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Recap: Casual Connect SF

imgresConferences and other such industry events… I’m not sure why, but they remind me of elementary school Valentines or Holiday parties from back in the day.  Why?

  • It’s a break from the “every day”,
  • You’re mingling with peers in an exclusive/confined environment,
  • There’s a form of collaborative learning happening,
  • You might have something someone else wants/needs (or vice versa),
  • And, there are snacks.

You look forward to the event, and then you arrive and feel a little stand-offish or awkward (“what am I supposed to be doing here again?”), and then you pair up with faces you know, start chatting up strangers about games and the industry, and by the end of the day you’ve had so much [coffee, snicky-snacks, beer, wine, chatting-adrenaline] that you’re a bit wired, if not kooky (or maybe that’s just me. Yeah, probably just me).

I’ve been to a fair amount of conferences in the past, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to visit Casual Connect.  Typically, this conference has been showcased in Seattle, and, for one reason or another, I was not able to attend.  But the past is past, and CC has popped up in my neck of the woods.  I had always understood Casual Connect to be a B2B sort of conference for bizdevs and people looking to build up connections between businesses, and link up services.  To me, Casual Connect USA (here in SF) felt like a filtered down version of GDC (Game Developers Conference) — condensed venue, similar faces, no crowds of “game fans,” and a greater sensitivity to the plight of the indie game or new casual IP (“intellectual property”).

This year the conference was at the Hilton in Union Square.  Aside from the SUPER crowded hotel foyer (meet’n’greet location), the event was a labyrinth of hallways lined with tables of indie app developers.  Off the hallways were random conference rooms filled with video advertising booths, popular gabbling sites (fact: there were 2 gambling sites last year, and 23 stationed at the show this year), and a few notable game companies (most notably Gree, Candy Crush, and Machine Zone).  The ballrooms were positioned at the end of hallway trails, and reserved for speakers or expert panels.  Overall, I thought these sessions were MUCH more accessible and better attended then the speakers/panels at GDC (I know this because I rarely saw a room with more than 10 people in attendance at GDC).

Throughout the late afternoons of August 30th – April 1st (after I could escape from my own day-to-day work), I roamed the long hallways and bounced in and out of some sessions.  Here are a handful of notes I was able to capture and wanted to share:

  • Several speakers throughout the conference talked about how difficult it was to build a lasting empire IP/Brand, and how it’s important to keep things new & fresh.
  • Monetization continues to be a constant concern.  Here’s Peter Warman’s Keynote presentation slides on “Global Monetization of Games: Emerging Markets as Drivers of Growth.”
  • Don’t lump Asian countries together when reviewing success & trends if you plan on being successful over there.  Ben Chen, of Sponsorplay, explained, “What I see in the top grossing charts in Korea and Japan, the Korean charts are dominated by Kakao and the Japanese charts are dominated by LINE.”
  • The infamous Google Glasses were referenced multiple times in regards to the future possibility (and excitement) for augmented reality games.
  • Jesse Schell, of Schell Games, spoke about how we, as humans, have 4 million sensors that can detect touch, and we’re only beginning to make use of them with touchscreen technology. “Artists create their best work with a pencil or a paintbrush, using three fingers, rather than just a single finger.”
  • Christopher Griffin, CEO of Betable, noted that gambling is a $400 billion business, online gambling is $35 billion, and yet… social casino games are less than $2 billion. With the draw of so many gambling companies to Casual Connect this year, I can’t help but think there’s going to be a bigger market push for the social platform.
  • Ed Fries (former head of Microsoft Games) closed the show, and brought it back to the facts: All in all, games don’t have to be as useful as other technological inventions. They simply have to entertain us.  (Amen!)

I have to say, it was a little daunting exploring the hallways of game devs, showing their work on tables and smart phone screens.  I think the biggest take away for me, personally, is that its super important to carry pamphlets of services (even if they’ll get lost).  Many of folks in the expo were not in a position to hire service teams (yet).  So many of the developers were just trying to get noticed, pull in additional funding for launch, or get some free marketing off of game journalists wandering the halls. The phrases, “We’re starting with interns” or “we’ll all be pitching in to handle community and CS” made me nervous, but bless ’em.  When you have roughly 800,000 games available in an app store, and the average person has 1,440 minutes in a given day… indie games and start-ups have a lot to worry about in regards to success.  Pamphlets (clever & poignant = the way to go) are better resources to bubble up later later, especially for those currently frenzied over pre-launch and funding.

Also, this conference reminded me of a bit of advice: Don’t. Burn. Bridges.  For as large as this industry feels… it isn’t that large.  Sounds weird, I know.  After a tenure in the industry, one starts to continuously run into familiar faces.  Thankfully, I pretty much adore everyone I’ve ever worked with.  Even still, you just never know when your past will catch up with you — and in this digital frontier, the chances are high you’ll end up running into old colleagues multiple times.  There’s nothing worse than an awkward, “Oh… hey” smile or rusty robot-hug, when running into someone you once knew while in a public place, filled with peers.

Izzy Neis
Director of Digital Strategy & Engagement

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