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GDC Online Debuts Bissell, Broken Sword, Co-Op Talks In Game Narrative Summit

With GDC Online just a week away, show organizers have debuted several new lectures in the show's Game Narrative Summit, featuring talks on the 10 commandments of game writing, top industry reporters on innovation in interactive storytelling, tips on writing co-op campaigns, and much more.

Now in its sixth year, the Game Narrative Summit will return to the Austin-based conference with a broad range of sessions on the art of game writing, with lectures from experienced writers, panels with industry professionals, and in-depth interactive workshops for developers of all skill levels.

The Game Narrative Summit will run alongside GDC Online's Main Conference for the first two days of the four-day conference, from Monday, October 11 through Tuesday, October 12 at the Austin Convention Center.

Here are the latest sessions to be announced for the Game Narrative Summit:

- In "The Ten Commandments of Good Video-game Storytelling," Tom Bissell, author of Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, and Immaterial co-founder and consultant Rob Auten will go over the key principals for effective game writing, all modeled on the biblical ten commandments.

- Elsewhere, Carbine Studios senior writer Cory Herndon will host "TweetQuest: Telling Stories in 140-Character Chunks," which will outline how Carbine's upcoming MMO WildStar uses art, design, audio, and a 140 character text limit to convey key story details to the player.

- In "Microtalks: 6 Critics' Views on Great Gamewriting," six top games reporters will talk about what they look for in game narratives, and where they anticipate innovation in the future. Speakers include Hit Detection's N'Gai Croal, CBS Interactive's John Davison, Gamasutra's own Leigh Alexander, among others.

- Broken Sword creator and Revolution Software co-founder Charles Cecil will host a session dubbed "Blurring Fact and Fiction: Adventures in Writing Games that Draw on Historical Themes," in which he will examine how writers can draw from historical events to create interesting stories and gameplay opportunities.

GDC Speaker Spotlight: Telltale's Dave Grossman On Authorial Control

Telltale Games' director of design and adventure game veteran Dave Grossman recently shared his thoughts on player choice in game design, noting that designers need to strike a balance between complete player autonomy and complete authorial control.

Grossman has more than 22 years of experience writing, designing, and directing story-centric games, including classic LucasArts titles such as The Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle, and is well-practiced in telling stories through games.

At next month's GDC Online, Grossman will host a lecture in the Game Narrative Summit dubbed, "The Hand of Fate: Authorial Voice in Game Design," in which he will discuss the relationship between the developer and player when crafting interactive stories.

In anticipation of his talk, Grossman spoke out on the importance of balancing player freedom and creative control, and what implications this balance can have on game design.

What sort of tactics to you use to convey a story when players have control over the pacing and flow of a game experience?

Dave Grossman: Writers in other media use pacing and sequence of events to great effect, and it can be kind of disorienting to work in games, where a lot of control over those things is given to the player. Fortunately, there are plenty of other tools one can apply to create drama, tension, and story, including things you'd find in film like sound design, lighting, and camera work, and some elements that are particular to games, like play mechanics and the overall structure of challenge and reward.

Also, it's worth noting that players don't generally have absolute control over pacing and flow -- the game can exert influence on those as well, maybe a little, maybe a lot, and how a designer arranges that is part of what I mean when I'm talking about authorial voice.

How do you balance the control of the authorial voice with player autonomy?

DG: Carefully, I hope. We're talking about interactive media, so both the author and the player (or players) need to take control of some aspects of the experience. The challenge for the designer is to figure out which things to control strongly, and which not to. Some of the tools available are inherently subtle, some are not, but all are useful in various contexts.

The balance is probably not unlike being a parent, where you typically want to establish some clear rules, provide opportunities and context, and intervene where necessary, but if you try to manage your child's actions too closely, you'll both go nuts.

GDC 2012 Announces Two New Summits, Opens Call For Submissions

GDC 2012 organizers have opened the call for submissions through October 31 for the show's specialized Summits, revealing new Games For Change and Game IT Summits for the March 2012 event.

These Summits will kick-off Game Developers Conference 2012 during the first two days of the conference -- which runs March 5th-9th, 2012 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The Summit events will cover pertinent topics in emerging sectors of the games industry, particularly focusing on broadening the scope of the medium to encompass new audiences, new platforms, and of course new gameplay ideas.

This year, GDC will add two brand new events to the existing lineup for the March 5th-6th Summits: the Games for Change @ GDC Summit and the Game IT Summit.

Games for Change @ GDC is an event hosted in partnership with the Games for Change non-profit organization, which facilitates the creation and distribution of games that exist for humanitarian or educational purposes.

