Impressions from Hamburg Games Conference 2017 and GameCity Treff

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April 4th was the day the 8th Hamburg Games Conference was held. As this year the conference motto was “The power of storytelling – How good storys can sell products, services and companies” , I attended there as gamedesign intern from rainware. And it did seem like it is not THAT common to send an intern to such Events 🙂 In the following I will present you some impressions of the conference in almost chronological order. Of course I can´t go into detail for each of the presentations, but I will give an overview of some things that interested me the most or things I learned. I also did get some ideas for our new game, FlatFatCat there, and even some for my Bachelor thesis project, but I will keep those to myself (or within the company). You can be sure you will get an even better game at the end thanks to the new ideas I got though. But enough of the intro, let´s get started.

First things first – the location and meeting point

The conference was held in the Moot Court of the Bucerius Law School in Hamburg. As it s a college, it had a nice green campus in front and several buildings. The Moot Court was fast and easy to reach however, as was the school itself thanks to its location around 10-15 minutes per foot from the station. The meeting point was on the ground floor, the presentations were held on the first floor in a seperate room.

After a short while at the buffet with fingerfood and (non-alcohlic) drinks I met somebody who did not know a lot about games but wanted to find a way to motivate people and thought he would inform himself there how or if he could reach his goal per video games. This was when I realized the first important point of the day – if you attend a conference, bring your business cards. If you dont have any, create some. After an interesting talk we seperated and the time for the presentations came so I went up.

The introduction – the main point of the conference

The introduction was a short preview of the program, but more importantly the main reson for the motto of this conference was stated – the word “storytelling” is used more and more, and it is used in many different ways, so the point of this conference was to clear up what storytelling can be, in which way and for what products it can be used, if it should be used for some things and also if the word was still meaningful after being overused(Spoiler: Yes, storytelling is still very important). Because of this diverse set of questions, the presentations were not merely about games, but about storytelling in very different surroundings which of course still had a connection to games, like games based on novels, storys based on games, storytelling in VR and storytelling in marketing etc.. I will write a short review of each presentation and what I learned from them, so if ayou are not interested in a specific topic feel free to skip it.

The pillars of the earth(Daedalic Entertainment) – Storytelling for a game based on a bestseller

Valentina Tamer, Game Designer and Assistant Creative Lead for the pillars of the earth, presented the idea behind the game and which problems they faced creating a game based on a bestseller. It was this same game that Daedalic CEO Carsten Fichtelmann talked about in the Hamburg Game Conference 2 years ago, back then explaining how the could make the deal with Ken Follet to produce this game. But I was not there back then and it was not about game design/storytelling, so back to the point.

Basically the main prolem of an adaption like this is the difference between books and games. Books are passive experiences and linear, while games are active and not linear. Fun in games is created by actions, taking stories to a personal liking, while in a book the story is written in stone. So the team did use the characters, time and setting from pillars of the earth, but had to cut things out or add new stories where needed.

The second problem I remember from the presentation was the target group – as the game should attract book readers aswell as adventure gamers it had to have a different kind of storytelling, yet a familiar one. The game mechanics (puzzles) should be explained within the story, not just be there to make it a game. Bottom line is – The story is important in such an adaption – so the gameplay should fit the story, not the other way around.

And last but not least the PC Gamers best friend, censorship. Which somewhat can be split into two stories from the presentation. 1: The book is old and its content had to be reviewed, for example concerning stereotypes used back then you simply can not use today. And 2: A book that old can be bought at any age. As it is about the middle age of course it gets bloody from time to time, and if you adapt this to a game, it gets an FSK 18 and can only be played by adults. This was a thing they did not consider, so they also had to change the storytelling in some way making it less brutal.

SpiceVR/Spherie: Storytelling in VR

VR market is still at its beginning and already booming. Nicolas Chibak, Co-Founder and CEO of SpiceVR/Spherie explained the possibilities of storytelling in VR, and its variations like 3D VR, 360° videos (Which is the main focus of Spice VR at this time) with and without 3D, scanning of rooms or areas and holograms or augmented reality. All of these were shortly explained and how movies (in theaters or for homes) get another feature by adding these technologies, as now storytelling in films can be more than linear, and even a personal experience, binding gaming and movies together in a way.

