Just some hastily scribbled notes here:
The art & the science are at least yelling at each other across a divide, if not talking.
Chris Crawford is more relevant than he has been in years. At least more discussed. People are now embracing things he said that they used to disdain. His face was put up on slides a bunch of times, and his spirit was invoked a lot. There were many calls for games to “grow up.”
On the flip side, the social/F2P model is clearly not just winning but dominant — but there were a lot of discussions about how to do it ethically, rather than just rejecting it out of hand or embracing the monetization.
There’s a little bit of an identity crisis. Some of this is from debates over terms (“is Dear Esther a game?” was a constant thread), which some feel to be exclusionary. Now that interactive art is burgeoning, it is either growing out of the rubric of “game” or expanding the definition. This is leading to people calling each other fundamentalist or clueless, which is not very productive.
In the process, that term definition exercise and the deeper analysis of the “science” of how games work has continued to make great strides, and many of the best talks were about understanding the audience psychology or understanding mechanics in greater depth. Game grammar-like diagrams popped up on many slides, and concrete game design exercises were showcased at great length — where we used to just get special-cases, we now get general principles.
A lot of the above was enabled by back-to-low-budget trends that enabled the indie and art game movements, and by the fact that mobile tech was easily accessible. The center of gravity has clearly shifted to mobile.
But there was also general agreement among business types that this Renaissance period is over. Budgets are about to skyrocket again, and we’re now at the start of a “mature” period akin to the early glory days of consoles, or the early glory days of PC gaming. Expect creativity to give way to conservatism again and the stakes get higher in terms of budgets and time.
Basically, it feels to me like we’re just about cresting the edge to a new plateau. We’ll see what happens to disrupt this one.