Where Do We Go Now? 3 Days at Develop: Brighton

When applying, I was not confident about my chances of receiving a press pass in order to attend Develop:Brighton. The three-day conference is the primo event within the video game industry and sees many of the UK’s most talented developers, creators, and business moguls come together to network, share knowledge and, just generally, have a good time. Then there’s me, the guy who spends most of his time writing about old Super Nintendo games and weeping (whether the two are mutually exclusive remains a complete mystery at this point). I have spent so long immersed in video games as a medium from a consumer perspective, that I am constantly surprised by the things I have learned as I (attempt to) move further into the ever-terrifying realm of the professional. Attending Develop:Brighton as press, with this mindset, was equally as stressful as it was illuminating. I managed to sit in on talks that dealt with everything from diversity and social mobility to TikTok success and the best way to market your game on Steam – a veritable smorgasbord of business tips, PR, and, most importantly, what steps we can take collectively within the industry to make it a better place for everyone. Hell, I even got to see John Romero, one of the great video game rockstars, give an hour-long talk about the creation process behind Wolfenstein 3D; an enthralling session that, frankly, made me jealous of the man’s ability to passionately dedicate himself to a single art form for long, intense periods of time (can you believe Wolf was something like his 63rd game? It might even be higher than that, but I was way too taken in by his charisma to even think about reaching into my bag for the audio recorder). These panels were all invaluable in helping to broaden my personal skillset and educate me on wider issues and perspectives within the industry. Freelance journalism is fun, but there is so much more to discover outside of the immediate consumption and analysis of games as individual pieces of art, and that learning process, those realisations, are invaluable.

A roundtable on Wednesday titled Raise Your Game: How to Make Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Central to Your Games Business proved to be one of the most important sessions I attended at Develop. As a result of my own privilege, I have never had to think about a path into the industry and, while I still might not quite be a part of it, there is no limit to the number of opportunities open to me when it comes to video games. I have been lucky enough to have the time, money, and support to create my own website and really pitch and write about what I want to write about. This talk, chaired by Dom Shaw of Ukie, Alice Cooper of Autistica, and Kyra Chan of Netspeak Games provided an open environment in which anybody could feel safe to talk about the difficult, exclusionary elements of the industry we all found ourselves a part of. I have, for example, never even considered the place of an asylum seeker within the realm of video games – that is my own ignorance, my own comfort blinding me to struggles that clearly exist, but do not immediately affect me – that was a key point of discussion at this roundtable. What can we as individuals, but also video games businesses and organisations as a collective, offer to those seeking asylum within the UK who want to work within the industry? There is so much to consider and, while steps are being taken, there is always more to be done. How do we stop the stigmatised gendering of video games as a predominately male pass-time? How do we, especially within the school system, let young girls know that video games are for them as well? All these points settled in my brain and stuck with me long after the 45-minute session concluded – and will prove valuable considerations in all my work and ideas moving forward.

Another equally important talk took place on Tuesday, entitled Social Mobility in the Games Industry, conducted by Luke Hebblethwaite of BAFTA, and featuring a panel composed of Gina Jackson from GameDev Bootcamps, Danny Gray of ustwo games, and Tyler Rotheram, a student at Teesside University. Much like the Raise Your Game roundtable, this session helped illuminate issues within the industry that I have never even considered before. There was focused discussion on the lack of routes into gaming professions available for the underprivileged and unaware – companies are clearly not doing enough to advertise and educate outside of their immediate surroundings. There needs to be a push to inform (at least) secondary schools that a career in video games is an entirely viable option. You can perhaps chalk this up to a generational issue, but a lot of young people do not realise that professional opportunities within the medium that they love exist to begin with, which is something that is reinforced by parents, educators, and those who fail to understand the multifaceted nature of video games. This is especially true when it comes to individuals coming from underprivileged areas and backgrounds – creating, or even being involved with video games, is just not considered an available option. This has the distinct effect of homogenising both indie and AAA experiences, and consumers are only privy to a certain kind of middle-to-upper class voice. I can think of several independent darlings that deal with a distinctly white kind of middle-class malaise, but where are the experiences that relate to growing up on a council estate in Manchester? Where are the authentic stories that have managed to permeate every other medium apart from video games? In an attempt to offer possible solutions to this problem, the speakers on this panel discussed companies advertising and offering job roles less dependent on professional experience, and more so on passion and education. It is clear that, as an industry, more internships are necessary, and there is a desperate need for more diverse voices to be added to the collective. There is (and it might be a strong word) an incestuous quality to the professional side of video games – everyone ends up knowing everyone else, and a lot of careers are based around who you know and how you know them. Said careers are birthed out of a privilege of knowing. These individuals had the time, money, and support to seek out a career in their preferred industry; made aware of opportunities through either their own ability to research, or an environment that told them they could do whatever they wanted to do. This isn’t to insult or demean those who have successfully found their way into their dream position, but to point out that plenty of like-minded, passionate people are hampered by factors outside of their control – there are thousands of individuals who would be a great boon to video games, but invisible, unidentifiable barriers have already stopped them from taking the first step.

