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GDC Online 2011 Speaker Spotlight: Kabam's Hitchens On Metrics-Driven Design

As the first in a series of interviews with speakers from this October's GDC Online in Austin, Kabam's VP of product and platform services, Sheridan Hitchens, outlines the benefits of using metrics to guide design decisions for persistent online games.

By analyzing data gathered from its existing games and players, Hitchens says that Kabam can quickly and objectively identify problems and opportunities that arise, allowing the studio to update and develop its games more efficiently.

Prior to joining Kabam (developer of popular social games such as Kingdoms of Camelot and Edgeworld), Hitchens spent four years at casual game developer and publisher PlayFirst, where he oversaw the growth of the company's community, multiplayer, and microtranscation platforms.

Before entering the game industry, he graduated from the University of Cambridge and earned an M.B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley - Walter A. Haas School of Business.

Here, Hitchens provides some insight into Kabam's metrics-focused approach to game development, and offers a glimpse at the topics he will cover in his upcoming GDC Online session, "Data Driven: How Creating a Deeply Analytical Approach Drives Success."

Why does Kabam embrace metrics so heavily? What benefits does this strategy offer?

I think as much as anything it's a cultural norm that's driven from the top; our CEO, COO, CMO, and Chief Product Officer all are very analytical. When you make a pitch, or provide a recommendation, you're expected to have some level of data and analysis to back it up.

But there's more at work than cultural or executive biases. In our view, metrics provide an objective view of performance across a range of functions. Carefully tracking a variety of metrics, enables us to establish measures of success, and alerts us to problems and opportunities quickly. Perhaps just as importantly, it reduces the amount of subjective, "I think/you think" debate that wastes time in meetings and in running a business.

What sort of data do you look at when making internal decisions at the company?

We tend to look at a wide range of data and not just the common acquisition, retention and monetization metrics from marketing and production. We'll spend time looking at customer satisfaction data, ticket volume, even tech ops data to overlay onto our common game metrics to understand problems and identify opportunities.

We also conduct research to understand the continually shifting market; we survey our own players, survey the market, analyze market growth trends and so on.

Voting Opens For Game Developers Choice Online Audience Award

Game Developers Choice Online Awards organizers have announced that voting for the Game Developers Choice Online Audience Award is now open, encouraging online game fans to vote for their favorite persistent online game from now until 12:00 PT on September 22.

Typically, the winners at the Game Developers Choice Online Awards are chosen by the International Choice Award Network's (ICAN) online division, a group comprised of 400 specially picked, leading game industry creators from the foremost online game companies.

The Audience Award, however, allows anyone to vote for their favorite currently-operating persistent online game, whether it be a subscription MMO, a free-to-play web game, a social network title, or anything else.

To vote, game players should simply enter the name of the game and a valid email address at the Game Developers Choice Online Awards website, and verify their vote via email.

The winner of the Audience Award will be revealed alongside the other award winners at the second annual Game Developers Choice Online Awards, which will run alongside GDC Online in Austin, Texas on the evening of Wednesday, October 12th.

Returning to host the Choice Online Awards this year is Mike Goslin of Mindspark Interactive Network, an online game veteran with experience working with popular virtual worlds including Zwinky.com, Toontown Online, and more.

In addition to the Audience Award, event organizers recently revealed the list of finalists for this year's ceremony, honoring games such as Riot Games' popular League of Legends, Zynga's FrontierVille, and Mojang's indie powerhouse Minecraft.

GDC Online Debuts First Sessions For Smartphone & Tablet Games Summit

GDC Online has revealed new sessions within the Austin show's Smartphone & Tablet Games Summit, including a look at Zynga's Words With Friends studio, a series of mini-lectures on breaking into Asian markets, and a dual postmortem on Limbic Software's Nuts! and Zombie Gunship.

Taking place Monday, October 10 through Thursday, October 13, 2011 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, GDC Online continues as the leading worldwide event dedicated solely to discussing the development and business trends surrounding connected games -- including casual titles, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games.

