On Friday April 19th, 2013 I attended the the Digital Media Wire Games Conference in Los Angeles, CA ( http://www.dmwgames.com). The attendee list read like a who’s who of the game industry. From behemoths like EA, Zynga, and Dreamworks, to growing companies like Ouya, 2 Bit Circus, and Tapjoy, I was surrounded by the top names in gaming. If you’re picturing the DMW Games Conference as an upscale E3 , you’d be wrong. Well, you’d be right. Because there’s a part of E3 that most people don’t see which is just as, if not more important than the flashing lights and elaborate spectacle that’s usually reported on. There’s a part of E3 behind the scenes where deals are made and ideas are exchanged between the people that really drive the video game industry.That’s the DMW Games Conference.
When I walked into the Roosevelt Hotel, I felt a little out of my element. The place is beautiful. Beautiful. It’s so far from any convention center or hotel conference room that it really can’t be compared. So, I was just a bit overwhelmed. I didn’t expect to see cosplayers walking around, but I also didn’t expect a pool, bar, and carpet nice enough to sleep on. But hey, no matter how swanky the venue, deep down we’re all gamers inside, so I quickly adjusted. Plus, a few minutes in a VIP lounge relaxing in a deep leather chair overlooking Hollywood Boulevard has a way of making adjusting easy.
The DMW Games Conference is a series of panels where industry leaders discuss the parts of the gaming industry that most games don’t care about or didn’t even know existed. The ideas being discussed on these panels will greatly affect each and every gamer But these are the aspects of video games that are really driving the next generation and moving the industry forward. Panels included titles like Productized Monetization, Latest Trends in Ad Models and Micro Payments for Games, Maximizing Value and User Acquisition on Social Platforms, and What Does it Take to Get Funded. Sure, they don’t sound as exciting as Best Fighting Game Combos, or GT5 vs Forza 4: Burning Rubber, but believe me, the ideas being discussed on these panels will greatly affect each and every gamer.
I attended 2 panels, one on User Acquisition Via Social Platforms and the second was focused on growing and enhancing the LA game development community. Hearing companies discuss the different ways used to convince people to play their games was very interesting, mostly because I’m sure that many gamers believe in the ‘Field of Dreams’ strategy. If you Build It, They Will Come. Well, when a developer has spent thousands (or millions) of dollars making a game,they can’t afford to sit in the proverbial cornfield and just hope people notice their efforts. The ways companies will pull users into a game are wide ranging. Everything from switching the font/color on a Download Now button, to completely changing the core mechanic of a game was discussed. It was also eye opening the extent that user feedback plays in a company's decision. I was reminded that the gamer is only a single part of a multifaceted machine that includes distribution partners, advertising providers, and marketing teams. What makes one of these groups happy, will usually make another group not so happy. It’s finding the balance thats the key.
The panel on growing the LA Game Development Industry was also extremely informative. When you see a story about a studio being shut down and it's employees scattered, there's a very good chance it was a result of the issues and decisions discussed in this panel.When you see a story about a studio being shut down and it's employees scattered, there's a very good chance it was a result of the issues and decisions discussed in this panel. Many people may not realize that 'Los Angeles' is actually a few dozen seperate cities that as a whole, make up L.A. County. And the diverse cities each have their own strenghs and weaknesses when it comes to hosting a company, from the trendyness of Santa Monica, to the star power of Hollywood. Los Angeles knows how important it is to have game developers in the city, especially since other cities are actively luring companies away. Montreal, Canada and Alberquerque, New Mexico may become the next hotbeds of gaming, or even a small city in the middle of China that is offering companies over a million dollars to relocate. Where the next 'triple A' title is born may have more to do with traffic congestion and tax rates than anything else. It's difficult to know whether Los Angeles will take to heart some of the suggestions (I, personally would like to see the Video Game Walk of Fame that was repeatedly mentioned), but to his credit, the goverment representative on stage was taking more notes than anyone in the room.
These are the types of discussions that go far deeper than the scope of this article. Also, the panels aren't the real point of the conference. The biggest draw of the DMW Games Conference isn’t the information exchanged in the panels (and there’s a lot of information). The biggest draw is meeting the other attendees. This is what the executive types call ‘a Prime Networking Opportunity’. Every attendee is a decision maker in the industry. From online developers, to console creators, to publishers. And they’re all there to talk about video games and hang out. Imagine shooting the breeze with a bigwig from Dreamworks on one side and an exec from Ouya on the other while VP’s from Activision and Ubisoft banter next to you. Sure, it -could- happen at Pax, or GDC, but at DMW, it was the norm. And you could do it with a drink in your hand. That’s where the true value of this event lies. A gamer in an expensive suit is still a gamer. And when gamers get together, they talk about games.
The DMW Games Conference probably isn’t the perfect conference for the average gamer. First of all,it’s expensive. If you thought those 4 day PAX passes you got on ebay made a dent in your bank account, then the $599 starting price won’t seem like a bargain. And there aren’t any gaming displays or new release announcements. What it does have are rooms full of people who have made gaming into a business that rivals the film industry, and who are open and ready to talk to you. If you’re even considering becoming a developer or a pursuing job in the industry, it’s something that you need to add to your agenda. Plus, that leather chair is really comfortable.