While the two panels I mentioned had the greatest personal effect on me, I also had the privilege of attending several informative marketing-focused talks. Grace Curtis from Future Friends Games delivered a fascinating presentation entitled Downward Spiral or Mega Viral: 10 Lessons from a Year on TikTok – which focused on the unique strengths and pitfalls of marketing your indie game through every teenager’s favourite social media app. As a twenty-seven-year-old man, I view TikTok the same way a medieval peasant would view a modern music festival; it’s big, scary, loud, and everyone seems to love it. This is not to say that I am against TikTok in any way, but I have never actively tried to engage with it. Grace did an excellent job in her talk of explaining the advantages of TikTok to someone like me, a veritable social media neanderthal. From what I understood, there are several steps you can take when marketing your game to ensure a modicum of success on the app – certain keywords, consistent uploads, and a personal touch being some of the most important. It reiterated the fact that a lot of the successful content on TikTok is not, in fact, advertising (as someone like me might think), and that the one thing gen z are experts on is spotting an ad from a mile away; what most users on TikTok want is something genuine, unique and to the point. The whole presentation was an education regarding a platform that I might well use in the future. TikTok is no longer as scary to me as it was, recontextualised not so much as a beast that needs to be tamed, but as a valuable community for any budding indie creator. Other talks in a similar vein managed to stir the same enthusiasm in me, helping me to understand the creative potential of other platforms as well. James Gourlay of Curve Games gave a presentation on The Ten Steps to Steam Success – an intriguing and surprisingly digestible introduction to marketing concepts that indie devs could implement when releasing their game on the platform.

Talk-wise, Develop was the perfect environment in which to enlighten oneself both professionally and on a more personal level. I was made to think about the industry in new and exciting ways, educated on marketing possibilities, as well as educated on social issues that need attention focused on them now more than ever. My only complaint is that I had to regularly choose between several fascinating talks every hour and that I haven’t yet mastered the ability to divide myself into seven to attend every single one. Still, outside of these sessions, there was ample opportunity to explore the expo floor and network with like-minded industry professionals – too many people to talk to, and too little time. I was lucky enough to personally connect with several interesting, passionate individuals and grow my list of contacts (or, to use a more apt term, friends). Indeed, looking back on the sun-kissed three days I spent in Brighton, I can’t help but feel extremely lucky for everything I got to experience, which was far too much to fit into a single article. I didn’t even get to talk about the press lunch, which was likely the most out of place I’ve ever felt in my entire life (what does a small-time, backpack-wearing freelancer have in common with the champagne-sipping professional businessmen? The answer is nothing). Develop, even beyond its valuable qualities as an industry event, shines as a mecca for like-minded individuals to make lasting, personal connections. It is, in that sense, a celebration of gaming as a whole and a celebration of the excellent, creative community that exists around the medium. It is exciting to think that, as an industry, we have so much to look forward to, the next generation paving the correct path forward, focusing our energies on diversity and introducing new, valuable voices to video games, correcting the mistakes that were made before. Develop encompassed all these qualities and more, set to the gorgeous backdrop of Brighton beach and I cannot wait to attend next year as well. And, hopefully, Hangar13 will still be handing out free ice cream.

All photos have been directly sourced from Develop’s Twitter account – @developconf

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