Denki In Seattle – The ‘Casual’ Connect Conference

Last week, following my trip to Brighton, I represented Denki at the conference I know only as “Connect“. I hadn’t attended for a couple of years, so the first thing I noticed was that there were far more attendees, but at the same time there were lots of familiar faces. Anyway, I was primarily there to check out some sessions and have a couple of meetings – no impassioned calls for the banning of any words from me. Not in public, at least…

There were some really good sessions, notably the three keynotes from Jeremy Lewis of Big Fish Games, Tom Prata of Nintendo and Dave Roberts of PopCap.

Jeremy talked about the importance of company culture, of setting lofty goals and of expanding the audience for games. It was quite an intense talk, fairly personal to begin with, and I think some people found it quite heavy going for 9am on the first morning. However, everything said made a lot of sense, and as you might imagine, resonated strongly for a Denkian like myself.

Tom (Nintendo being the poster-child of audience expansion of course) talked about the “Miyamoto Method” of game design. This was similar to the talk Nintendo gave at GDC earlier in the year, but this time they showed off the prototype they made for the Wii version Punch Out! It was like looking at one of our own prototypes (or vertical slices, if you prefer) – it wasn’t just trialling a control system, it was a complete experience. You had to punch a robot trainer wherever it lit up, but if you were too slow, the robot would fight back. There were rounds, visual effects, sound, and a satisfactory ending to the game. They talked about finding the universal theme for a game, rather than aiming at a demographic. For example, Nintendogs was aimed at everyone who likes puppies.

Dave gave a talk with a similar theme to my own at Develop, about how we should ignore the labels of ‘casual’ and ‘hardcore’, and just concentrate on making games that appeal to people. His point was that for all the people who do now play games, there’s still a massive untapped audience of non-players. How can we make games that will appeal to those people? What’s going to draw them in and keep them engaged?

All in all, a very useful conference, even if I do disagree with all the segmentation that’s going on! One key improvement that could be made to Casual Connect, Develop and many other conferences is that, despite the pleas of the keynote speakers, there simply aren’t enough sessions focused on making games that are fun. I want to learn more from companies that have made hit games as to why they think they have had hit games (beyond marketing considerations) – of course, that would mean they’d need to understand why, but that’s a discussion for another time…