I’m back from Brighton, where the wind blows so hard you think you’re going to fall off the edge of the world, and the seagulls are so noisy in the morning as to render alarm clocks obsolete. It’s also home to the annual Develop Conference, Europe’s leading gathering of the games industry. For the second year running, I attended on journo-duty, and yet again it was fabulous.
This year’s conference was a slightly different experience for me, though. Last year, I was the nervous rookie. It was, I believe, the first major event I’d covered. I knew… oooh, possibly one other person there. And only via the internet. I’d not actually met them. I recognised bloody everyone. I said hi to a few people. I ended up drinking with another few. It was good – but I wasn’t part of the crowd.
This year was different. I’ve fallen into the swing of the job now, I was organising and contributing to BeefJack’s coverage while also reporting for Gamasutra a couple of times per day, and I knew – in some capacity – a whole bunch of people there. So this time, it felt like there was a big interlocking series of groups with us, all working hard and playing as hard as it was possible to do without ruining your chances of getting any work done the following morning.
I’m not going to go systematically through everything that happened over the week, but here’s some highlights/notable happenings/major thoughts on the event.
- Tom Jubert not hating me. I’ve spoken to Tom a few times online in the past, I’ve positively reviewed a couple of his games, and then I dropped a scathing preview about his new game without realising it was him working on it. And then told him it’d be great to do drinks in Brighton and would he like to do an interview possibly. Oops. Such is the job, though, and as Tom said, the minute journalists stop being honest about people’s games just because they might end up in the same pub one day, the minute the industry has a big problem. Tom was very amiable, the interview went well, and the drinking went even better.
- Finding out that the BioWare doctors actually are qualified medical doctors. I always assumed they were design PhDs or something. But no. Casually dropped into Zeschuck’s keynote on the first day. “And of course, having previously worked as medical doctors, we…” Man!
- I always assumed I was the smallest of the games journalists. I’d forgotten, having not seen him for a year, that Alec is perhaps half an inch shorter. To my absolute(ly strange) delight, I met PC Gamer news ed Craig Pearson this week to discover him to be smaller still! This, to my mind, was quite an important discovery, to help me feel a little more big and manly than I would have done otherwise, roomsharing with Giant Phill Cameron Who Genuinely Couldn’t Stand Up In Our Hotel Room.
- On that note, the hotel. We knew it wouldn’t be great, since we intentionally – and on Will Porter and Kerry Turner’s recommendation – went for the cheapest place we could find. It was basically fine, especially since we were rarely in there for more than 15 minutes before or after being asleep. But of particular note were the receptionist’s smashing of privacy in happily telling Tom Jubert that, yes, we were staying there, and the amazing view from our room’s window, a photo of which I will upload as soon as possible. Think pipes, bin alleys, and a rusted emergency staircase.
- Kerry managing to walk straight into two separate Develop parties without actually having a Develop pass or being a conference attendee at all.
- The whole Mark Rein vs Cliffski thing. Basically, Cliffski was talking on a panel about making money as an indie dev. He said something to the effect of: “It’s great to be able to bypass the usual PR machine and instead engage on a one-to-one basis with your audience.” At which point Rein, sitting in the front row, interrupted and told him he thought he was acting foolishly to ignore traditional PR, as effectively utilising PR campaigns is what took Epic from a small studio to one of the biggest in the world. And then interrupted to voice his views on a few more occasions throughout the talk. Which is the sort of thing Mark Rein does. But if you don’t know him – as Cliffski and at least one other panel member didn’t (Beatnik’s Robin Lacey asked the Epic bossman if he worked in marketing) – I can imagine it would have come across as a little rude. Which is probably why Cliff went on to write a blog post telling him to “fuck off”. To be honest, there were more heated debates at Gamecamp, and I thought nothing really of the interruptions at the time. But equally I can understand why Cliffski was irked.
- Mark Rein eating a kebab in the staggering winds outside the GI.biz party.
- The (in retrospect) hilarious extent to which drunken appreciation of others’ work went on at that party. All fine, of course, and natural when you get a bunch of people who genuinely do respect each other in one place at once with booze flowing. Plus, I was secretly overjoyed when Shack News’ Alice O’Connor told me she thought Nestlings was “important and moving.”
- Bumping into Alice in a café on Friday morning, even though she was about to head back to London when we left her in the hotel bar the previous night. Turns out her, Gillen and Kerry ended up staying long into the night, Alice missed her train and ended up sleeping on Kerry’s floor.
- (There was an uncommon amount of drinking.)
- Finally meeting Dan Pinchbeck of Dear Esther fame, who took us to a lovely and surprisingly inexpensive Thai restaurant.
- Oh, strange man! How I already miss you! So basically there was this guy who was in a whole load of talks, who systematically insulted a load of people by talking about how little he cared for their games but completely incidentally. For example, this is the sort of thing he said in Tim Schafer’s Q&A: “So Psychonauts was really funny. Or, at least, I hear it was. I only actually played about an hour of it before trading it in, to be honest. It never really resonated with me. Anyway, what do you think of the state of comedy in games?” That wasn’t the question it led to, but genuinely, the stuff about how he didn’t like Psychonauts is exactly as it happened. He made a similar comment to Peter Molyneux, and apparently, in another talk, refused to let the Q&A session move on by simply refusing to give up the mic. Later, he did an Opinion Jam talk, claiming that there should be a free games magazine and, causing 200 people to simultaneously cringe, basically went on to pitch one he’d prototyped to the room. On asked why he felt there was a need for one, he said – I think I understood this right – that some gamers are poor and don’t have access to the internet, so can’t read websites for free, and anyway, games journalists make enough money that they could afford to do this sorta thing and fund it with a load of advertising. Huh.
- Bumping into Simon Roth in London after the conference, while I was eating a Burger King. Even being around food made the somewhat hungover Simon look as if he were about to pass out.
- Meeting Dan Marshall in odd circumstances. The odd circumstances being that I’m almost certain I met him last year but just didn’t realise it was him. Which would make sense, given that this year, I talked to him for a full five minutes or so before someone else came along and introduced him to their friend. We’d been talking about meeting up at Develop via email before we left, then it totally slipped my mind to get his number. So that was convenient.
- And just generally, hangin’ with all the people I hung with and meetin’ all the people I met over the week, whether I spent four minutes or four days in their company. So that’s Phill Cameron, Tom Jubert, Simon Roth, Kerry Turner, Lewie Procter, Alice O’Connor, Will Porter, Kieron Gillen, Alec Meer, Jamie Sefton, Dan Pinchbeck, Steve Hogarty, Simon Parkin, Simon Roth, Craig Pearson, Tom “Tom Bramwell” Bramwell (I still don’t get that joke, by the way), Ellie Gibson, Tim Edwards, Marie Foulston, Paul Taylor, Dan Marshall, Mike Channel, Rob Crossley, Robert Farr, Those Students (I’m Really Sorry I Didn’t Catch Your Names), and all the other people who I totally did meet/spend time with/vaguely acknowledge through a hangover haze but who I’ve offensively missed out from this list. And Kyle Orland, who I was sitting next to in the press office for a while, was intending to introduce myself as soon as I’d finished that story, and who then crept off without me noticing. Sorry Kyle. I’m sure it would have been great to meet you.
Ta-ra, Develop. Hope to see you next year.