Sunday, September 20, 2009

Games Convention Asia 2009 - Convention @ Suntec

This year's GCA 2009 convention seemed smaller somehow. Perhaps it was due to the economic crisis and that the recently there were a number of other related trade shows / events (e.g. Toys Comics Games Convention, and also COMEX).

The good thing about GCA 2009 was that I get to see many other smaller local studios! I was hoping to catch the developer of Straw Hat Samurai, but I guess he wasn't around the area when I visited. I saw other booths by Tyler and also NexGen Studios. Seems like they are doing well, and that is good news to show the promise and potential of the local budding games studios.

A major attraction of GCA this year is the display of the Into the Pixel art prints. The prints were selected as part of a competition, and these pieces were the winners this year. For 3 years running, the Into The Pixel competition serve as an event to celebrate the artistic elements of the games development, and it is indeed different to see the art pieces as prints rather than on screen graphics. Ok I am a bit more biased towards Guild Wars but that game does have good graphics!

This year there were a number of business and trade related initiatives and a whole area was devoted to be the business centre for deals discussions. Not sure if there will be any announcement of the the total deals value later. I think we need more incentives, and more publicity of the events regionally to attract deal makers to come here.

In the exhibition halls we see the usual consoles, cars racing ...etc. Perhaps we have seen too many of such set ups that it is getting a bit dull. It is fun to see folks tryong out games but we see that too often at the various events.

Yeah we have other type of booths selling games related items too. Quite fun to wear military style dressed up persons walkign around. I wonder how they feel wearing these costumes that should be quite different from the SAF number 4 uniform that we are all familiar with.

The highlight is of course the competition. The One Asia Cup rounds will be completed (for Singapore leg) by this weekend, and then we have finalists from four countries (Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore) competiting. Good Luck to those who are competing!

There was this large booth area hosting Dragonica online game, and I understand there was a x2 experience points event going on as well. Dragonica is fun and yes it is important to have more games event to retain the interest of gamers, especially when there are so many other online games available.

Afternote: Thanks to a guest reader who correctly pointed out that there is the large gaming area by Cherry Credits.

I do like to see more variety of games offered at such conventions and viola, we have the Playware Studios, demonstrating the educational games. These video walls content, including the displayed game items could be controlled via remote controllers by the side of the booth. So I guess these tools will be useful for teachers at schools (i.e. for educational purpose).

Yupz Playware also has other games, e.g. the Magic Lanterns, that we see here.

Overall the Convention is interesting, but I guess the CosPlay events and tournaments will attract more people this weekend rather than gaming booths. :)

See also:
- GCA2009 D.I.C.E Asia Summit @ Suntec

GCA 2009 - D.I.C.E. Asia Summit @ Suntec

It was a wonderful experience attending the first D.I.C.E. (Design Innovate Communicate Entertain) Asia Summit where I could have the first hand experience learning and interacting with so many renowned persons from the gaming industry.

The Summit started with the opening remarks (and announcement of Singapore Game Box @ E2Max) from the Acting Minister of MICA, and the official speech could be found at MICA website. There were many speeches, presentations, announcements...etc and I would just highlight those of interest to me.

The discussion by Mr Eundo Chae, General Director of Wizet Studio was interesting simply because it was all about MapleStory! Yeah, that was one of the online games where I spent a large amount of time, and where I met many online friends, a few of whom I still maintain contact till today. So it was very interesting to hear that MapleStory didn't start out as an online game durign the conceptual stage. Mr Eundo Chae shared that it was actually meant to be a graphical chat tool complete with avatar and costumes!

Wizet then realised that it was pretty easy to let the avatars moved around in 2D, and that they had difficulty developing the entire database of avatars and costumes at one shot. Thus Wizet had the brillant idea of developing MapleStory into a 2D side scroll game instead. Of course, the chatting function, the bright casual feel, and avatar customisation remained as core points of the game.

Mr Eundo Chae then shared that MapleStory became successful (currently about 87 million players around the world, wow!) because of the continuous development, the intriduction of relevant game content and events, and the effort to prevent server hacks ...etc. The localisation effort for MapleStory was remarkable, where new towns and related quests were customised according to the country for the specific groups of users. The MapleStory of today is no longer just limited to the game, since there were many other game related products, e.g. stationery, comics, anime and even TCG cards.

