ITProPortal has landed in the beautiful city of Krakow to bring you minute by minute info on the one of the biggest games industry conferences in Europe.
Taking place from the 8 – 9 May 2014, Digital Dragons' main goal is to establish a platform for B2B relations in the games industry, bringing together some of the top industry experts from all four corners of the globe.
Above all else, the conference is a prime opportunity for fledgling games companies to rub shoulders with top producers, publishers, venture capitalists and industry media to give their title the best possible start in a crowded and competitive market.
ITProPortal will also be one of the judges at this year's Big Indie Pitch, an opportunity for Independent developers (or indies) to pitch directly to members of the press and publishers. The devs have just four minutes to sell their game, explaining the premise and production process before moving on to the next table. Having taken place already in San Francisco, Cologne and London where ITProPortal attended, this is the Big Indie Pitch's first time in Krakow – and we have to say we're intrigued to see what Poland has to offer.
Check below for all the latest news, photos and analysis as soon as they happen over at the Stara Zajezdnia in Krakow.
- 09 May
Check back with ITProPortal over the coming days for full articles breaking down everything we've seen during our stay in Krakow - in the meantime scroll down to get blow-by-blow action of everything as it happened at Digital Dragons 2014. See you back in the UK!
This was the show floor earlier today, crammed with over 40 developers all showcasing games that make clear Poland is more than worthy of a bright spotlight on the gaming world stage.
The awards were the culmination of two days of intense networking, learning and chats from top industry professionals. Particular highlights included a fascinating talk on rendering Assassin's Creed 4 from Ubisoft Montreal, a preview of upcoming virtual reality sensation Get Even and of course meeting the talented developers of the Big Indie Pitch.
Anyway, "Timber Man," the delightful retro-style arcade game we looked at earlier in this liveblog, scooped Best Mobile Game at the Digital Dragons Awards gala.
Yes indeed. Definitely-did-not-have-a-single-slice-of-pizza-whilst-sitting-on-a-deckchair-in-the-Krakow-sun. Definitely not.
There was a terrible power outage at the venue. You wouldn't believe it, two hours of complete pitch black. Everyone was crying. It was awful.
Sorry what was that? You're wondering what that two hour gap was about?
In half an hour the winner of Best Indie Game at the Digital Dragons conference is going to be announced before the wrap party. We'll attempt to keep you up to date with the going's on - an attempt made trickier by rumours of the presence of celebratory conference pizza.
It's one of the stand-out accessories of the show - definitely keep an eye out for it.
We played a dog-fight style plane game where you control a small plane as it attacks an enemy air base. With the Dice+ clutched in your fist you can tilt it to control the plane, tapping on the top side of the dice to fire your guns in a surprisingly tactile and responsive way.
It's not just limited to turn-based dice games however. The dice can also double as a portable joystick - which is how we used it on the stand.
As you may have guessed from the name, Dice+ is an electronic dice with a bit of a twist. It works by communicating with your tablet via bluetooth, which for dice-based games means no more counting, moving game pieces or pressing boring random number generators.
Wandering back through the show floor we came across the Dice+, a gaming accessory compatible with iPads or Android tablets that is making waves across the industry as a new way to interact with your games.
Which really, isn't a bad thing. If you can harness the might of one of the world's largest technological behemoths and tap into its user base with minimal marketing spend, why on earth not?
It's a classic case of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours with the wad of dollars I have mined from all your users"
Gaming is clearly a sphere that Facebook has got its beady blue eye on - and that makes sense. If you want to keep 1.5 billion users coming back to the site, you need as many addictive elements as possible. Anyone who has ever played five minutes of Farmville will know how compelling these web-based games can be, so as Facebook gives you coverage and a platform for your title, they too benefit by syphoning off your audience.
So Ognieva is, as you would expect, keen to stress the tools that Facebook offers to developers to build games.
Apparently 66% of apps are only ever opened once - which is pretty heartbreaking when as a developer you've spent months creating the game. Facebook consequently offers a "re-engagement" programme which tries to hook the user back into your app.
To reach Facebook's huge global audience you can take advantage of its News Feed stories with organic coverage by users or Mobile install ads that are paid for content.
But what about getting your app discovered? There's over 900,000 apps on App store alone - how do you get yourself noticed?
First there's Share Dialog (sic,) that allows users to discuss games and share them with each other directly from their profiles.
So what Facebook tools help you build your game's audience?
Ognieva says that Facebook offers three pillars: Build, Grow and Monetise with its SDK
Facebook offers a Unity SDK that allows developers to port their games over onto the site - it'll allow your game to be cross platform and connect with the 55 million uses on the site that have the Unity plugin.