He also gave an outlook on tech to come, like hololens evolving into holodecks at one point, and VR being created without a special glasses right in the users brain, shortly scratching the problems VR and similar tech might cause at some point.

Their product Spherie was explained shortly, it is and has been for some time already the worlds ONLY drone being able to capture 360° videos without any object in the way. It is also able to scan areas, so basically these drones would be the fastest,cheapest and easiest way to make a complete 3D scan of our planet surface.

Right now their tech is mostly used for storytelling in 360° movies, but it would be possible to use the tech to create games,too.

Fireside Talk: Storytelling in eSports

The Vice President of Strategic Relations of the ESL, Arne Peters, presented the eSport aspect of storytelling in a fireside talk. First he explained how the ESL came to be around 17 years ago with LAN-gaming, but then had problems maintaining their (financial) supporters until recently, when the eSport did boom again.

Well, storytelling and eSports seem an odd match at first, as eSports games seldom offer a deep story. But storytelling can be more than simply written story or lived story. In this case it is about creating a story. Not about the game itself, but about the player. Just like in other professional sports, the player becomes the hero of the story. It could be a whole team that nearly lost but then turned the tournament around and won, or an outsider not known to anybody suddenly gaining victory after victory with pure skill.
And storytelling like this is a marketing aspect of eSports. Of course there are sponsors like Intel for the financial part, but the people have to watch the ESL and they would not do that if there were no good stories behind their favourite team/player. So storytelling can also be used for a product not delivering a story itself. I will refer to that point later again.

Lunchtime – and SphereVR drone?

In the break we got something warm and drinks at the buffet if we wanted. I was not hungry though so I can not comment on that. While the original plan was that the Sphere VR drone should have launched at lunch, the team around it had 2 other places at the same time where they showed it so they did not get a license to start the drone at the law School. At least the prototype was shown there, and you could see (or ask) how the drone is able to capture the 360° videos – the rotation of the octopter and blind spot of the 6 cameras on the drone are one reason, but of course there is much more to it, like stabilization, material, etc. The presenters were all available at lunch so you could ask them questions if you had any. I learned a few Things about VR possibilites concerning games, and got myself a few ideas, but as I said earlier, I will not tell you 😛 And then the break ended and the presentations resumed.

Back to business with switched concepts of storytelling

OK, I am breaking with the norm I used till here as I did not use the heading for any of the themes presented, but as a teaser. I did this because the first presentation after the break was pretty much the opposite of the first presentation of the day – As now it was about writing books in the world of a game, instead of writing games from the world of a book. But as I do not want the title of this presentation to seem less than the others, it gets a bold Version right here: “Storytelling in the block-paradise Minecraft“. There you go.

The presentation was held by Dr. Karl-Ludwig von Wendt, author of Minecraft books, which he writes as Karl Olsberg.

The first thing to learn was that Minecraft built a Franchise out of nothing because of several things like its cross-media compatibility, its NOT existent story or goals, and the liberal approach of its creator about people who mod the game or presented it on YouTube(In both cases Minecraft was one of the first to openly allow these things and let the community share the mods).

The first thing presented however was the different approaches of books/video games concerning passive or active use and interaction – a game is active and interactive, a Lets Play of a game passive and interactive (as the People in the video interact with the world), a passive and non-interactive version is a book. I forgot the 4th, but I am sure it existed). And as these are basically 3 different medias, its a prime example of cross-mediality because of a non-existing story/goal.

Because Minecraft basically only offers the world, from there on any needed part for a story can be created. Creatures do not have to be explained, as a Minecraft player knows a Creeper is dangerous and you run if you see one unarmed. You just shouldnt write something the reader doesnt expect, so if the story is about a flying hamster (which the reader accepts) but he gets catched by a cat without r´trying to fly, the reader might stop reading.