Another interesting discussion was by Mr Yasuhide Kobayashi, Senior VP of SCE Worldwide Studios. The discussion was interesting because of the focus on localisation. Localisation has always been a very important part of games introduction into any market. Games is a part of culture, and without understanding the culturally aspects of the target audience, it will be very difficult to penetrate the market successfully.

Mr Kobayashi shared many stories from the Sony studios, and how the Japan and US offices discussed about their games development strategy and designs.

The discussion was lively because of the many examples used, where as part of the audience we were asked about our preferences for the various designs. He ramarked that Japanese market prefered a softer image in terms of games packaging, where the US market prefered a stronger character focus. Examples of Hot Shots Golfs and ICO were used. Of course, the claps (indicator of preference) would be very confusing to Mr Kobayashi, simply because the audience came from various parts of the world. Thus there would be no way he could discern what was this D.I.C.E audience's preferences.

It was also interesting to know that Sony actually spent 1 year in designing the characters for their games. The decision makers had to decide on the looks of the game characters for Rogue Galaxy that took various iterations. Of course, that is important because any die hard fans of a game title will not want the character designs to change drastically at the next release.

The first day of the D.I.C.E. Asia Summit ended with a roundtable discussion. The topics were interasting, but I find the pce slow, simply because translators were needed for the various speakers. The makeup of the panelists reflected the global nature of the game industry, as can be seen in the picture below.

The second day of D.I.C.E Asia Summit attracted a lot more students and developers. I believed it is simply because the topcis of the second day would be closer to the hearts of many individuals. Unfortunately my camera battery died during the second day and I had taken only a few pictures.

The sharing by Lisa Hanson of Niko Partners about the China's Games Industry Outlook was informational. It is simply remarkable how the market size of China has grown. The 60 million online gamers base of China offered huge business opportunities. Of course, I didn't know that consoles were generally banned, and that many online games developers need to partner with Chinese local firms in order to provide services in the market. I guess billion dollars games industry, with predominanatly item based subscriptions will continue to be attractive to the game developers. I also learned new info, that ShangHai is the nexus of the telecom networks, and thus became the ideal location to host games servers.

Not all sessions were serious discussions of informational stuff. I attended the enlightening session by Christopher Natsuume of Boomzap entertainment, that was very very entertaining and yet provided insights into how the casual games market functions. Christopher's use of many examples helped to drive home the points of his presentation. Seriously I didn't know that there were so many different releases of Diner Dash, or that there were so many different versions of 'match three' puzzle or 'Mtstery Files' spot the items games.

These two days of the D.I.C.E Asia Summit were worth spending my annual leave for, and if there are opportunities again next year I am sure I will attend again. Judging from the audiences I am sure many will return again next year. However, I would think that topics offered during the second day will be more attractive than the general announcements or broadbased discussions done during the first day. I guess the organisers will have sufficient feedback to re-adjust their focus of the event, i.e. whether it is a trade show, discussion forum, or just consumer focused event. The pictures of GCA 2009, and the Magma Studios announcement will be shared in the blog separately.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

GCA 2009 Media Conference @ Colosseum, Iluma

It was a pleasant surprise when I received the invitation for the Games Convention Asia 2009 Media Conference. The Games Convention Asia event (GCA) has always been a highlight for the regional gaming industry, not just due to the large variety of different games companies and business deals struck, but also the interesting discussions with the many panelists from the different value chain of games development. One can get a much better perspective of the current development and trends of game development in the region from GCA.

The GCA 2009 Media Conference was held this morning at the newly opened Illuma cybercafe, Colosseum. I met Yirong (Atomic Gaming) and Gayle (Colosseum) who commented that Colosseum with its 220+ gaming PCs and the latest gamign assesories, will be making its pressence felt in the gaming sector. Colosseum had hosted competition events, and the set up of the place with three mega screens will definitely be ideal for tournaments. Those who are interested can visit the place, located at the top floor of Illuma (next to the newly opened club Seven), i.e. you have to take the lifts (not escalators) to the 7th floor.

