Goings On: Game Developers Conference Online in Austin

Game Developers Conference (GDC) Online, known in past years as simply GDC-Austin, was rebranded this year. As its new name suggests, the event this week featured conference sessions and exhibits focused on connected gaming and communities — whether through PC, mobile or living-room platforms. Though more topically focused this year, there is still a local flavor for sure — an opportunity for up-and-coming Texas-based developers and big publishers to engage, make deals and show off the latest in both gameplay and underlying tech.

Of course, we’re always on the lookout for interesting developments in the industry and upcoming games with promise. Here are a few items I’ve come across while at the show.

  • Belarus-based Wargaming.net is taking the fantasy out of MMO with free-to-play World of Tanks. The game is already commercially available in Russia and has over 200,000 users according to Marat Karpeko, the company’s COO. And a closed beta in the US and Europe currently boasts some 100,000 users. “Free to play games are mostly fantasy based, and some people are getting tired of that and looking for something fresh,” Karpeko said, who added the gameplay could be compared to “Counterstrike with tanks.” The company plans to roll out an open beta in the U.S./Europe in the November timeframe, then launch commercially early next year.
  • Speaking of free-to-play, I stopped by the Turbine booth at the show. A rep for the Mass.-based developer behind Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online said that since both titles have recently gone from a subscription-based to a free-to-play model, they’ve experienced tremendous resurgence in usage. If you were deterred from playing these games in the past because of the subscriptions, it may be time to give them a try.
  • I met with our friends at Trion Worlds while at the show. The team is getting closer to the launch of Rift: Planes of Telara, a MMO RPG. One of the features setting Rift apart is that the world is truly alive and changes — even when you’re not around. You can leave an area one day, come back the next and a new species will have a foothold. I was lucky to recently see a private demo, and the game looks great. Though cautious about releasing too many details at this stage, Won S. Chung, the company’s VP of business development did offer, “Rift will feature all the core game systems gamers expect to see in the next great MMO, and then some.”
  • I also caught up with Texas-based TimeGate studios, which is hard at work on Section 8: Prejudice. It’s a graphically stunning multiplayer online shooter targeted for early 2011. What caught my attention is how content is delivered — literally — to the game. You don’t just spawn at a random point. You drop into a map from the sky, and as you survey the approaching turmoil below you can steer to a specific location. And it’s not just spawning. You can purchase different items (such as tanks) and they are always delivered from an in-game mechanism rather than just appearing from pixel dust. TimeGate also has given players more flexibility with weaponry. Just because you choose a specific class, you don’t limit your choice of weapons.

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Global Product Marketing Manager, Gaming

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