In last year alone Facebook paid out $2.2 billion to games developers - since Facebook is connected to from multiple platforms (everything from smartphones to desktop PCs) it offers a lot of flexibility for those wanting to create a compelling game.
According to Ognieva the average user checks their Facebook on their mobile 14 times - that's some serious addiction.
Thinking about it, this talk will probably give some useful insights as well into Facebook's recent acquisition of the Oculus Rift.
Ognieva: "The answer's simple, games are social."
Julia Ognieva manages partnerships for Facebook across Europe - so why does Facebook care about games?
Anyway, I digress, the talk is about to begin.
Anything cooked by a man wearing that hat was bound to be beyond delicious. Just look at it - look at it!!I It makes him an entire foot taller!
Seriously though, that was one of the best steaks of my life.
Smelling of smoke and full of BBQ steak, the audience has filed back into the main expo hall ready for Facebook's address from Julia Ognieva.
The mass exodus of conference guests to the BBQ outside tells us that it's lunch time here in Poland, but check back at 13:00 GMT for our live coverage of a keynote from Facebook on "The Power of the Facebook platform for Games Developers."
So what are the key takeaways from this keynote? Don't be afraid to reach out to media, learn to love marketing, engage with your fanbase and be bolshy.
I've just looked up from my laptop and realised how busy the room is - there's about 50 people standing around the edge who are craning their heads to get a look in at the guys who made the Witcher.
Even better, offer to take a journalist out for coffee or just come to their offices to meet them. We're busy people, but if you can pin us down face to face you'll be hard to miss.
It's true though, whilst as media we are always looking for exciting games we also have our own likes and dislikes, opinions and preferences. Research the journalist you're contacting, personalise your email and really engage with them. It'll make you stand out from the barage of emails we receive every day.
Yes we are.
Michal: "If you can excite the media, they will write about you. They're always looking for the next big thing."
Just like you define a target audience of players, you also need to identify a target audience of media.
Marcin: "The behind closed doors part is important - at this point before launch the game is often not yet finished. Journalists are professionals and understand this, but gamers seeing a rough draft of a game will be much less forgiving."
Then comes the gamplay demo - first off you do an exclusive preview for the announcement, and then a big behind closed doors show for carefully selected journalists.
Here's the Witcher's cinematic trailer as an example:
First off, you can start by teasing. Put a counter on your webpage, post cryptic tweets, time your releases (and don't forget different global time zones!)
Michal: "We call the release of the video 'the Game of Hype.' You are fighting for a number of views or coverage, but you also need to secure good reception and ensure it leads to a reaction from the audience."
Marcin: "By reaching out to these guys you can get a few 100,000 views without spending a penny."
Marcin: "You can look for opportunities - grab a camera and do a dev diary with your friend, or make contact with one of the YouTubers who can give you great coverage with their own fanbase."
What about how to do interviews and videos?
So create a high quality art piece - a character or set design that really sells your game. Check out some of the Witcher ones here. This is what will come up when someone searches for your game, and will define your creation online.
In order of importance, Marcin and Michal say gamers want: a gameplay demo, gameplay videos, screenshots, video interviews and Dev diaries.
So clearly keeping an open dialogue with gamers is important - but what do fans want?
Michal: "Think too about geography - if you think 'I'm going to launch globally' you are wrong. You can't group countries as one and the same, what Russia likes will be different to Britain. This is why we travel to trade shows to work out exactly what appeals to different gamers."
Then there are the secondary targets, such as action adventure players who love games like Batman Arkham City. Those are fans that love action and spectacular scenes, which the Witcher was full of.
They highlight what they call "Gamer segmentation." In the case of the Witcher, their main targets for hardcore RPG fans who play games like Skyrim, but also RPG hit buyers like Mass Effect alongside the core fanbase of the Witcher when they were releasing sequels.
Marcin: "First off you need to define your target audience and what is special about your game. Keep an open dialogue with gamers through social media and going to trade shows like this."
Marcin and Michal say that the most difficult part of launching a game is the Marketing and PR - the what, how and when you talk about your game.
But it's now time for The Witcher presentation from CD Projekt RED, the studio behind the game that has sold 7 million units worldwide. How do you emulate that success?
On a side note, if like Tutu lab you too want to inject some Easter eggs into your game and give it a splash of personality, ITProPortal has rounded up some of the best secrets tucked away in famous titles.
Check out the launch trailer for "Foodo Kitchen" for a small example of what I'm talking about, plus the studio's well thought out website that actually has a press pack section. The amount of indie developers who don't have one of those is enough to drive you into a corner, weeping and clutching your knees.