This year, the show will host three specialized Summits in addition to the traditional Main Conference, with topics covering Game Narrative, Virtual Items, and Smartphone & Tablet Games.

The following are among the first talks to be revealed within GDC Online's Smartphone & Tablet Games Summit:

- In "Words With Friends: Building and Growing a Game on the Top of the Charts," Vijay Thakkar of the Zynga subsidiary Zynga With Friends will outline the growth and evolution of the popular With Friends series (which includes Words With Friends, Hanging With Friends, and more). Thakkar will explain the inner workings of the studio's tech, and will point out "the trials and tribulations of multi-platform, cross-team development."

- Elsewhere, a handful of mobile company executives from ngmoco, Papaya Mobile, and Gamevil will discuss how to find success in Asian markets in "International Micro-Talks: Developing and Distributing Games for Japan, China and Korea." In this series of micro-talks, the speakers will each reflect on their experience in the mobile space to help developers overcome the challenges that come with breaking into these ever-growing markets.

GDC Online Reveals All-Day Blizzard, Google, Unity Tutorials

GDC Online organizers have revealed full-day sponsored events for the October show in Austin, including Google, Unity Technologies, and an unprecedented Blizzard writing/design showcase.

Taking place Monday, October 10 through Thursday, October 13, 2011 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, GDC Online continues as the leading worldwide event dedicated solely to discussing the development and business trends surrounding connected games -- including casual titles, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games.

These full-day events will run alongside the show's Main Conference, and will offer a comprehensive look at the design and programming philosophies of these three powerhouse companies.

As seen in the event's Schedule Builder, the following are three sponsored events to be held at GDC Online 2011.

- As part of the Design track, World of Warcraft studio Blizzard Entertainment will host a GDC Online-exclusive special one-off tutorial aimed at designers and writers, "The War of Worldcraft: Developing Franchise Narrative in the Transmedia Age."

The full day of content sees Blizzard Entertainment's writers and story developers, "the creative minds behind Diablo, StarCraft, and Warcraft", focusing on various elements of the company's hit franchises, and kicked off by an introduction from the company's VP of creative direction Chris Metzen.

Other sessions include a panel on the "developmental payoff of creating narrative content in ancillary and or/licensed media" from the company's Micky Neilson & James Waugh, and a two-part design masterclass from World Of Warcraft's lead quest designer Dave Kosak.

GDC Online Reveals Settlers Online, Mind Candy, Venture Capital Talks

GDC Online has unveiled notable new sessions for the upcoming October show, now featuring The Settlers Online, Mind Candy on the importance of daily content updates, and how to best raise venture capital.

Taking place Monday, October 10 through Thursday, October 13, 2011 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, GDC Online continues as the leading worldwide event dedicated solely to discussing the development and business trends surrounding connected games -- including casual titles, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games.

This year's Main Conference will include tracks on Business & Marketing, Customer Experience, Design, Production, and Programming, as well as a sponsored track on Monetization.

As seen in the event's Schedule Builder, the following lectures are highlights from this year's Main Conference:

- In the show's Production track, Ubisoft Blue Byte's head of production, Christopher Schmitz, and head of live operation, Benedikt Grindel, will look back at the development of The Settlers Online in a session titled, "Settlers Online: Moving a Traditional European Boxed Game to a Worldwide Free to Play MMO Experience." Here, the pair will examine the challenges and lessons learned from taking producing and managing this popular European online game.

- Over in the Customer Experience track, community editor Megan Bell of Mind Candy will outline the benefits of delivering daily content updates to users in "Do the Math: True Value of Fresh Daily Content." Drawing examples from Mind Candy's own hit title Moshi Monsters, Bell will offer data that shows how regular updates benefit an online game.

