Nordic Game 2024

I made my way to Malmö to attend my first ever Nordic Game!

Attending Game Summit Sweden back in November 2023 meant that I received a free ticket to the Nordic Game convention in Malmö. Since I had never attended before, I took the opportunity and prepared myself for 3 days of inspiring talks, networking events, and games!

Wednesday 22nd May

After catching an early train from Stockholm at 6am, we made our 5 hour journey south towards Malmö. Due to unexpected delays with previous trains, I unfortunately missed some of the morning sessions and only managed to make my way to the convention hall by around noon.

Attending Nordic Game 2024

Picking up my conference badge, I attended a lunch organised by Dataspelsbranschen where I got the opportunity to mingle with other developers over a plate of meatballs, mashed potatoes, and lingonberry sauce.

The first talk I attended was a Steam Platform Update by Kassidy Gerber, a member of the Steam Business Team at Valve. Here, Gerber discussed new features that Valve has been working on related to Steam, such as the proliferation and expansion of Steam Sales, the release of the Steam Deck handheld gaming computer, updates to Steam Families that made it easier to share your Steam library with family members, as well as various Steamworks features such as Steam Input, Steam Datagram Relay, Steam Playtests, Steam Early Access, and Steam Events.

Up next was Legacy and Innovation in Gaming: Navigating the Tug of War, a fireside chat with Adam Boyes and Alexander Bergendahl. The current downturn in games featured prominently in the talk, with the speakers reminiscing on a similar downturn back in 2008 and expressing hopes that the current situation in 2024 was an overcorrection after mass hiring during the pandemic that would stabilize in time. Due to this downturn, it was important to focus on remaining afloat (the phrase survive to 25 is one that many indie game developers seem to be using), such as by taking on side hustles, pivoting to different industries, or taking on consultant roles. Both Boyes and Bergendahl stressed that the more self-sufficiency that were was present in the industry as a whole, the better. When talking about legacy, both speakers talked about the importance of paying it forward and allowing students or newcomers to the industry to contact you for advice.

The last talk I attended for the day was Maintaining development costs while meeting the growing expectations of consumers, a panel with Jeffrey Hilbert, Emma Farrow, Fatima Demina, Rima Al Shikh, Carlos Estigarribia, and Fabien Laine. The discussion initially centred around the contributions to development costs, such as employees (particularly senior ones), animation pipelines and games with realistic graphics, with speakers emphasising the importance of good planning and the pre-production step. In particular, it was suggested that having a longer pre-production step with fewer people is better to keep costs down compared to having longer production cycles with more people. The panelists then spoke about being precise with your budgets when speaking to publishers, making sure to identify potential risks and questions that needed answering during pre-production, as well as doing your homework when pitching to publishers and finding out their needs and what they're looking for. Finally, the speakers reminded everyone that games are built for players and not board members, and players don't care about how long the game took to make or how much it cost to make, they just want good games. It was also important to figure out what players want (particularly when making cosmetic items in live games).

We then made our way to a Mobile Mixer hosted by Metaplay, and finally ended our day at a party organised by Raw Fury.

Thursday 23rd May

I began the second day of Nordic Game with a talk called Know Your Audience: 5 Things You Can Do Today to Learn More About Your Players by Ravi Gogte. Here, he spoke about different categories of understanding players: telemetry (telling you what players are doing in the the game), player experience (telling you how people play games), and player insights (telling you why people will play the game). Focusing on player insights, Gogte’s recommendation was to go beyond the core player base and try to find out more about the silent majority. To do so, he suggested using research panels, and provided valuable insight on how to set them up and how to make sense of the results by using cohort analysis.

Allegorical Distance: The Real Challenge of Cultural Representation

I attended Kate Edwards' talk titled Allegorical Distance: The Real Challenge of Cultural Representation where she spoke up the differences between representing real-world cultures in games (by focusing on authenticity and appropriateness) and fictional cultures in games (by focusing on escapism and discovery). In particular, Edwards talked about the difference between cultural appropriation (which dishonours the culture and uses elements from it out of context) and cultural appreciation (which elevates the culture and empowers it), stating that it was always important to consult people from the groups in question.

Next, I listened in on a panel called Navigating the Nexus: Balancing Remote with In-Person Teams by Susie McBeth, Erik Bylund, and Peter Stahl. The discussion initially opened with remote working, with Stahl calling it the future of working, although he expressed concern about the possible loss of creativity, such as by missing watercooler talks. Other panelists discussed ways to counter this by having specific meetings for brainstorming, as well as holding in-person meetings that happened a couple of times a year. It was also suggested that not all meetings be transactional meetings; rather some should be times where team members could get to know each other better. Successes should also be celebrated whenever possible to highlight people's contributions and keep them engaged. While there was no magic solution for any of this, the panelists admitted that while not everyone is cut out for remote work, not all companies were set up for remote working either.