The polished and convincing pitch combined with such strong branding meant that they shone in front of the 32 other games - it's proof that taking the time to not just create a fun gaming experience but a memorable business will get you noticed over your competition.
In a microcosmic example of this, at the Big Indie Pitch competition ITProPortal was a judge for two nights ago, the game that won had developed not only a beautifully designed game but a memorable and compelling brand. The developers at Tutu Labs even brought along their own branded stuffed toys of their characters and had filled the game with delightful Easter eggs.
It's not one to miss - there's been a lot of talk over the last couple of days about the link between a strong brand and the success of a game. It's not enough to make a great title - in an age of clones and cluttered app stores you need to stand out from the seething mass of other games vying for attention.
Stay tuned, at 12:00 we'll be heading over to the Expo Hall to listen to Marcin Iwinski and Michal Platkow-Gilewski deliver their keynote on "The Witcher - building a global game brand from zero to AAA"
So in summary, Krug encourages you to step into HTML5 gaming now - don't get caught up in the crowded app craze.
Finally you need to get in touch with sponsors early. Krug says "don't just talk to one, talk to five, six, seven, eight and let them know that you're there, what you're working on and get some feedback on the development process."
Krug: "When you've done that, choose your engine. Pick a ready made one rather than building your own, there are some brilliant ones out there that will make the process so much quicker."
Krug: "The most important thing developers actually forget is to do some market research" It's not enough to just make a game you enjoy or are passionate about - you have to have an audience. Find a niche - it's a young market!
Freemium games take a lot of time, energy and money to constantly reboot and update. Casual games tend to be made in one go and can be quickly sold on or left to their own devices.
The thing is, there's more money in "casual games" than the fremium model of mobile games and apps that everyone and their tech-savvy Granny are developing on smartphones at the moment.
Krug says the problem is that the platform flash games are being played on are dying - the shipments of pcs are falling and being taken over by smartphones and tablets. So what are people making now? Apps.
Krug: "Flash is still the dominant platform on PC for casual games due to its large install base and healthy commercial ecosystem" - just look at games like Kingdom Rush, Bejeweled and Zuma.
Softgames is the biggest HTML5 games platform with over 10 million monthly active users - so they know these guys know their stuff.
Unfortunately the Electronics Arts presentation has been cancelled last minute, so now we're out a keynote on "How to Make Money wit HTML5 Games" with Alexander Krug, Founder and CEO of Softgames.
Representatives from EA, Google, Facebook and Nokia are all set to make keynotes today - we'll be working up some serious cardio running around the Stara Zajezdnia trying to cover as much as possible and bring you all the latest insights and industry trends straight from the developers' mouths.
The sun is shining and Polish sausages are sizzling on the BBQ - welcome back to day two of Digital Dragons 2014!
- 08 May
But that wraps up day one of the Digital Dragons conference here in Krakow. Check back tomorrow for live updates from the show floor!
Having just launched today, it's boasting a 5 star review on Google Play where you can download it for free.
The little stickers you can see on the card to your right are votes from conference guests on which they think is the best game, and honestly the stickers stretch round all three sides of that cardboard triangle. Timber Man is a popular title to be sure.
It's by all means a casual game, one to play on the morning commute when waiting for a bus or to whip out your pocket when a colleague is running late, but its a classic example of the "simple is best" advice that older developers deliver sagely to young Indie whippersnappers.
We've just come across a rather delightful game called "Timber Man" by Digital Melody - an addictive 2D arcade style challenger that could not be any more retro if it slapped a beauty spot on the lumberjack and named him Marilyn Monroe.
And that brings to a close the panel - the key takeaway seems to be to really tailor your marketing strategy to your game, not just your audience. Foster relationships with not just PR companies, but directly to the journalists as well - though only contact the latter if you have a strong pitch and all the information they'll need.
Kaye: "Activision, EA and so on all have established in house PR but they also often co-ordinate with outside PR agencies. It's important to remember that the two don't have to be mutually exclusive."
Kaye: "It's an important thing to consider when Indie developers are looking to choose their PR agency."
Kaye: "For me, the launch is a percentage of it. I've spent months with clients talking through the game design. I've written in game text, helped select screen shots, given examples about app store icons. A lot of agencies do á la carte mobile gaming packages, but there's a consultative aspect that we give as an agency that's not immediately clear until Indie games work with us."
Really good point from the panel about whether you should employ a PR agency: there are good and bad points. The plus is you are buying a person with a lot of experience to invest time in marketing your game so you don't need to worry about it. The bad is that they will never care as much about your game as you are, or be as passionate - and in the case of Indie games it is often the passion that sells.
