Posted Mon, Apr 16, 2007 by Cody Bye
As I sat in Terminal E at O’Hare International Airport while en route to mild-mannered Minneapolis, I sat back and tried to predict what I might encounter at the IMGDC. Knowing it was a conference based upon independent games, I truly expected to find a plethora of casual MMOs that were only engaging on a very simplistic level. While I had read the list of speakers and saw that individuals like Dr. Richard Bartle and Brian Green would be attending, I still had my doubts that there would be anything really ground-breaking or revolutionary about the show.
Coming to the show, I knew the job I was tasked with. I would engage my interviewees, try to uncover new information about upcoming games, and generally bring the knowledge of the developers to you – the readers. But would the news that came out of such an event be of any interest to our readers? Why would they want to learn about independent game companies if they didn’t develop anything new? In my gut, I thought that there would be little of interest for the typical MMO gamer to read about.
Let’s just say I was a little bit naïve and ignorant…and I was definitely wrong in my initial assumptions.
From the moment Josh Williams took the stage to deliver his introductory keynote to the final statements made at the show, the entire conference was focused on deconstructing the process of building a true-blue, serious MMO title. Not only was their a very serious, discussions-based feel at the conference, but the developers were also interested in pushing the boundaries and learning how other designers in the industry had successfully employed unique and original strategies to help their games succeed.
The developers that I encountered and interacted with – Dr. Bartle, Mr. Green, Mr. Williams, Kelly Rued, Jay Moore, Celia Pearce, Jonathon Stevens, Eric Rhea, and Dave Young to name a scant few – were so passionate and contained so much inner fire for their products and their industry that even the most obstinate individual would notice their die-hard dedication to the MMO space. Every conceivable portion of the MMO environment was brought up, broken down, and put back together again, and I - as a simple member of the press - found it completely enthralling. But, even with all this talk, I was attending the conference to represent the gamer. And, although there was a variety of topics discussed, there was always one element of the MMO that was vitally important to all of the developers: the gamers themselves.
I'm pleased to report that everything in the conference was about the gamer, whether it was inadvertent or not. From getting rid of tired, out-dated MMO systems; to organizing a business model that allows developers to continually add content; to producing a forward thinking plan on getting your game to the market; to building a game with the community support in mind – all of it was for the MMO user.
As a fellow gamer, I really encourage you to search the internet and see what sort of indie games you can find. There are a plethora of titles out there, and each of them calls to a number of different users. While they may not have the best looking graphics or the most advanced AI or the “big name” appeal of AAA titles, you have a very distinct possibility of finding an indie title that has a very specific niche that may just make your gaming taste buds tingle.
Speaking of niche games, one of the biggest messages being professed at IMGDC was for developers to explore a specific niche. Whether it was the humor provided in Minions of Mirth, the PvP focus of an older title like Meridian 59, or just a completely different setting, all of the developers were driving their compatriots to follow a particular path. Most of them understood that they couldn’t directly compete with AAA titles, so they are choosing to skirt around them and press the boundaries of their genre in one form or another.
Gamers – the MMO market is full of fantasy and sci-fi PvE romps, and I understand that many of you may be tiring of these sort of basic mechanics. If you are looking for something new, the best way to explore what you want in a game is to try out the indie titles. Need a story? Check out A Tale in the Desert. A deep roleplaying experience? You might want to head for a title like Roma Victor. All of these games provide specific experiences, and the developers at IMGDC were really fervent when they addressed their peers – niche development was the way of the future.
And in the end, this “niche” approach is really why gamers should pay attention to indie developers. Even if you aren’t tiring of your AAA title, these indie developers are often at the cusp of developing something that is totally new and extraordinary. With platforms like Multiverse and game engines like Torque requiring less monetary investment from developers, the beginning of a MMO revolution is right around the corner. As gamers, we need to keep our ear to the ground and listen for the rumblings. Become familiar with the entire MMO sphere. And keep your eye out for innovative indie titles, because your next AAA title may just use a similar sort of MMO game mechanic.
I’ve been interacting with developers in the industry for years, but rarely have I been around such a group of individuals with such a forward pushing vision on where games could – and should – go in the future. They wanted to bring things back to the market, and many of the developers believed that they could be the visionaries that bring the MMO back to the gamer. My hat goes off to Jonathan Stevens for putting this show together and giving the indie MMOs a voice.
That’s the final word on IMGDC 2007! While there was a lot of information that Jeff “Ethec” Woleslagle and I gleaned from the show, and we’ll continue to present you with new reading for the rest of this week. In the next few days, you can expect to see a write-up of our talks with Kelly Rued, Brian Green, Jay Moore, and a summary of the presentations of Dr. Richard Bartle!
As always, let me know what you think by emailing me!
Make sure you check out the rest of our IMGDC 2007 coverage!