- Elsewhere, in the Business and Marketing track, a panel of company executives will host a panel dubbed, "Raising Capital for Your New Venture," offering tips and insight on how to attract investments for a new company or project. Speakers at the panel include Fred Schmidt (Portalarium), Chris Chung (Motiga), Tim Chang (Norwest Venture Partners) and Cindy Armstrong (Electric Bat Interactive), all of whom will offer their own thoughts on what it takes to start your own venture.

Finalists Revealed For 2011 Game Developers Choice Online Awards

The organizers of GDC Online are proud to reveal the finalists for the show's second annual Game Developers Choice Online Awards.

The awards ceremony, to be held on the evening of October 12 during
the Austin-based GDC Online, will honor the achievements of the creators
and operators of online video games that launched within the last 12
months in North America, covering large-scale MMOs, free-to-play titles,
growing social network games and more.

The awards recognize achievement in online games across 12
categories, including excellence in visual arts, online game design,
live games, technology, audio and community.

This year, Three Rings Design's co-op RPG Spiral Knights leads the finalists with a total of four nominations, and is followed by Trion Worlds' big-budget MMO Rift and social network titles FrontierVille (Zynga) and Ravenwood Fair (Lolapps), each of which earned three nominations.

These finalists were selected from a larger pool of publicly-submitted nominees
by the International Choice Award Network's (ICAN) online division, a
group comprised of 400 specially picked, leading game industry creators
from the foremost online game companies -- these individuals will also
be responsible for choosing the winners in each of the regular award
categories.

The following are the finalists for the 2011 Game Developers Choice Online Awards:

Best Online Visual Arts
DC Universe Online (Sony Online Entertainment)
Rift (Trion Worlds)
Spiral Knights (Three Rings Design/Sega)
Dragons Of Atlantis (Kabam)
Vindictus (devCAT/Nexon)

Best Social Network Game
CityVille (Zynga)
Gardens Of Time (Playdom)
Dragons Of Atlantis (Kabam)
FrontierVille (Zynga)
Ravenwood Fair (Lolapps)

Best Online Game Design
Ravenwood Fair (Lolapps)
Pocket Frogs (NimbleBit)
Zuma Blitz (Popcap)
Spiral Knights (Three Rings Design/Sega)
FrontierVille (Zynga)

GDC Online Debuts Angry Birds, MMO Production, Community Management Talks

GDC Online has unveiled several new sessions for the upcoming October show, this week featuring a web-focused talk from Angry Birds developer Rovio, a look at the life on an MMO producer, and a panel on top practices for community management.

Taking place Monday, October 10 through Thursday, October 13, 2011 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, GDC Online continues as the leading worldwide event dedicated solely to discussing the development and business trends surrounding connected games -- including casual titles, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games.

This year's Main Conference will include tracks on Business & Marketing, Customer Experience, Design, Production, and Programming, as well as a sponsored track on Monetization.

As seen in the event's Schedule Builder, the following lectures are highlights from this year's Main Conference:

- In the show's Production track, Rovio's Peter Vesterbacka and Serdar Soganci and Google's Seth Ladd will host "More Birds, More Pigs: Bringing Angry Birds to the Web," which will offer an in-depth look at the motivations, technologies, and challenges of bringing the popular Angry Birds to a browser. The speakers will also provide a more general overview of how to most efficiently translate a mobile title to the web.

- Elsewhere in the Production track, Jeremy Gaffney, founder of Lord of the Rings Online's Turbine Inc. and current executive producer at WildStar developer Carbine Studios, will host "My Producer Really Sucks: Inside the Twisted Minds of MMO Producers." In this session, Gaffney will point out the production challenges involved in big-budget MMO development, offering tips on how to deal with a large team and manage a studio through an online game's launch.

GDC Online Reveals New Narrative Summit Talks, Alumni Reg. Ends Today

GDC Online has revealed a new batch of talks for the show's Game Narrative Summit, featuring a roundtable with Valve's top writers, a look at how BioWare balances storytelling and design, and a Telltale lecture on crafting an authorial voice.