Also, Minecraft books get kids to read, as it seems. Anyways, next topic:

Storytelling with Gamification

Tahsin Avci, CEO of Pop Rocket Studios presented Gamification – the art to make a task easier and more fun by making it into a game, and storytelling to support that idea.
Because of course you can simply make a game out of a task, but without a story it will probably still be boring. That is why storytelling can support gamification and make it work better.

I will write about two examples shown – the first one was a management software. Normally it would be a table with data and the manager has to see which task is for which employee, and order them together. Statistics showed that this work was mostly done at home in the evening, but it was sometimes forgotten or made in a haste. To change that, the process was made into a game of golf. On a touchscreen you have the golf balls, each one has a task written on it. You then flick it into the hole of the worker who is responsible for that task. It makes more fun and thanks to storytelling it fits better into the free time. Also the manager can see how many tasks each worker has, and in later version he could automatically send the emails forwarding the tasks.

The second one was a more “charitable” experiment, although it was part of a marketing campaign. As people seem to throw glass bottles in the house bin instead of glass containers, it was decided to build an arcade glass Container. A light indicated in which hole you can throw the glass and you have to throw it in fast to get points. Unlit holes take points from your score. The arcade glass container also had a highscore board. The experiment showed that a LOT more people used the arcade glass container than the regular one.

Podium discussion: storytelling in Media and with influencers

For the podium discussion, Jochen Dominicus( founder and CEO of Der Sendeplaner), Tino Hahn(Head of Entertainment & Games, Ströer Interactive), and Peter Smits (Youtube star, CEO at Pietsmiet) were invited. The talk began with introductions and as such discussions go, there was some interesting off-topic information given.

I would love to write everything about the discussion, especially the problem of regular twitch streams vs the german institute concerning regular streams (basically a regular TV Show has to pay them a fee so they want regular twitch Shows to do the same, to sum it up), the general position of the Speakers concerning celebrity voices in video games/ the honesty of advertisements, of course about product placement and bought YouTubers, especially Pietsmiets position, aswell as Smits channel philosophy at the beginning and now.

But this would be too much to write here, and most of it was, as I mentioned, off-topic. But it was a very interesting talk nevertheless and the storytelling influence was discussed well. The things I learned about it there were:

  1. While product placement or even bought reviews by Youtubers might exist, it is the honesty of Youtubers that sell the products they show. Not money and not PR actions. (If PietSmiet would be invited to a hair product factory and review their products in a good way it would be as useless as Bibi from BibisBeautyPalace reviewing a game like for Honor positively after being invited to a real life sword fight.
  2. Again -Youtube stars, as the influencer side of the talk consisted of one, but also “classic” stars, used in games was talked about. Like how the use of Kit Harington(Jon Snow) in the latest Call of Duty made the cutscenes appear cineastic, or the small speaking roll for Peter Smits in the Witcher worked well as his fans baught the game to find him. Of ourse, Gronkhs voice acting appearance in games was mentioned aswell, his role as Goon in the Daedalic adventure Deponia was a perfect fit, and he is a person who can do voice acting, but it seems in a way of marketing, the use of his voice for the Joker in the Lego Batman Movie made few sense, as the target audiences of both Gronkh and the Lego movies are the same to a big part, so not a lot of people would go into this movie only because he voices in it, they would have gone anyways, but now they ask – hey, is that Gronkh?
  3. Just so I do not expand Point 2 even longer – there are VERY negative examples of voice actor choosing aswell, although the example they used here (hey, it was Gronkh again, surprise) was the fault of the directors who told him he was a Buddy of the hero, while he was in reality an arch villain.
  4. To round up the things I learned: Sometimes, a good story makes for great advertisement. We all still know the spot from Christmas, where the old lonely man sits in front of the tree, and we remember the brand the ad was from. HOWEVER if the brands are not clearly indicated the video/ad might go viral, yet have no effect on sales. Which brings me to the most important trivia I learned:
  5. Did you know that Moorhuhn was actually only an advertisement for Jack Daniels? I certainly did not 😀
  6. Oh, Yeah – Pietsmiet wants to produce every product in their streams themselves, so they cant do product Placement 😉
Yeah, it´s over…Oh, wait, there is more?

