Reflections on GDC 2018

 (From Casey/The Consultant - CEO of Ship of Heroes/Heroic Games)

My reflections on GDC 2018

1. About Epic Games: Epic had a huge booth, as usual, not too far from the Amazon Lumberyard booth. There seemed to be less of a focus on engine developers this year, except for these two. Epic was in fine shape, and we had some very meaningful tech discussions with them and made a couple of new contacts for the future. This year Epic was busy explaining how they made Fortnite, in an entire series of talks. This was, in many ways, the technical highlight of the convention for us. We're still watching and re-watching the videos form a couple of these talks. One of the key conclusions was that upgrading to UE 4.19 is very significant for any team making an MMO with Unreal. Shortly we'll have a newsletter out about what we are doing with the SoH engine version, and why. But changes in 4.19 are significant enough that a lot of key tech suppliers are also releasing updates geared around the 4.19 release from Epic.

2. We were able to speak with a lot of industry insiders and experts at the convention. Not only do they often present, but they are generally accessible before and after their talks, as well. We walked the show floor multiple times as well, speaking with devs from SpeedTree, TrueSKY, and many others about their technology.

3. We were able to set an appointment in place with the founder and CTO of PopcornFX, with their superb game FX technology. This was really exciting, since Epic is moving away from their Cascade system and toward a newer system called Niagara, but has fully enabled PopcornFX in the Engine. We are going to be doing much more with PopcornFX (this also relates to engine version for us), which is part of our strategy to upgrade and also level the FX from superpowers in Ship of Heroes. It's hard to convey how exciting the Popcorn stuff is, when you see it. But our community is going to be seeing more and more of this kind of advanced stuff in-game.

4. On a personal note I had a number of very meaningful meetings and lunches. I have a favorite little Thai restaurant near to the Moscone Convention Center. I was able to meet Gordon Walton of Crowfall for lunch there one day. Gordon always offers me insights into MMO development -- he's an incredibly smart and generous person that I first met several years ago at GDC 2016. I also had a really fun meeting with Andrew Ross of Massively Overpowered. This was the first time I'd met Andrew, and we had a wide-ranging, fun talk, which became a very in-depth interview on MO. If you have not read it, it is worth looking at.

But one of my favorite moments was meeting up with one of our coders in person at the show. As some of you may realize, SoH is a small team, but we've still managed to get two guys named Casey, two named Chris, two named David and two named Justin. We also have two surnamed Smith (no relation). So here we were, in my favorite Thai spot -- the two Casey's, talking shop. As a virtual team, this was an unexpected bonus to the trip.

5. Summarizing: we spoke with many people, listened to many talks, and visited many booths. Some of my takeaways are the following:
  • The big move in MMOs is toward having more players on the screen. This is a good thing for SoH, as the underlying tech issues for this feature are significant, and every tech company that helps with this feature is directly good for SoH's development.
  • In single player games, the big trend continues to be in the direction of movie-quality visuals.
  • AI is big and gets bigger every year. Applications are apparently unlimited, from writing dialog to monitoring chat.
  • I think there is a move back toward subscriptions for MMOs and multiplayer in general.
  • More and more people and organizations are pushing back against toxicity in gaming.
  • I did not see anything that suggests to me that a niche game like SoH will not succeed. Just the opposite in fact.
  • I am always interested in the stories of other development teams and what kind of market research they utilized, when they decided to make a new game. I think this is an under-published field, along with some confusion over the difference between features and benefits, in gaming. Features are about the game. Benefits accrue to the player.

Anyway, this post has become far too long. But I enjoyed the conference, as I do every year, and I learned a lot. We're still following up on meetings we had last week. Now it is back to work for me. :)