Hearn: "Journalists tend to like to go straight to the developer directly" - hiring a PR agency has advantages if the journalist has a close relationship with that agency, but if you develop your own relationship you can really stand out from your rivals.
Rob: "That's not to say that you should completely ignore the media - it's a powerful promotional tool." You just need to really tailor your pitch, and consider your audience and where they will go for their information (for instance casual gamers may not read gaming sites.)
Indeed, perhaps controversially, Rob Hearn of Steel Media suggests that sometimes the media is not the best route to go down. With every game and its virtual granny launching a cannonade of pitches to a swathe of journalist inboxes, it can be hard to get picked up unless you have a strong angle or USP.
The panel believes games often become popular through social media and forums, but the media reinforces that success and sustains it.
Kaye: "The biggest challenge for media is that clients have a view that they'll get features on a big site and they'll hit top 10. That's the wrong way to view PR in mobile games," and indeed the games industry in general.
Jaroszek: A common mistake from developers is that they don't have a business attitude. They have no marketing plan, no knowledge of the correct sites and journalists to target.
Cue lots of sage nodding from the journalists round the room and dabbing at eyes with handkerchiefs - "We are people, we are."
Journalists are people too, say the panelists, with likes and dislikes just like everyone else.
You need to know who you're pitching games to. You don't want to pitch a free to play runner to a journalist who always reviews them badly because puzzlers are more their bag.
Kaye agrees - the casual games often don't get as much traction. but you want a level of buzz and traction beyond the media. The only way you'll really get that, says the panel, is if you stand out from the crowd.
Audra: "A mobile game will generally have a much shorter launch time frame than a PC or AAA launch title."
Is there any major difference in approach between mobile games, casual games, and triple A games in terms of media coverage?
Audra: "Gameplay footage is the most interesting for a trailer if you want to pull in players - and especially if as an Indie developer you have a limited budget."
Just to butt in - I completely second this. The amount of games I've wanted to scream from the top of the Shard about, yet can't find a single screenshot of, is a real crying shame.
Regardless, the panel pleads for indie developers to send journalists "the complete package: your logo, your screen shots, a link to your YouTube profile, a photo of the people behind the game and your stories. We're not lazy, we're just snowed under with information and we don't have the time to scour the web for your information."
Of course, the panel admits this depends on the game. Sometimes the game's not ready for release, but even just sending a brief screenshot or flavour of the game will really help a young game stand out.
Hearn: "When you're pitching to journalists, videos important just because it's a good way of filtering. 99 times out of 100 we'll gravitate towards a video - it's easy to ignore a press release."
McIver: "If you're doing a review campaign before a game hits, you want to release the game to media under embargo so that as soon as the game launches there's a series of reviews for people to read when they think about buying it on launch day."
Kaye: "From a mobile perspective, it has to be immediate. There's an advantage with from months ahead teasing people through social media with small snapshots into your game."
So at what point in the game development process should you reach out to media?
Gosh that was a lot of hard to spell names.
On today's panel are Koscielny CEO of Vivid games (Poland's largest mobile developmcompany), Radoshaw Jaroszek from onet.pl, Rob Hearn from Steel Media, Audra McIver from Plan of Attack, James Kaye of dimoso, Daniel Miszkiel of Tap IT Games and Tadeusz Zielenski of CD Projekt.
"How to reach the media so they do not miss the best game in the world - your game" is going to run through some top tips on how exactly you can pitch your game to the best people to shout about it.
Next up is a panel discussion that's an absolute must for any budding games developer. It's easy to get so wrapped up in designing the perfect game that you forget you're a business too - and you have to market yourself as such.
If the game will look anything like it does in the trailer - and that really is a big if - Get Even could be one of the harbingers of next-gen visuals. Watch this space.
This is truly exciting stuff, and the perfect remedy to one of the biggest disappointments of the PS4 and Xbox One launches. After months of hype about how powerful the next-gen console's engines were, the systems still haven't launched games that truly show us what they are capable of. Instead we got rushed titles that relied on particle effects or even last-gen developments.
Appropriately, Better Reality is a Polish company that also works with Hollywood studios like 20th Century Fox.
Farm 51 primarily used an environmental scanning technology called Thorskan to achieve this photorealistic finish, which was created by special effects house better reality.
Paduk admits, however, that there are limits to 3D scanning - it's not easy to get rid of hand modeled assets for instance, and it's still better and faster to sculpt some objects from scratch. Think of very technical weapon modelling, for example.
Obviously part of the trailer you're watching is live action, but the new graphics engine Paduk's team has been using seriously blurs the line between what's real and what's not so it's not always clear what's computer generated.