Taking place Monday, October 10 through Thursday, October 13, 2011 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, GDC Online continues as the leading worldwide event dedicated solely to discussing the development and business trends surrounding connected games -- including casual titles, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games.

Now in its sixth year, the co-located Game Narrative Summit -- formerly the Game Writers Conference -- once again returns to GDC Online to showcase leading speakers on the many facets of interactive storytelling, with sessions ranging from roundtable discussions to postmortems and more.

The latest sessions and lectures featured in the two-day Game Narrative Summit include the following:

- In "Just Go: A Roundtable Q&A with Valve's Writers," attendees will get a rare chance to sit down with writers Erik Wolpaw, Marc Laidlaw, Chet Faliszek, and Jay Pinkerton in a no-rules discussion of Portal 2, Left 4 Dead 2, the past and future of the Half-Life series, and much more.

Here, all attendees will sit in a collective roundtable with the session hosts, so seating will be limited to only 50 people -- make sure to arrive early!

- BioWare Austin's senior world designer Wynne McLaughlin, world designer Blake Rebouche, and senior writer Hall Hood will host a panel dubbed, "Building a Bridge Between Design and Writing," outlining how the Star Wars: The Old Republic developers find synergy between two very specialized realms of game creation. The hosts will explain the core conflict that often pits game writers against designers, and will provide insight on how to reconcile these differences.

PopCap Co-Founder Vechey To Keynote GDC Online 2011

GDC Online has announced that PopCap co-founder John Vechey will give a keynote at the upcoming October show in Austin, Texas, where he will discuss how the Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies developer is adapting its popular single-player games to social platforms.

The keynote, titled, "Playing Well With Others - How PopCap Creates Compelling Social Game Experiences," will provide GDC Online attendees with an inside look at how mobile and social games have influenced the design philosophy of the extremely successful casual game studio.

Vechey launched PopCap in 2000 with co-founders Brian Fiete and Jason Kapalka, and has been instrumental in driving nearly every aspect of the company's operations. As interim CEO of PopCap until 2003, Vechey oversaw all aspects of the company's Web presence while directing e-commerce, privacy/security and online games services.

Vechey's major contributions at PopCap include securing some of the company's largest partnerships with major Web portals and game publishers, helping to launch the immensely popular title Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook, which went from zero to 25 million users in its first twelve months, and establishing PopCap as a major player in the social games business.

Currently the VP of Internal Business Development, Vechey manages PopCap's strategic investments and acquisitions, and helps shape and guide the global business and product strategy.

GDC Online 2011 Reveals Dragon Age Legends, Super Hero Squad, Kabam Sessions

GDC Online has revealed a new batch of sessions for the upcoming October show, this week featuring a look at EA's social game Dragon Age Legends, a postmortem on Super Hero Squad Online, and a glimpse at Kabam's analytical approach to production.

Taking place Monday, October 10 through Thursday, October 13, 2011 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, GDC Online continues as the leading worldwide event dedicated solely to discussing the development and business trends surrounding connected games -- including casual titles, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games.

This year's Main Conference will include tracks on Business & Marketing, Customer Experience, Design, Production, and Programming, as well as a sponsored track on Monetization.

As seen in the event's Schedule Builder, the following lectures are highlights from this year's Main Conference:

- In the Business & Marketing track, Ethan Levy of Electronic Arts will host, "Dragon Age Legends' Road to 100k Likes," a talk outlining the successes and failures of the marketing strategy for the company's social game spinoff.

In this metrics-driven session, Levy will point to Dragon Age Legends' MMO-like beta program, its fully animated trailer, and more to explain why the title was "a game of firsts in the social gaming space."

- Over in the Production track, The Amazing Society co-founders Jay Minn and Jason Robar will reflect on their recently launched Marvel MMO in, "Marvel Super Hero Squad Online Postmortem- An MMO For the Whole Family in Under Two Years." In this lighthearted session, the pair will look back on their experience working with Marvel, developing in Unity, monetizing game content, and much more, offering an inside look at the production of their kid-friendly online game.

