Casual Disconnect

Last week I exhibited our game at the Casual Connect in Berlin, where I got annoyed and wrote a couple of angry tweets. Now some time has passed and I’d like to get a bit more concrete and maybe even constructive.

However, first there is one thing for which I’d like to apologize. In (trigger warning) this tweet, I used some strong language and a specific word severely out of context that may have caused pain and triggered strong emotional reactions. I’m very sorry about this and the pain it may have caused.

Right, now what was it that got me so angry about the Casual Connect in the first place? I’ve been to many conferences and exhibited games at several venues, but I have never seen such a crammed and utterly inhumane exhibition space as with the Indie Prize in Berlin.

Each table was shared by two games. The space for each game was so small that you could not even crouch next to a person that played your game without sitting on the lap of your neighbor. If somebody walked through the exhibition space and actually stopped to look at a game there was not enough space for other people to move past. There was just not enough room. The rows had been arranged too tight to each other.

Here you can see how narrow the rows between the tables were.

Of course this influenced peoples willingness to stop and look at the games. Overall, I’ve never seen so few show visitors play games, which is completely understandable when considering the battery farm the indies were stuck in.

The worst part, however, was that it seemed so unnecessary. The Indie Prize exhibition space was in the center of a huge hall that had more than enough room. There was so much unused space elsewhere at the venue that it would have been no problem to give each row another meter and add some space between the tables to make life in these trenches more bearable.

When trying really hard I can think of one benefit this had: I got to know a lot of fellow indie developers. There were many I had not met before, which was also due to the fact that the Casual Connect was very generous in inviting indies to exhibit. I must also give Casual Connect credit; when a developer was selected for the Indie Prize their travel costs were covered, they exhibited and got access to the Casual Connect for free, they got to sleep in a hostel and got free food throughout the whole event. This is awesome, and I really don’t want to be ungrateful, but …

I just cannot shake off the feeling that the Indie Prize is all about applying some of the good reputation and the ‘hipness’ of indie development to the Casual Connect. The whole event is basically the opposite of how I personally define independent games. Most of the talks, besides some rare exceptions, were covering topics that are far away from anything that is interesting or helpful to an indie developer. I felt like I was at the wrong event and I felt like I was tricked into going there.

To me, the relationship between Indie Prize and Casual Connect is misleading. I was surprised to see how embedded the Indie Prize was in the Casual Connect when I arrived in the hall. If I had known about this beforehand I wouldn’t have come, because I would’ve known it’s just not my kind of event. But from looking at the Indie Prize website it’s not that obvious that you’ll be exhibiting your game right in the middle of a hall that is dominated by user acquisition, ad mediation and free-to-play casino gaming.

If it would be clearer what the Indie Prize is about both sides would benefit. The developers would know what to expect from the business opportunities they will be presented during the casual connect, and the service providers and publishers would have a development audience that is more relevant and actually interested in what they have to offer. Instead, both parties didn’t really seem to fit with each other besides a few exceptions.

My whole feeling of dissonance reached an ugly peak during the award ceremony for the Indie Prize. Don’t get me wrong, I respect and appreciate all the games that got nominated and won prizes during this event. Additionally, I really don’t want to get into the whole ‘what is indie’ debate (which I have tried to dodge throughout this post so far in case you haven’t noticed). I know that a big part of doing business in our industry is about facade, but this ceremony was so fake and obviously only for the sponsors that it really hurt my feelings.

Foto by Casual Connect

First, there were the basic prizes. Geeky bro dude gamerware LED keyboards, mousepads and all kinds of stuff that had to be held perfectly and aligned towards the camera by the winning team (they made them redo pictures if they hadn’t).

Second, each prize category had its own sponsor that had a good amount of speech-time, while the winning teams were hurried off the stage as soon as their photo (with the gamerware) was taken.

There was one speech by a guy from tenjin that was especially cringeworthy. He proclaimed that the winning team would get a $36,000 coupon with which tenjin would teach the winning team the tricks that ‘usually only the big boys get taught’. Seriously?

Last but not least, I’d like to mention that the independent scene is taking the topic of inclusion and diversity very serious. Every single sponsor speech began with ‘hey guys’. Every single one. I know that some of you will now roll your eyes, but you can’t have an event that markets itself as being part of the independent game scene and not make sure to consider this aspect with your speakers.

So my tl;dr for the Casual Connect people is:

  1. Increase the breathing room for the Indie Prize exhibition space. The battery farm setup is horrible and will make people never want to attend your event ever again.
  2. Address the right audience. From what I experienced, you are looking for casual games, not indie games. I know this is terminology-land, but right now the whole Indie Prize packaging is misleading. Make it clearer that the Prize is part of the Casual Connect, and you will get developers that are less angry and much more relevant to your event.