Steam Dev Days 2014
Since I had the pleasure and good fortune of attending the first Steam Dev Days conference out in Seattle a few weeks ago, I thought I’d do a little write-up about the event. Joining me will be a little dinosaur friend of mine who has shown up at my studio recently.
As the dino points out, this was the slickest conference badge I’ve ever received. Not only was the badge high-quality, but it was printed on both sides. A common issue with conference badges is that they inevitably spin round to the wrong side. Printing the identical image on both sides is an elegant solution and one that foreshadowed more excellence to come.
I was thankfully surprised to see a good variety of actual breakfast food. While it might sound trivial, it’s simple things like this that can make a big difference to getting through each conference day. Also, Seattle is blessed with very good coffee. Even the decaf (which I unfortunately have to drink these days) tasted great.
Each morning of the two-day conference, you had ample time to both eat and mingle. Plus, the conference hall had tables in front of each row of chairs. This is another thing I’ve never seen done before. It was a great place to use your laptop, write in a notebook, and hold your food and drink.
Thanks to a Google Hangout we had created earlier, developers were able to coordinate finding each other inside the large conference hall. I was able to talk with quite a few folks I hadn’t met before. Networking with other developers is one of the biggest reasons to attend conferences, and with over 1200 developers present, there were plenty of cool conversations to get into.
Some developers joked that he may have even finished up the keynote with a joke about Half-Life 3, but who can tell for sure?
Gabe said, “We’ve got time for 3 more questions” but then after two questions were asked he was cut off and leaving said, “Turns out we only have time for 2!” and then he was gone.
We all continue to speculate…
Surprise Number One
This way you could follow along with the conference session about the controller. The talk detailed a full postmortem on how Valve engineered and tested the controller. It went through a LOT of iterations! At some point it even had a large trackball where the right circular thumb pad is. This proved too fatiguing and maintenance prone due to dirt getting inside the controller as the trackball rolled around. It was fun to mess around with the physical controller in hand while an engineer discussed where the design was currently and where it was going.
The prototype we received isn’t wireless, and it also doesn’t have the final button layouts. They’ll be moving to an x-button configuration and getting rid of the 4 placeholder buttons in the grid in the middle.
Since the controller is meant for family room play on the sofa, but doesn’t include wireless hardware yet, Valve has included the longest USB cable I’ve ever seen so that you’ll be able to reach the SteamBox from your couch.
Seriously, it must be 30 feet long or something!
Before the session on Steam controllers took place, they had a session on the new SteamBoxes coming out. There are currently 14 different manufacturers creating a SteamBox! That is a crazy amount of variety. During this session they had a representative from Intel up on stage and he hinted that there would be an “Oprah Moment” later on in the conference. Whatever could he mean!?
Surprise Number Two
While my little stegosaurus might not understand the enclosed EULA, I looked it over as well as the manual. Since this is still an engineering and development unit it comes with a fair share of scary warnings. I think more warnings than the Happy Fun Ball even! I’m sure it’s just the lawyers covering Intel’s butt.
Intel SteamBox Revealed
It came with a mounting plate, some drivers on a CD, and an external power supply.
In order to get SteamOS onto the device, a handy SteamOS branded USB key was provided to us at the conference:
I’m pretty excited to play around with the new SteamOS. Valve is still in need of a lot of feedback and bug reports to improve the SteamOS and controller for the mainstream. Now that they’ve provided one to each of the attendees of the conference, they’re sure to have a lot of developers poking around and finding issues. Having a SteamBox also lets us developers start testing our games on the device as early as possible. One of the technologies I use is Unity, and while it can export to Linux, it is by no means a full proof process. Being able to use actual hardware is amazing and I’m super thankful that Valve and Intel offered this.
After the morning sessions it was time for lunch. Valve had left 2 hours on the schedule for lunch, which was ample time to both find somewhere interesting to eat, as well as network with other developers. I’m glad the conference had a relaxed schedule in that regard. Seattle has so many wonderful places to eat, and with the convention center being right downtown, it was within reach of many options.
The rest of the sessions that I attended the first day spanned many topics. I went to a panel on Marketing Your Game that had Alexander Bruce from Antichamber, Alfonson Cubias from Digital Extremes, Chet Faliszek from Valve, Cliff Harris from Positech, and Henrique Olifers from Bossa Studios.
After that I sat in on fellow Boston Indie Game Collective member Ichiro Lambe’s talk titled United We Win–which was all about the lessons learned from collaboration and coworking around the world. It was great to learn more about all the other coworking spaces as well as see that we should probably all be talking to and sharing information with each other’s groups more about what we’re all up to now and then.
I then listened in on another panel, this time one on Steam Early Access, with presenters from Double Fine, Uber Entertainment, Klei, and Introversion. I wanted to hear the panelists experiences with early access as I also am one of the developers involved in developing Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby which was one of the first Steam early access titles.
The first day of the conference wrapped up with an informative Steam business update. It was good to see the current numbers on Steam users, user acquisition, and hear thoughts on where Valve is headed next with Steam. One big takeaway was how each time Valve added the ability for different countries to pay in both native currencies, as well as native payment methods, the uptake in users using Steam increased dramatically.
With the last session ending at 6pm it was time to pick up our SteamBox. Valve also provided an assortment of delicious finger foods, an open bar, and a 2 hour window of time in which to talk further with others at the conference site. It couldn’t have been more convenient.
The second day of the conference began with talks about user generated content via the Steam Workshop. The rest of the day was then filled with many sessions on VR, including sessions by Michael Abrash of Valve, Palmer Luckey of Occulus, and Alex Schwartz and Devin Reimer of Owlchemy Labs. The message was clear, it is an exciting time in VR right now and everyone is trying to figure out the best practices and unique gameplay experiences that will only be possible in VR.
There was a Valve VR demo at the conference, but the sessions lasted 30 minutes and there was a huge waiting list. Everyone I know that got to do a session was blown away though. It was fully immersive and took place inside a room that had a 1:1 mapping with the virtual world.
The day wrapped up with a fun after party sponsored by Valve and Alienware down at The Showbox which featured the Presidents of the United States of America playing. It was a great way to unwind and enjoy some awesome music and dance around like a nut.
The Presidents put on a high energy show and I even got a high five at the end of the show from Chris Ballew!
Steam Dev Days ended up being a really good time and I’m very happy I went. I hope Valve considers running this conference again next year for sure. It could be a great addition to the game industry conference circuit and one I definitely recommend other developers to check out.
Bye Bye Seattle
I’ll leave you with the view I had on my flight out of Seattle. I try to pick a seat on the side of the plane that will let me see the awesome mountains around the area. The weather was clear and the view did not disappoint.