This new GDC event, which complements the annual Games for Change Festival in New York, will allow funders, educators, governmental agencies, and other organizations to interact with indie and commercial game developers to help leverage interactive entertainment for social good.

The latter Game IT Summit is a daylong event, curated by notables such as Jane McGonigal, Ian Bogost and Ben Sawyer, that explores how video games can be used to tackle common organizational goals, encouraging discussions about the link between games and the technology-oriented practices used by today's forward-thinking organizations.

"The introduction of the Game IT Summit and the Games for Change @ GDC demonstrates how the Game Developers Conference continues to offer attendees a unique opportunity to participate in diverse conversations that will shape the technology landscape for years to come," said Meggan Scavio, event director.

GDC Online Reveals New Combat Arms, Firefall, Playdom, Rift Sessions

With GDC Online just around the corner, event organizers have debuted eight new lectures for the October show, with session topics ranging from monetization strategies in Firefall and Combat Arms, to breaking into Asian mobile markets, to the capabilities of Sony's PlayStation Vita.

GDC Online will take place next month, from October 10 through October 13 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, and these talks come from throughout GDC Online's numerous tracks and Summits, with nearly 150 sessions and 230 speakers on tap.

Many of these new talks fall within the show's Main Conference, which features tracks covering Business & Marketing, Customer Experience, Design, Production, and Programming, as well as a sponsored track on Monetization.

The show also includes three dedicated Summits, which offer specialized talks covering Smartphone & Tablet Games, Virtual Items, and Game Narrative.

Here are the newest sessions to be revealed for the show:

- In the GDC Virtual Items Summit, Mark Kern (Blizzard veteran and founder and CEO of Red 5 Studios) will host "Firefall - Free2Play Reborn," a session that examines the monetization techniques Kern's studio will use for its upcoming persistent online shooter (pictured).

- Another lecture in the GDC Virtual Items Summit, "Combat Arms Postmortem: The Art of Selling Guns," will feature Nexon America managing producer Jungsoo Lee, as he explains how the company completely re-vamped the monetization model for its popular shooter Combat Arms when bringing the title to the U.S.

- As part of the Smartphone & Tablet Games Summit, a panel of family-focused industry experts will host, "Kids, Tablets and Family: Social Gameplay at Home," which will look at the ways in which tablets and other mobile devices are changing the ways families play and enjoy media together.

- The Business & Marketing track will feature "Rift: Surviving and Thriving in Today's MMO Climate," in which Trion Worlds executive producer Scott Hartsman will look back on the studio's experience with Rift to offer tips on creating a successful MMO in today's competitive market.

IGF China 2011 Announces Main Competition, Student Finalists

The Independent Games Festival China has announced the Main Competition and Student finalists for its third annual awards ceremony celebrating the most innovative indie and student games from throughout the Pan-Pacific area.

This year, the finalists offer an extremely broad range of game types and genres, from action brawlers like Pixel May Cry to mobile arcade titles like Super Sheep Tap, with developers hailing from throughout China and its surrounding regions.

Drawing from a prize pool totaling 45,000 RMB (roughly $7,000), IGF China's Main Competition will give away five distinguished awards, covering Excellence in Audio, Technology, and Visual Arts, as well as the Best Mobile Game and Best Game awards. In addition to the prestige and prizes, winners will also receive two All-Access Passes for the upcoming GDC 2012 in San Francisco.

Alongside IGF China's Main Competition, the ceremony will also host the Student Competition, which honors six of the top regional student games, with teams hailing from DigiPen Singapore, the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, and more.

This part of the competition includes two awards -- for Best Student Game and Excellent Student Winners -- and offers roughly 13,000 RMB (roughly $2,000) in cash prizes.

Winners in both competitions will be chosen by a panel of expert jurors including Kevin Li (CEO, TipCat Interactive), Monte Singman (CEO, Radiance Digital Entertainment), Xubo Yang (director of digital art lab and assistant professor at Shanghai Jiaotong University's School of Software), Haipeng Yu (producer, Tencent Shanghai), and jury chairman Simon Carless, IGF Chairman Emeritus and EVP of the GDC shows and Gamasutra.

This year's IGF China will take place on November 12, 2011 alongside GDC China, which will be held at the Shanghai Convention Center in Shanghai, China.

