Life In The Rain

by on Apr.25, 2009, under Education, Games, Life

In three weeks time a small horde of games developers in and around the Irish games community shall converge at the the Science Gallery in Trinity. This is a cool spot on Pearse street that runs interesting events tied into some aspect of research in the sciences. It’s often an electic gathering of visual and audio demo’s suitable for a family or couples on an idle afternoon. I took a walk around yesterday and they have the “Infectious” exhibit happening, a look into microbiology with some cool demo’s happening, plenty of it arty farty and others more direct like examining your DNA for malaria resistence. Anyway, we’ve got the studio room booked for 2 hours of speaker presentations and demo’s from some of the games community. I’ve been helping to run this with assistance from Dr Aphra Kerr and others. There are more details on an info page I setup here,

This is the first time that I’ve done anything like this and I hope to god I don’t mess it all up. I reckon it’s going to be 50% preparation and 50% “on the night”. We’ve already dealt with a date change and some trickiness in getting through to the correct people at our host location. That probably didn’t endear me to the speakers either. You need a thick skin too, there’s an element of cold calling involved. In general I’m noticing, like games publishers, no-one ever says no, they just stop replying (or take longer to do so). Right now the main concerns are tickets, they’ve already sold out in a day and I’m not sure many in our community got a chance to get them! Also, since the tickets were free and easily got online, I’m not sure how many will show up. We do have a guest list, but that will have to be managed carefully. A nice problem to have though, the bigger fear is that only 10 people would show up.

The high demand is most likely due to the suggested “recession proof” nature of the games industry (take away food, off-licenses and games, very popular as a cheap night out) and the large availability of idle talented people who haven’t gotten jobs since they graduated or have been laid off. Also games development has never had a lower barrier to entry. For example consider the I-Phone, 30 million sold, the vast majority of applications available for download are games, very popular games use and scaring the competition, 1 billion apps sold. For the developer you can pretty much add an application directly, no publisher, no huge console owner licence fees etc. Actually for my money I’d keep an eye out for google’s Android, there will be money to be made for early developers on the iPhone competing platform.

Now the down side here is that it’s a gold rush, with arguably a harsher market than the closed in home console markets where publisher, console and marketing fees provide a glass ceiling to protect the existing players. The choice here for iPhone developers is to cut prices or spend money on marketing – once you are outside the chart lists on the app store your sales plummet. It may not be long before we see a new tiered system on the itunes app store that puts publisher games in a special “high quality” section. Also calling the games industry recession proof is a little like saying the sea is waterproof. Most people in the games industry don’t stay in the one job more than a few years before layoffs or switching jobs with an average career reportedly lasting 5 years and companies go all the time… but then also those same employees either quickly go into new jobs or leave for other industries that pay better and the dead companies often spin out a new one or two. Recession like happenings are every day, but overall the industry is still growing.

There are also various other open platforms out there, Microsofts XNA and Silverlight platforms, Flash on browsers, some exiting 3d browser stuff from Unity, google’s o3d and good old native windows games downloaded online, and 10’s of others I’ve not remembered or noticed. There’s alot to be said for any game that you can make work only by visiting a web url; accessibility is everything in introducing new customers. I particularly think there’s going to be some interesting future stuff coming out from small independent developers which uses cloud computing (automatically purchasing more computing power from amazon / google as needed and sending the results back across the internet) to help with art and games graphics or a.i. Also anything to do with machine learning and statistics is a match made in heaven for computing. We’ve started to see games use it for playability testing, but I think we might see games use it more directly in the gameplay in synthesing a.i. and content.

In further non-games related news I’m tasked with doing a few tutorials for this years IET students working on the Cell (Playstation 3 like) architecture within the next few weeks. Honestly, I’m mid way through this learning myself, but that isn’t a terrible thing; I’m able to empathise with their needs and the best order in which they should try consume this info. Weirdly for me I’m not fretting about this set of talks, what needs to be said is very clear. We are also aiming to produce a journal paper at some stage on the work I’m doing right now day to day which would be nice.

Finally, my funding for the phd didn’t come through from Ircset. The competition was intense (2 out of 25 from Trinty Computer Science and Statistics). There are further options there for the taking, but the conditions are slightly different. In some way a part of me is relieved that I don’t have to decide yet, I can see advantages either way. If I were to put my main plus on pushing on towards the phd it would have to be the options and opportunities it might provide (colleges are a good cross roads of new people and startup opportunities), the main against, is the low pay and 3 years (almost 34 when finishing!) it would take to do and that I’m not actually too interested in persuing a career long term in either research or lecturing. Skipping the phd provides me with freedom to move jobs and location at a good time imo, October 2010, and get back into the games / software industry, hopefully in something with potential. The downsides are missing out on another good year or two of learning data mining techniques. A decision for later if I’m lucky.

Probably my next post will be after the event and discussing how it went. Until next time.

3 Comments for this entry

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