The next talk I attended was titled 8 Major Misconceptions About Game Success: Avoid These Mistakes! by Patrick Rose. Here, Rose talked about the following myths related to game success:

  • Having more playtime and more replayability meant more sales: Rose claimed that there there was no relation between game time and premium game sales. Instead of padding games with cutscenes, side quests, and minigames, it would be better to focus on the uniqueness and quality of the game.
  • Virality is a pure marketing topic: to increase the chances of virality, game developers can add features that allow players to show off (such as customization options), or add leaderboards
  • Log in bonuses help keep players engaged: due to the overjustification effect, players that receive such rewards tend to associate less pleasure with the game. Rather, it is best to focus on intrinstic motivation and have players keep coming back because they want to play the game (and not because they're forced to)
  • Game types are great models to understand player motivation: Bartle's model only applies to players playing MMOs in 1996, and Quantic Foundry's model is biased towards game developers. Human motivation models such as the self-determination model or Maslow's hierarchy of needs are better suited.
  • Pay-to-win is bad: pay-to-win is subjective and depends on the types of players in your game. While it is a powerful monetization model, it must not feel like pay-to-win
  • Premium games are fairer than free-to-play: free-to-play games need smart design in order to survive day 1 users, while premium games tend to rely on marketing
  • Accessibility only targets few players: on the contrary, accessibility affects everyone, and is one of the best drivers for innovation in games. Having high accessibility does not mean that the game cannot be difficult
  • Tutorials are needed to explain to players what to do: instead, game developers can rely on environmental design and level design in order to gently nudge players. Having lots of text boxes will discourage players from reading

Up next was Rami Unchained, a fireside chat with Casey Al-Kaisy and Rami Ismail. Here, Ismail talked about the sale of his part of Vlambeer, his work with gamedev.world and the Global Games Fund, and his new role as Government Relations with the Dutch Games Association.

I went over to the East Sweden Game Indie Game Expo where game developers from Östergötland, Sweden were showcasing their games. I ran into former colleagues and other friends, and ended up having several conversations rather than playing the games, whoops!

The last panel I attended for the day was one on the Future of the Games Industry with Thomas Bidaux, Elísabet Grétarsdóttir, Jenny Österlund, Shams Jorjani, and Julien Wera. The economic elephant in the room was tackled first, with the panelist stating that one possible future for games was to focus on smaller teams and more agile development, with perhaps having more input from freelancers and consultants. Some panelists suggested that new players in funding might emerge, and that it was important for developers to understand what their long term goals were and whether they aligned with them. Due to this uncertainty, Grétarsdóttir stated that this was a perfect time for reinvention, and she expected that new players would emerge out of the crisis.

Nordic Game Awards 2024

Finally, I attended the Nordic Game Awards where Resolution Games, the company I work for, had their game Demeo Battles nominated for two awards: Best Game Design, and Best Small Screen Game. Unfortunately, it didn’t win any awards, but it was awesome to see all of the nominated games and cheer on the winners!

Friday 24th May

The first talk of the day was one titled Creating Community: Making Games Social Again by Bohdana Sydorenko. Here, she talked about the loneliness epidemic that was becoming more and more prevalent in gamers (an audience that skews young). While there was no direct correlation between games and loneliness, it was true that the majority of gamers preferred playing alone. This was to avoid toxicity, clashes in personality, and communication styles. Here, Sydorenko suggested that players should be matched based on player styles to minimize such clashes, and thus increasing the chances of players becoming friends.

The next talk I attended was called Build to Last: How to build enduring IPs & brands by Christian Fonnesbech. This was a phenomenal talk that discussed the value of an IP and the the best way to build one at a game studio to gain the benefits of a lasting entertainment property. One piece of advice Fonnesbech gave was to not make your game about things, but rather think about emotional relationships with the audience, where the easiest way to do this is with characters. He also cautioned to not underestimate the worldbuilding, since a big part of players engaging with the IP is coming back to a world that is familiar and that they enjoy. Fonnesbech also mentioned that games have two genres: a gameplay genre (shooter, RTS, puzzle platformer, etc), and a narrative genre (romance, Western, post-apocalyptic, etc). In both cases, a genre is a pattern that the audience will recognize and expect, so it’s important to lean into that, rather than work against it.

Up next was Starting a Studio: Here’s what I learned after doing it 4 times by Lars Håhus, who provided a postmortem of his time as a studio manager and/or founder at four different studios: Shortfuse Games, Paradox South, Relax Gaming, and Paradox Thalassic. In general, Håhus said that it was important for teams at a studio to be passionate and to have similar values, and it was important to make sure that expectations were agreed upon and communicated with everyone. He stated that it was important as a studio manager to share the work that you were doing in order to build trust, and that to celebrate any form of progress such as releases. On a personal note, the speaker also mentioned that moving to a different industry (in his case, iGaming), meant that he lost some connection to the games industry and no longer kept himself up to speed.

The last talk of the day, and of Nordic Game 2024, was Perfect by Ste Curran. A deeply melancholic monologue, Curran talked about the creative process and how perfection can sand down a creation to dust if you let it. Sometimes, it’s OK to say something is good enough and let it go. Curran also talked about the nature of creativity being both personal and directed, with an oft repeated line: I made this for you. How does generative AI mesh with this statement? I’m still thinking about Curran’s performance as I write this…

I then went over to try out some of the showcase games, since the talks were officially over, but they had all been packed away for a final celebration. I'm a bit sad that I didn't have time to play the games, since it wasn't really communicated that they wouldn't be available on the Friday. Nevertheless, we celebrated the end of Nordic Game with live music, Maraoke, and great conversations with people.

Nordic Game 2024

I had a fantastic time at my first Nordic Game! I took away valuable insights from the talks I insight, met lots of friends and former colleagues that I hadn’t spoken to in ages, and also met lots of new people! I’m looking forward to applying what I learned, as well as keeping in touch with everyone I met. Now, for the 5 hour train back to Stockholm…

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