Here are the finalists for this year's IGF China:

Main Competition

Billy Makin Kid!, by SLAB Games, Indonesia [Website, Video]

Clay's Reverie, by SuperGlueStudio, China [Video]

FTL (Faster than Light), by Matthew Davis & Justin Ma, China [Website]

One Tap Hero, by Coconut Island Studio, China [Video]

Pixel May Cry, by Feng Li, China [Video]

Pocket Warriors, by WitOne Games, China [Website, Video]

Super Sheep Tap, by aBit Games, China [Website, Video]

The Line HD, by Ant Hive Games, China [Website, Video]

GDC Online 2011 Reveals Game Career Seminar Sessions

With just two weeks to go until GDC Online, event organizers have detailed the show's Game Career Seminar, a one day event targeted at students, graduates, and other individuals looking to build a career in the games industry.

Taking place Wednesday, October 12, the Game Career Seminar will allow attendees to network with industry professionals, and listen to HR representatives and top developers as they share their insights on what it takes to break into the games business.

This seminar will run as its own dedicated track alongside the Main Conference tracks at the show, which cover Business & Marketing, Customer Experience, Design, Production, and Programming, as well as a sponsored track on Monetization.

Unlike the other tracks at GDC Online, the Game Career Seminar is open to those who purchase the special one day reduced-price Game Career Seminar Pass, as well as All-Access Pass holders. Those who purchase Game Career Seminar passes will also gain access to a keynote from PopCap co-founder John Vechey. To register for a GDC Online pass, please visit the official GDC Online website.

Here are the all the sessions to be announced so far for GDC Online's Game Career Seminar:

- As game education programs become more prevalent, it's important that students understand the challenges and requirements these programs present. In "Surviving an Education at a Game School and Graduating Employable," the Academy of Interactive Entertainment's Christopher Erhardt will go over the essential facts on game education programs, covering the pros and cons of online versus brick-and-mortar classes, what employers look for in graduates, and more.

- As with most professional careers, creating a good resume is key to nailing your dream job in the games industry, and Obsidian Entertainment's Jim Rivers will offer some useful tips and guidelines in, "What to Do Right on a Resume, Cover Letter and Website." Rivers serves as Obsidian's hiring manager -- effectively making him one of the gatekeepers for new developers in the industry -- and he will use his expertise to help attendees improve their resumes, cover letters, and websites.

GDC Online Speaker Spotlight: BioWare's Zoeller On Iterative MMO Content

In the latest in a series of interviews with notable speakers from this October's GDC Online, BioWare Austin's Georg Zoeller speaks out on the processes and tools his team uses to generate and tune MMO content in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Originally hailing from Germany, Zoeller moved to Edmonton to join BioWare in 2003, and has since held a number of positions at the company, working on titles such as Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age: Origins. In 2009, Zoeller moved to BioWare Austin to serve as principal designer on The Old Republic.

Here, Zoeller provides an in-depth look at the BioWare's production processes in anticipation of his talk, "Rapid MMO Content Iteration and Validation with Spatial Analysis in Star Wars: The Old Republic," which will outline the various techniques the studio uses to test and validate the game's content.

What would you say are the biggest challenges facing MMO content generation?

Achieving the required -- and expected -- volume of content without compromising quality. MMO players are pretty unforgiving when it comes to quality - you usually get one shot to get it right. Your launch sets the trajectory of where your game is headed and quality of content, even more than quantity is a major contributing factor to success of failure.

Content wise, these games are insanely large undertakings. For example, in Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Planet Alderaan, which is one of 17 planets in the game, holds more creatures than the entirety of Dragon Age: Origins, a game offering 60-80 hours in a single playthrough that took us almost than 5 years to create.

We have thousands of differently voiced characters in the game, all with dialogs and quests that not only need to be written, recorded, staged, scripted and animated, but also tested and validated -- the most engaging quest isn't going to keep a player around if it fails to work.

In order to make the creation and validation of that much content manageable, you not only need more people, you also need to be a lot smarter in your workflows and tools.

GDC China Reveals Mobile Talks On Doodle Jump, Gamevil, Fruit Ninja

This week, GDC China has debuted new talks within its Mobile Games Summit, featuring an in-depth look at Lima Sky's Doodle Jump, a breakdown of Gamevil's strategy for global success, and a glimpse at Halfbrick's plans to develop the Fruit Ninja IP.

Taking place November 12-14 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center in Shanghai, China, the event will once again serve as the premier game industry event in China, bringing together influential developers from around the world to share ideas, network, and inspire each other to further the game industry in this region.

This year, the show will feature two Summits in addition to the Main Conference, covering Independent Games and Mobile Games.