And wow he's not kidding - check out the teaser trailer Pazdur just played for Get Even:
Interestingly though, Padzur tells us the development team has been employing 3D scanning to deliver photorealistic quality to the game's graphics.
Get Even promises to mix realism with fantasy, blending AI with human -controlled enemies so you're never sure what's real and what's not. This is not an entirely new concept though, in games like Dark Souls other players can "invade" your game for huge benefits if you're playing wit an Internet connection.
In fairness, with news that David Attenborough is releasing his next documentary, Conquest of the Skies, on Oculus Rift, the revolutionary possibilities of the technology are not just limited to gaming.
It's seriously exciting to see developers engineering virtual reality games - it's still early days, but many are touting this technology as future of the entire gaming industry.
They've created a game for release in 2015 called Get Even, a VR game designed to behave exactly like the real world and not an action movie. It's an intriguing idea - games have often been compared to playable movies where you control the story, but what if they played out more like real life?
It's a nice link from virtual reality - Pazdur is the Lead Designer at The Farm 51 who are questioning what would happen if we removed the artificial barrier between single and multiplayer?
Now it's time for our first keynote of the day courtesy of Wojciech Pazdur, a top polish game designed talking on "Get even: The real world vs the virtual world - how to make a game about it"
With news too that Facebook acquired Oculus Rift with the intention of building a one-billion person MMO, it's clear that this is a technology not just limited to gaming (though the industry really is an excellent spring board.)
Another big plus is that the goggles look set to launch some time this year, while the Oculus Rift has just announced that it won't likely be hitting shelves until 2015.
De JET Work's prototype VR goggles is the affordable option for gamers wanting all the immersive action of virtual reality without the hefty price tag. Costing just £20, you can slot your smartphone into the front of the device, set up a gaming app that's AR enabled and hey presto! You have a lightweight virtual reality experience on the move for a fraction of the cost.
After a brief wander of the show floor, one independent developer (or "indie" for those with a flagrant disregard for syllables) that's already stood out is De JET works. We met them last night at the Big Indie Pitch with their fun dungeon adventure mobile game "Victor the Monster Slayer." Today they showcased an innovative piece of custom virtual reality (VR) hardware that stands as an alternative to the infamous Oculus Rift.
We'll be here all day liveblogging some of the most interesting keynotes, as well as meeting and greeting both young indie companies and established industry veterans alike to get some of the top tips for any developer looking to make it in this competitive sphere.
After a brief scuffle with Polish officials, we've finally made it into the beautiful venue of the Stara Zajezdnia - though the same can't be said of many developers who are still queuing out the door for the chance to mingle with some of the industry's top experts and investors.
Forty winks later, welcome back to Krakow for day one of the Digital Dragons 2014 gaming conference!
- 07 May
Check back throughout the day for all the latest updates, insights and news from Digital Dragons 2014 - some of the speakers gave us a preview of their talks tomorrow and it has to be said, they're not to be missed.
Right, it's nearly midnight here, and if I don't get off to bed soon this will be a not-too-dissimilar portrait of my sleep-deprived face tomorrow morning.
Keep an eye out for it, and your other eye out too for this little guy - one of the many ravenous monsters you'll be baking a bevy of goods for this month when the game's released:
Tutu Studios will now receive £2,500 worth of advertising space for when their game launches on 15 May.
Packed with in game Easter eggs and surprises, you play a shopkeeper trying to feed a stream of hungry monster customers with very particular tastes in cake. Colourful, zany and above all else original, it's got a real sense of humour that is utterly charming.
Huge congratulations to Foodo Kitchen by Tutu Lab, a two woman studio which has come up with easily the most polished game we have ever seen in an Indie pitch - and it's their very first title.
32 pitches and a whole lot of complimentary olives and carrot sticks later - we finally have a winner!
Things kick off in five minutes - and with that many developers to see you can imagine things are going to be pretty hectic! Keep checking back for updates, and in the meantime here are the winners of the last "Very" Big Indie Pitch that took place in London at the beginning of this year.
ITProPortal is one of the judges at tonight's pitch (alright, you can get your jokes about Alysia Judge being a judge on the panel out your system now) and we'll be meeting around 40 developers through the course of the evening..
A flurry of journalists is buzzing around the venue, pulling huge posters Marry Poppins-style from impossibly tiny bags as the tables are set up and the developers file in.
But hold your horses - first up is the Big Indie Pitch. It's the chance for up and coming mobile games developers to pitch their games to industry professionals in a competitive market where you really have to fight to stand out.
Welcome to Poland! ITProPortal is going to be in Krakow for the next three days bringing you up to date coverage of one of the biggest events in the European gaming calender: Digital Dragons 2014.