Sunday, September 20, 2009

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.

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