With this interesting and diverse talk the Game Conference presentations ended. Back on the ground floor we had the ability to talk to most of the referents again, to close up the conference and ask further questions. And with that, the “professional” part of the day ended. The conference was over.

But one hour later a free-to-attend 12-Minute-Talk (or two, to be precise) were held under the name Game City Treff. You only had to register online to participate. Of course I attended these too, but first lets get to my feedback about the conference(I will let you know I am easy to please so dont expect me bashing against anything)

Conclusion Hamburg Game Conference- What did I learn, what could be done, will I reattend next year?

Well as the questions are already in the heading, I might aswell just answer them as the conclusion. First off, I think the event was amazing. The presenters were humorous, as I think is mandatory in our branche. The presentations were interesting and most of the time fitting to the motto of the Conference. Even though I was not too interested in some parts by reading only the titles, the presentations were all enlightening. I learned a lot, especially that storytelling is not only writing texts and living stories, but also making stories out of people.

Second, just to get back to the intro – storytelling is a word overused. But it is also still very important, in marketing and games. Gameplay is important too, but without storytelling (which doesnt have to be in-game, as I learned), the game will quickly become uninteresting. So game studios should not only make another adaption of the old, working stuff, but also create new storys of games, like Minecraft did.

I guess If you read till here you know what I learned. Mostly. The conference gave employees and especially Indies or even investors a look into the branche, and the ability to talk to creators of games/technology presented directly. Of Course there was also the fingerfood buffet and drinks. So all in all the conference was very well done, of course it is not for private persons, but as a person who is part of a company interested in this, the price point is totally legit (especially since Startups get a discount if they are less than 2 years young).

But will I attend the next one? This depends. Of course on my personal situation, as I dont know where I will work next year or if I will have time. But also on the motto of that conference. The motto this year was perfectly fitting for me as game designer/content creator. But if the motto next year applies to programmers – well I might not be interested too much 🙂

So much for the Games Conference. Now for a short Paragraph about the Game City Treff.

Game City Treff: 12 Minute Talks

12 Minute.me is a network which cooperated to create the game City Treff, this year with the title “12 Min.GAMES”. This was the first time the Event was held like that and it seemed like a fast and small version of the previous conference, even some of the presenters from then were still there so that anyone interested could ask them questions. A 12 Minute talk consists of a 12 minute presentation and a 12 minute QA.

I will not go into the presentations as detailed as the conference ones, but still give an impression.

The first Talk was with Melanie Taylor(Osmotic Studios) and about the question “Are we still Indie? Working with a Publisher”. To sum it up – there are Indie publishers aswell, creative, open for innovative ideas and easier to reach than the big ones(if you can find them). As the big ones do not want to take risks, they do not think much about a concept if it doesnt fit previous games. Indie publishers however need to take a bit of risk in a way, and as they also depend on the success, they get very inventive and creative concerning marketing and the games themselves. Also you dont have to sell them your IP and the revenues are fair. The game produced by Osmotic was “Orwell”.

The second talk was with Wolf Lang (Threaks) about “Development on Google DayDream with Battle Planet VR as example”. Basically a comedy presentation spiked with information about the DayDream and development around it. Summed up – better bring out a game on a platform with few customers first, get great reviews and then the publishers will be easier to convince for a port.

All in all the 12 Min. talks were also very interesting, especially the one about Indie publishers, but of course they were not as “formal” as the conference. I can recommend the next Game City Treff to anyone living around the area, as it is free of charge, you only need to register online and its a nice way to get known with some developers or the branche in General. You should bring something to drink though, it was a bit expensive if you did not attend the conference.


Thank you for reading this far, I hope I could bring across my experience. Although I tried my best to keep it short, it seems a BIT longer than expected. Well anyways, you will hear from us again soon. I guess 😛


PS: Loooong text, might contain smaller spelling mistakes.