The following are the latest lectures to be announced for GDC China's Mobile Games Summit:

- Igor Puisenjak, creator of the iOS smash hit Doodle Jump, will offer an in-depth look at the game's development and success in, "Doodle Jump - the Story Behind the Legend."

Puisenjak will explain how he and his team at Lima Sky have used frequent updates, direct player communication, and a number of social networking tools to keep this arcade platformer near the top of the App Store charts.

- Elsewhere, Brian Oh of Korean mobile game publisher Gamevil (Air Penguin, Zenonia) will host a talk dubbed, " Sharing with Developers the Vision and Ideas to Achieve a Successful Global Mobile Game," in which he will address the company's approach to global game distribution. Oh will detail how Gamevil works with its developers to share ideas and ensure that each product can succeed in Korea as well as other global markets.

GDC Online Adds Playdom, City Of Heroes, Cloud Gaming Talks

GDC Online has debuted several new sessions within the show's Main Conference, featuring Playdom's Raph Koster on the convergence of games and social media, NCsoft West on making City of Heroes free-to-play, and a panel of notable speakers on the future of cloud gaming.

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 Customer Experience track, Playdom's VP of creative design, Raph Koster, will host a lecture dubbed, "It's All Games Now! How Games and Social Media are Converging." Here, Koster will outline the "cross-pollination" between games and online services, explaining what this means for game developers and the future of connected gaming experiences.

- Also in the Customer Experience track, NCsoft's Ross Borden details how the studio turned the subscription-based City of Heroes into a free-to-play game in, "From Spark to Success: How Customer Influence Revolutionized City of Heroes." Along the way, Borden will detail the design and technical challenges involved with introducing a brand new business model to an existing online game.

GDC Vault Adds Free Jon Blow, Douglas Wilson, Zombie Lane Talks

The GDC Vault service has debuted its second group of free lectures from last month's GDC Europe, this time featuring Douglas Wilson on intentionally broken games, Digital Chocolate on Zombie Lane, and Braid creator Jonathan Blow on truth in game design.

In addition to these and other videos, slides for all of GDC Europe's sessions are now available for free, providing a glimpse into the wide range of notable topics discussed at the show.

GDC Vault also hosts videos from previous conferences, including the classic postmortem series from GDC 2011, and other recently-debuted free videos such as this trio of strategy game lectures from some of the industry's top developers.

The following are the newest free videos to make their debut on GDC Vault:

- As part of the show's Independent Games Summit, Copenhagen Game Collective co-founder Douglas Wilson hosted a lecture titled, "Intentionally Broken Game Design and the Art of 'Deputizing' Players," exploring how "incomplete" games can still be successful. Drawing from his experience working on the IGF finalist B.U.T.T.O.N. and titles like Johann Sebastian Joust, Wilson explains how games can encourage players to improvise their own rules.

- In the Social Games Summit, Digital Chocolate's Rob Unsworth provided an in-depth look at the development of the studio's hit Facebook title Zombie Lane. The session, dubbed, "The Evolution of Zombie Lane - How to Successfully Develop a Casual Social Game with a Hardcore theme," examines the studio's "rigorous end-user focused creative process," and how it helped the team create a game that appealed to seasoned and novice gamers alike.

GDC Online Speaker Spotlight: Mary DeMarle On Storytelling In Deus Ex: HR

In the latest in a series of interviews with notable speakers from this October's GDC Online, Eidos Montreal lead writer Mary DeMarle speaks out on the complexities and challenges she faced when working on the critically-acclaimed Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

DeMarle was responsible for the game's storytelling and narrative, and was tasked with crafting a story that could play out in several ways based on a player's actions.

Before joining Eidos Montreal, DeMarle worked on other titles such as Myst III: Exile, Myst IV: Revelation, Homeworld II, Dungeon Siege: Broken Sword, and the a number of titles in the Splinter Cell series.

Here, DeMarle offers a quick look into her writing process in anticipation of her GDC Online talk, "Building the Story-driven Experience of Deus Ex: Human Revolution," which will provide an in-depth look at the robust, branching narrative of the recent cyberpunk shooter.

How did you ensure the game's branching story paths would all coalesce into a cohesive narrative?

Creating a cohesive narrative in a game is never an easy task, especially when you decide to complicate it by enabling player decisions to result in multiple branching paths. The DX:HR production team was able to meet this challenge because of two crucial game design decisions that we made early on.