When I reached the venue, Tannia and Shirley (Hoffman) were introducing the panelists to me. For the Media Conference, they had4 panelists (left to right in the picture below), Jorg Zeissig (LMI), Joseph Olin (AIAS), Aroon Tan (GXA), and Richard Chua (IAH Games). There were also some collaterals for folks to read, including a coming cosplay event (Asia Pacific Cosplay Championship @ GCA 2009) on 20th Sep at Suntec as well.

Jorg and Joseph shared the details of GCA 2009, including the introduction of DICE (Design Innovate Communicate Entertain) Summit to Singapore. Personally I always think it is encouraging to have forums / platforms for companies and individuals to share their experiences, and I think DICE Summit Asia will do just that for companies in this region. It is very interesting to hear remarks like 'game creation as fine arts, as culturally revelant materials, and as the next wave of interactive entertainment, relevant to audiences at home and the region' from Joseph. I think that is simply great, and that is precisely what we need to encourage games development locally. Games are artistic entertainment that are of great relevant both culturally and commercially. Arts and / or entertainment can better flourish in an environment that encourages ideas exchange.

So I guess we can expect a lot from the participating companies in the coming GCA. I was looking through the list of 70+ exhibitors (Cherry, EA, Epicsoft, Gaming Era, Gigabyte, Microsoft, Nanyang Poly, Playware, TimeZone...etc) and while the majority are Singapore companies, we do have about 18 companies from China, India, Germany, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, and UK. I was hoping to see developers for mobile games, and also IPTV interactive games (e.g. Accedo) but I guess the current market is not attractive (yet) for these companies to participate in Singapore events. Hopefully in the years to come we can have these companies, to complete the spectrum of different games development. Well, GCA appeals to the games developers for the English speaking communities in the Asia region, but there are also many pockets of non-English speaking crowd and we do need other developers to come along and add to this eco-system.

Aroon and Richard shared their initiatives that will be launched at this week, including the directory of key players in the gaming industry that spans across the whole value chain. Aroon also shared that more market trends, market statistics, and details will be released to level the playing field such that smaller players could also have a good chance to secure their niches in this market. Actually I am not so sure that smaller games developers are disadvantaged, simply because the market we are talking about is actually world size. If a game is good, it will find its way around to other markets. Some niche successful games developers that come to mind are Amanita Design (with their Samorost 1 & 2, and Machinarium), and even the local LUT! with his Straw Hat Samurai 1 & 2. There are many others, e.g. Pencil Farm, who occupy different niches, and a small niche in the world market can be as big (in revenue) as the local market. Of course, an information directory is always good, and more market intelligence will also be great.

For Richard, he shared the One Asia Cup launched by IAH Games, where games from Malaysian, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, will compete for the US$100,000 prizes. It is encouraging to have such tournaments and competitions that give the much needed boost to the local competitive gaming landscape. It shows that gaming can be a serious affairs, and that helps to dispel the many media association of online games with crimes, social problems and gaming addicts. After the Media Conference, various journalists had their discussions with the panelists, but I left shortly (heh partly to come home and quickly register as Press Accreditation for GCA).

For GCA 2009, I will be looking forward to a healthy debate of gaming related issues. Of particular interest to me will be the keynote speech by Tetsuhiko Yasuda about copyright protection, development support, and games export potential in Asia. Yes, there are many other discussions and do visit the GCA site to get a sense of the different tracks of discussions.

So I guess that is about it for the Media Conference and I am looking forward to GCA 2009 at Suntec (from Thursday to Sunday). Oh, as an interesting side note, it was also shared that Into The Pixel exhibition (the website has pictures of the different pieces) of different art pieces will also be held during the GCA! I was glancing through the small booklet and found many interesting prints (Rabbids, Guild Wars ...etc). Yes, it will be great to appreciate game arts as prints, and truly celebrate the concept of games as the artistic forms of entertainment!

COMEX 2009 @ Suntec - Part 2

The 6th floor exhibitors had a lot more bargain items. It is already a common sight to see posters with bargain details and large group of consumers queuing in front of the booths to get the discounted items.