Game Developers Choice Online Awards Honor Kesmai Founders, SOE's EverQuest

Organizers of GDC Online have revealed that the 2011 Online Game Legend Award at the second annual Game Developers Choice Online Awards will go to John Taylor and Kelton Flinn, the founders of Kesmai Corporation, and the creators of seminal, inspirational early online games including Island of Kesmai and Air Warrior.

In addition, the second persistent online game to be inducted into the Choice Online Awards Hall of Fame will be Sony Online Entertainment's beloved fantasy game EverQuest, a still-operating title which was one of the most important early 3D MMO titles. Both recipients will be honored during the Choice Online Awards ceremony, taking place October 12, 2011 at GDC Online in Austin.

The special awards are a celebration of the iconic developers and games that have had terrific influence in shaping the now massive online games category. Honorees were selected through open nominations from the online game community and the distinguished GDC Online Advisory Board.

The board includes game industry veterans, leaders and luminaries such as Zynga Austin's John Blakely, Blizzard Entertainment's J. Allen Brack, BioWare Mythic's Eugene Evans, Playdom's Raph Koster, Nexon's Min Kim, and Riot Games' Brandon Beck.

This year's Online Game Legend award will be presented to the creators of Island of Kesmai, John Taylor and Kelton Flinn. The GDC Online organizers chose these two recipients in recognition of their achievements as game creators who have made a permanent impact on the craft of developing online games -- and for having provided a launch pad for many other accomplished developers' careers for nearly 20 years.

Flinn started writing multiplayer games while a college student, competing then collaborating with Taylor. This work was characterized by the CompuServe-hosted MUD Island of Kesmai, which they wrote following graduate school in the early 1980s. In the ASCII-based world of Island of Kesmai, real-time text communication between players -- while solving dungeon quests and participating in combat -- was a major influence on many of the online games to come.

GDC Online 2011 Reveals Riot Games, EverQuest II, Gamification Talks

GDC Online has debuted a new batch of lectures for the October show in Austin, featuring speakers from Riot Games on iterative tool creation, SOE on introducing streaming to EverQuest II, and Bunchball on the essence of gamification.

Taking place Monday, October 10 through Thursday, October 13, 2011 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, GDC Online continues as the leading worldwide event dedicated solely to discussing the development and business trends surrounding connected games -- including casual titles, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games.

This year's Main Conference will include tracks on Business & Marketing, Customer Experience, Design, Production, and Programming, as well as a sponsored track on Monetization.

As seen in the event's Schedule Builder, the following lectures are highlights from this year's Main Conference:

- In the show's Programming track, Riot Games' senior gameplay engineer Andy Woo and senior producer Travis George will host "Putting the Plane Together Midair," a talk detailing the ongoing development process behind the studio's smash hit League of Legends.

Woo and George will go over the studio's process for iteratively developing their tools, while simultaneously using those tools to ship projects and support an active online game.

- Also in the Programming track is a lecture dubbed, "EverQuest II Extended: Streaming a Non-Streaming Game," in which Joshua Kriegshauser, technical director at Sony Online Entertainment, will explain how EverQuest II adopted an online streaming system for a game originally designed for a standard, file-based install.

Noting SOE's assumptions and lessons learned when retroactively implementing this streaming system, Kriegshauser will teach attendees the ins and outs of implementing an online streaming system in games designed without that infrastructure in mind.

GDC Online Debuts Zynga, CCP, Threat Modeling Talks

GDC Online has revealed a new batch of lectures for the October show in Austin, featuring speakers from Zynga on 'how metrics are ruining your game', veteran Stephen Beeman on online security threats, and CCP on crisis management.

Taking place Monday through Thursday, October 10-13, 2011 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, GDC Online continues as the leading worldwide event to solely discuss the development and business trends surrounding connected games -- including casual titles, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games.