First, during our conception phase, the core creative team identified "story" as one of the important pillars in a Deus Ex experience. To ensure this pillar received the attention it needed, they then decided to create an in-house narrative design team as an integral part of the game design group. Writers were brought in during conception and present during preproduction to explain the story and cast light on specific story goals for all production departments. They didn't dictate gameplay challenges, artistic or level designs, animations, or scripted events, but they worked with the people who did create these things on a daily basis, to ensure that every aspect of the game presented and/or reflected a cohesive narrative at all times.

The second decision made was to put choice and consequence front and center in the game's design, meaning it had to infuse all aspects of Human Revolution, including its story line. This decision forced us to re-examine our pipelines and ultimately implement some kind of tool that could keep track of branching storylines. Both the tool and the processes we ended up using will be discussed more thoroughly during my GDC Online presentation.

How did you go about writing the game's various story branches? Did you write all the paths first, did you look at player feedback for inspiration, etc?

My approach to writing a game story is to first plot it out conceptually in its entirety, and then break up the story details into varying layers of importance. To do this, I ask myself which details and/or story events are needed to understand the plot in its simplest form, and which details or events can be discovered optionally -- through exploration or via alternate gameplay paths -- to fill out the main plot and make the story richer. Once I know this, I can determine which story-telling vehicle needs to be used to convey each point; be it a forced dialog or cut scene, or a newspaper article or email. I then start writing the story in layers, dealing with all critical path pieces first.

Neal Stephenson To Keynote GDC Online's Game Narrative Summit

GDC Online 2011 organizers have announced that renowned writer Neal Stephenson will keynote the October show's Game Narrative Summit, where he will take part in an on-stage Q&A with game journalist Geoff Keighley.

The keynote, titled "Music, Movies, Microcode, & High-Speed Pizza Delivery: A Conversation with Neal Stephenson," will delve into a host of writing and game-related of topics, including Stephenson's new novel REAMDE, which is set against the backdrop of the game industry. In addition to the keynote, Stephenson will host a special book signing elsewhere in the show (location and time to be determined).

Stephenson's previous work includes novels such as Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Zodiac, the three-volume The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) and Snow Crash, which was TIME Magazine's named one of the 100 all-time best English-language novels. He is known for exploring and redefining genres ranging from cyberpunk to the historical epic.

Keighley, who will host the Q&A, has spent more than half his life covering the video game business as a journalist, TV personality, and producer. Currently, he serves as host and executive producer of Spike TV's Gametrailers TV, which is consistently the highest rated video games show on television. Keighley is also a freelance writer, whose work has appeared in publications such as Kotaku, Business 2.0, and Entertainment Weekly.

This keynote will take place within GDC Online's ever-popular Game Narrative Summit, which includes numerous lectures, panels, and more from some of the industry's most respected professionals -- featuring speakers from Valve, BioWare Austin, Telltale Games, and more. In addition to the Game Narrative Summit, GDC Online will feature two additional Summits covering Smartphone & Tablet Games and Virtual Items, respectively.

GDC China Reveals Double Fine, Game Audio, Agile Development Talks

GDC China has revealed the first batch of talks within the show's Global Game Development track, featuring Double Fine's approach to working with Kinect, a quick guide to Agile/Scrum development, and veteran game composer Hitoshi Sakimoto on the business of game audio.

Taking place November 12-14 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center in Shanghai, China, the event will once again serve as the premier game industry event in China, bringing together influential developers from around the world to share ideas, network, and inspire each other to further the game industry in this region.

This year, the show's Main Conference will feature three primary tracks, covering Online Game Development & Business, Global Game Development, and Social Games.

Here are the first talks to be announced so far for the Global Game Development Track:

- In "Rapid Prototyping Techniques for Kinect Game Development," Double Fine Productions' lead technical artist, Drew Skillman, will provide an in-depth look at the studio's approach to implementing motion control in its Kinect-enabled titles. Along the way, Skillman will discuss the company's software setup for rapid prototyping, augmented reality, and some "shader based compositing tricks."

- Elsewhere, Maxwell Peng, senior producer at Taiwanese developer International Games System, will host a session dubbed, "How to Succeed in Game Development With Agile/Scrum," giving developers tips on how to improve and streamline their development pipeline. Peng will outline the challenges and solutions he encountered when using Agile/Scrum, helping developers better understand this approach to game development.

- Finally, Hitoshi Sakimoto, a game audio veteran best known for scoring Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII, will host, "The Business (and Importance!) of Game Audio." Here, Sakimoto will delve into what it takes to make effective game music and sound effects, outlining his experience working in the business of game audio to help developers understand why sound plays a key role in nearly all realms of game development.

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.

 

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