Unlike the 4th floor with glass shelves of display items, 6th floor had a lot more racks of smaller items, and even goods simply stacked on cardboard boxes. I heard that those who went on the last day, and especially during the last few hours of COMEX, could bargain for even greater discounts or more freebies. I guess that make sense since the exhibitors would also save on the logistics of transporting the goods back to the warehouse.

Here’s the level 6th floor plan and yupz those wanting to buy smaller items could likely find them here. I bought a headset at a pretty cheap price!

Here’s a picture of the different A4Tech headsets. Nope I didn’t get mine from this rack though.

6th floor often had innovative new products, and this time round I saw this interesting piggy bank. The piggy bank would recognise the value of the coins you put in, and it would sum up the total as well! Actually I think this is not much different from the coins vending machines available on the street, except that this is a brand new and innovative use of the same technology of coin recognition. The item description stated that there is a patent pending actually.

Yupz other nice products include this Irive MP that looked like a mouse head. There is no LED display and the two rounded ears form the control for the MP player.

That is about it for this COMEX 2009. Other great bargains and babes could be found on the many other websites and so I didn’t take any photos or have any descriptions about them. :)

See also:

- COMEX 2009 @ Suntec – Part 1

Monday, September 14, 2009

COMEX 2009 @ Suntec - Part 1

The COMEX 2009 was held at Suntec over the last weekend, and as usual there was a huge crowd. Generally people would buy their electronic products during the 4 IT events of the year due to the various discounts and goodies given. Various credits cards like OCBC and Citibank would throw in further freebies when purchase were done using their cards.

Here’s a floor map of level exhibitors. The bigger names (e.g. HP, Epson, Dell, Samsung) were located at the 4th floor while the smaller shops selling different products would be located at the 6th floor. Interestingly Mustafa was also at the COMEX 4th floor!

People queued, sometimes before the actual opening hours, simply because there were certain promos with limited number of sets. For example Samsung was selling the Omnia II at $799 for limited number of sets per day and once the sets were exhausted, the more expensive price of $839 kicked in.

Of course, consumers benefited when the stiff competition resulted in prices being cut, often on the spot with price reduction scribbled on some cardboards. For example the Toshiba flash drive prices were adjusted when other price lists were revealed. There were also many booths selling the same items, and it would help if you tell one booth that the other booths were throwing in some freebies (e.g. laptop items) before you made any purchase.

Exhibitors were a lot smarter now with their logistics. It used to be that consumers have to lug their own boxes from the COMEX exhibitions, and that deterred people from buying bulkier items. Now exhibitors, for example Epson, simply packaged their bigger items with a trolley (picture below), and the consumers could simply pay and go. Innovative right?

Those who were worried that their older electronics were taking up storage space at home, could also trade in their older wares e.g. laptops, during this exhibition. Both working and faulty sets could fetch in some cash for the consumers’ immediate use at the COMEX. Smart idea!

Descriptions of the 6th floor booths would be detailed in COMEX 2009 @ Suntec – Part 2

Saturday, September 5, 2009

When games and all things related go mainstream...

Ok ok I know gaming is now a main stream activity and we have people of all ages playing games, from the hard core gamers spending up to 10 hours per day in MMORPGs, to the casual 10 minutes gamers dropping by their Facebook accounts once every few days.

But do you know that even the library has stocked up many books about gaming? Barely a year ago, there were only 2-3 books on the book shelves about gaming. Today the National Library (near Bugis) actually stocks up many shelf sections about computer gaming and related materials.

We have books like Wii for Dummies, Massively Multiplayer for Dummies, many books about Second Life, Pac-man, virtual world books ...etc. Amazing. I am actually not sure if there is indeed such a huge demand for these books. I mean, many of the information could be found online, and most of the gamers should know how to get these ever-changing info online? No?

Other than just books about gaming itself, there are also other books about games development and programming. There are books about .NET development, games programming on Python, games level design, PSP hacks ...etc. I agree there is an increasing demand for these more specialised books since it is much harder to read and find information about games development and programming online. If anything there are just FAQs on some websites and forums, and not full chapters of in-depth discussions and info.

Oh well, now that there are many shelves of books about games in the library, aspiring game designers could borrow a few and try it out. :)