature set, must be malleable to succeed. 

This panel discusses industry best practices in defining and applying Player, Production and Engine Performance metrics. Discussions include effective data views, such as level maps showing common death locations, and what metrics tools, such as player session aggregation, were required. Finally, lessons learned from integrating metrics into a team are discussed. Most design, production and testing work can benefit from actionable metrics, but teams focus on features, not tools. Success with metrics requires a fundamental shift in how people work.


Four Epic Legal Battles Coming to a Court Near You – Be Prepared: Gambling, Platforms, Privacy, and Destroying Worlds Speaker/s: Vincent ScheurerJim CharneDr. Andreas Lober and Olivier Oosterbaan Thu 10:30 AM 10:30 AM Room 132, North Hall
This session looks at four important legal issues that will affect your company:
With more money flowing in, gambling will be enforced and major games will have to be stopped.
The termination of an online game will become a liability because of consumer law and banking law, and you will need to provide for it.
Platform owners such as Facebook, or Apple will be challenged on dominance, both by regulators and private parties.
With privacy, you will have to comply with many more different national laws. 

A legal panel of four international lawyers will take a practical look at these issues: describing why its a real threat to ignore them any longer, and how to deal with them.


Faulty Thinking: Becoming a Better Producer by Understanding Faults in Human Thought Speaker/s: Chuck Hoover Thu 1:30 PM 2:30 PM Room 132, North Hall
A common misconception is that a Producers role is based on the ability to schedule, budget, and manage tasks. However, the true measure of anyone in a leadership role is the ability to do one thing, interact with people. Join Chuck Hoover as we dive into common perception errors that we all make. These faults in human perception are the basis for a multitude of issues between team members, and can wreak havoc with a projects chances for success. 

Understanding these fallacies can give you insight into issues on your project you can leverage to be a better producer, a better member of your team, and ultimately to make better games.


Five Cheats for Understanding Game Metrics Speaker/s: Lauren Bigelow Thu 3:00 PM 4:00 PM Room 300, South Hall
Reams of data are collected in a freemium social game pair that with free tools like Google Analytics and you have a tsunami of data to interpret. What’s scarce is people with the ability to understand and extract value from it all. Get ahead of this data revolution and nurture your inner metrics geek. This session will help you with 5 key metrics concepts ranging from simple to advanced to help you better understand social game measurement. Through visuals, real life examples and hands on demonstrations you’ll be primed and ready to take on your game data. 


Strategies for Firefighting Troubled Projects Speaker/s: Adrian Hawkins Fri 9:30 AM 10:30 AM Room 133, North Hall
Developing game projects creates lots of challenges – each game has its own risks and issues, but generally we get through them. However, some projects go more severely wrong. 

What if the publisher drastically changes the scope? How do you cope if the team don’t know how to submit for PlayStation 3? What happens when your producer quits with no replacement? Or your lead programmer goes? What steps do you take if the publisher is very unhappy with progress and won’t engage with the project’s own management?

This talk addresses all of these challenges and more, and offers real-life solutions.


The Dynamics Behind Online Marketing for the Gaming Industry (Presented by Adotomi) Speaker/s: Joe McCormack Fri 11:00 AM 12:00 PM Room 121, North Hall
Joe McCormanck will explain the main principles behind planning an effective online marketing strategy for your game. This will encompass the following ideas:
– Defining your player profiles
– Selecting the right marketing channels for your game
– Setting a budget for testing
– Monitoring and optimizing the players 

The presentation will be followed by a q + a in which Joe will answer questions from the audience.


IGDA Game Accessibility Roundtable Speaker/s: Tara Tefertiller Fri 2:00 PM 3:00 PM Room 230, East Mezzanine
The IGDA Game Accessibility SIG is dedicated to spreading game accessibility awareness and education, being a hub for new ideas and solutions that promote accessible game play, and providing a resource for all who are interested in the topic- gamers and developers alike. At this round table, discuss where the GA SIG should focus the energy provided by the newly elected steering committee, meet the new chair, or become a new member. We are always looking for more people and more input from all areas of the development community! 

Cloning Social Games – Nothing New Here – or is There? Speaker/s: Sean Kane Fri 3:30 PM 3:55 PM Room 300, South Hall
Is cloning a problem? It depends on your point of view. Regardless, there are a number of best practices that can help developers protect their social games and allow them to capitalize on anothers valuable social game. An overall intellectual property strategy, including copyrights, patents and trademarks, is necessary for preventing infringement of your social games. Moreover, it is most important to understand the IP rights associated with game innovation and design when considering developing a clone. Whether you are building or cloning, it is critically important to understand these rights to protect your creativity and to avoid potential pitfalls.

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