This year's Main Conference will include tracks on Business & Marketing, Customer Experience, Design, Production, and Programming, as well as a sponsored track on Monetization.

As seen in the event's Schedule Builder, the following lectures are early highlights from this year's Main Conference:

- Over in the Design track is a lecture dubbed, "How Metrics Are Ruining Your Game; Common Pitfalls and Uncommon Solutions," in which Zynga product manager Ian Wang will explain the pros and cons of using metrics to influence game design.

"This talk takes a practical look at how metrics are being used, how they should be used, and how to avoid having well-intentioned data lead to wrong decisions," says Wang.

- In a Customer Experience track lecture, "Threat Modeling for Game Developers,"
veteran MMO and social game consultant and expert Stephen Beeman will
outline security risks that threaten users' personal information, and
what developers can do to avoid them. Beeman, an alumnus of Origin,
Electronic Arts and Gazillion Entertainment, says, "Using real-world
examples, this lecture will teach you the threat modeling process and
how to use it to make your apps more secure."

GDC Online 2011 Debuts First Sessions For Game Narrative Summit

GDC Online organizers have revealed the initial lineup for the show's Game Narrative Summit, which features speakers from Eidos on Deus Ex: Human Revolution's branching narrative, Microsoft on creating transmedia giants, MIT on crafting education-based ARGs, and more.

Taking place Monday through Thursday, October 10-13, 2011 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, GDC Online continues as the leading worldwide event to solely discuss the development and business trends surrounding connected games -- including casual titles, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games.

Now in its sixth year, the Game Narrative Summit - formerly the Game Writers Conference - once again returns to GDC Online to showcase leading speakers on the many facets of interactive storytelling, with sessions ranging from roundtable discussions to postmortems and more.

The initial sessions and lectures featured in the two-day Game Narrative Summit currently include the following:

- In "Building the Story-driven Experience of Deus Ex: Human Revolution," Eidos Montreal's lead writer and narrative game designer Mary De Marle will present an in-depth look at the story-building process behind the upcoming Deus Ex title. De Marle will outline how the creative team crafted the game's numerous story branches and player choices, while still maintaining a coherent and satisfying experience.

- Elsewhere, Geoffrey Long, producer of narrative design at Microsoft, will note what it takes to build an IP into a powerhouse franchise in "From Story to Universe: 10 Best Practices for Transmedia Franchise Design." Long will look at franchises outside of games, including Lost, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Star Wars, to explain why these IPs became some of the most popular in the world, and how game developers can build their IP to do the same.

GDC Online 2011 Debuts Cityville, Nexon, Old Republic Talks

GDC Online has debuted a new batch of lectures for the October show, featuring talks from Zynga on its megahit CityVille, Nexon on handling online game disasters, and BioWare on iterating Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Taking place Monday through Thursday, October 10-13, 2011 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, GDC Online
continues as the leading worldwide event to solely discuss the
development and business trends surrounding connected games -- including
casual titles, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games.

This year's Main Conference will include tracks on Business & Marketing, Customer Experience, Design, Production, and Programming, as well as a sponsored track on Monetization.

As the event's Schedule Builder reveals the first set of lectures, the following are some fresh highlights from this year's Main Conference:

- BioWare Austin principal designer Georg Zoeller will host "Rapid MMO Content Iteration and Validation with Spatial Analysis in Star Wars: The Old Republic,"
a talk that will look at "how spatial analysis can be used to support a
rapid content iteration process during the late stages of MMO
development."

The session will also demonstrate how the studio's own
"HoloProjector" spatial visualization toolkit helps contextualize user
behavior and metrics for the developers of the long awaited Star Wars-themed MMO from BioWare and EA.

- Elsewhere, in "Engineering CityVille," Zynga's Robert Zubek will outline the server-side engineering techniques that allowed the company's hit Facebook title CityVille
to expand quickly after its successful launch, as well the gameplay
engineering strategies that enabled rapid content generation.

 

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