Rotterdam’s first annual Free Gaming Festival, recently attended by Gamasutra, featured an attached business conference organized by the Benelux Game Initiative.
While consumers wandered the city center playing the latest console titles and getting prizes, inside the convention center, a number of international speakers addressed the issues facing developers.
Ubisoft’s manager of business development, Fabrice Pierre-Elien, took the stage to discuss breaking into the industry as a third party developer.
Pierre-Elien has been with the publisher for over a decade, informing his insights into how relationships between publishers and independent developers work. “I’m used to seeing concepts,” he said.
Pierre-Elien stressed to developers, “You have to know your strengths, you have to know your weaknesses." Even if you have a potentially good concept, if you are unable to execute on it, “you want to avoid that at all costs. A publisher will not sign for something they don’t think you can achieve."
"If it’s in the technology instead of the design you have a problem," he warned. "If you have strength in design but no technology, it should be easier because you can acquire technology.”
Unlike technology, design sense cannot be easily acquired. "What you’re selling at the end of the day is your creative talent," he said. "We are talking about an interactive media.”
And the game is not the only thing that's being pitched. “You are selling yourself at the same time you’re selling your games," he explained, "so you have to be very aware of what you do well."
Pierre-Elien says that he’s always concerned in a meeting when the developers says this is a game they’ve wanted to make for a long time, that they all think it’s a great idea, and all of their friends like the idea, too. “I get a bit nervous when I hear that," he said.
As he told one team, “You are not the target of your own game. You must not make the games for you. Most of all, you must not test your ideas with you best friends. More likely, they’ll have the same opinion as you have. At the end of the day, the thing you have to assume is your tastes and the general public are different."
"Most of you are probably hardcore gamers," he exaplained. "You must assume you are more skilled then [your players] are. Something easy for you may be very difficult for them. And you must challenge all of your decisions with that in mind."
"Is this easy enough? Is this fun enough? Is this challenging enough? At the end of the day, one of the goals also for you, when you have a product that’s finished and goes on the market, is that as many players as possible finish the game.”
But how to define a good concept? It's an ambiguous issue. "I don’t have an answer for that," Pierre-Elien admitted. "You have to be different.”
Pierre-Elien noted that focus is important, and that ignoring it is “a mistake that a lot a young teams make.” He reiterated that developers must challenge design ideas to make sure that all ideas are relevant to their development experience.
Nailing a gameplay concept is considerably more important than fleshing out a story, according to the executive. "Have a design," he said. "Even if your story's crap, we'll help you build one." If your team has a great story, but is lacking in design and execution, a publisher won't sign it.
“If you’re trying to do a game that’s like Half-Life 2, BioShock
, and Mass Effect
all at the same time – and I’ve seen stuff like that – you have a problem," he admonished.
“Focus on the gameplay first,” he stressed, before concluding, “Just be confident."