Pixel Heaven - where the past meets the future
"Soppy melancholy is a no go here!" was the catchphrase of Pixel Heaven 2015, the event's third edition that took place on 25-27 September at the Warsaw Film School. Despite the retro-style setting, the event was strongly focused on the modern aspects of the Polish digital market and the creation of perspectives for its further development
It was Pixel Heaven's third edition so far, and this year its scale greatly exceeded the expectations of both participants and organizers. Pixel Heaven promotes independent game development and reminds of the beginings of the whole industry which is of great value for anyone who have just started his own studio. Also recent development and the rapid evolution of the mainstream gaming industry in Poland piqued many people's curiosity for the roots of the entire branch, as it is crystal clear that the flourishing gamedev ecosystem (one of the biggest in Europe) didn’t just emerge out of the blue. Pixel Heaven attracted a number of people involved in the creation of its very foundations as well as those who are now setting new trends and determining the future shape of this innovative, successful industry. This also included names from abroad, such as Jeff Minter (the godfather of independent game creation) and Sam Barlow (best known for his involvement in the Silent Hill series and his newest game, Her Story).
Over four thousand visitors had an occasion to experience the world of the past and modern gaming connected together, creating the vibrant atmosphere of this lively event. There were, of course, numerous attractions revoking memories of the 80s and 90s, such as old-school gaming corners and meeting sessions with the creators and artists who once dedicated themselves to discovering and adopting modern entertainment, bringing games to all of us and thus being trailblazers for the entire country. Their stories from the past set the context for the most crucial parts of Pixel Heaven’s program, those regarding the future plans of Polish game developers, software creators and tech-savvy innovators.
Adrian Chmielarz (The Astronauts), Paweł Miechowski (11 bit studios) and Alek Sajnach (CI Games) have been sharing their insights on how Polish gamedev studios were influenced by the huge success achieved by recently released and critically acclaimed worldwide titles such as The Witcher 3, This War of Mine, Lords of The Fallen, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Dying Light. Both the commercial and artistic success of these titles is allowing Polish companies to think about their next steps. The dominant philosophy is to continue further, with balanced development, avoiding rushing into numerous projects and hiring dozens of new teammates – instead focusing even more on the quality of the next "big titles" and the freedom of expression guaranteed by gathered revenues.
At the same time, while enjoying this creative boost, the heads of the aforementioned studios stressed the need to follow market trends and to combine creativity with market efficiency. It was a piece of advice for newcomers especially, as there are now over 300 gamedev studios in Poland and the numbers are still growing. That creates a great demand for skilled people on the market, which is hard to meet without opening up to international talents, who are now more than welcome in Polish companies.
There were also discussion panels focusing on the best ways to monetize all of the numerous video game creations, intellectual property law issues, launching and conducting proper PR campaigns and the importance of efficient communication with the media and audiences worldwide.
A step beyond gaming was taken during the "VR revolution" panel. Representatives of companies such as Cmoar, Anshar Studios, Plastic and Le Polish Bureau (the Polish division of UNIT9) debated on how the commercial future of virtual reality will look like and how to pick and adapt research and business models of hardware and software development. The challenge for Polish VR designers is not to repeat past mistakes by creating a mere gadget, but to follow the trends set by Intel and Microsoft to embrace the idea of augmented reality (connecting elements of virtual reality and the real world), instead of the classic VR approach more suitable for dedicated players, who want to fully immerse in their games' worlds. When asked about competing with VR industry tycoons, Damian Boczek from Cmoar replied boldly:
"As a start-up, we are agile and innovative and able to adapt quickly, which sets us on par with large companies such as Samsung."
Pixel Heaven wasn't just about speculations on the future and discovering the past, but created an opportunity to gather new skills and knowledge here and now. At the Unreal Game Engine workshop anyone could learn how to use modern, open license tools to develop a game - even the youngest participants had an educational event and could learn how to take their first steps in programming. A meeting with Microsoft and getting to know the ins and outs of their support program for independent (indie) developers was a great opportunity for many devs to consider joining forces with a big company that would support their efforts and share its resources, especially in terms of marketing and distribution, which is every independent start-up’s major concern.
Pixel Heaven 2015 was an outstanding success in terms of attendance, content and most importantly, an excellent atmosphere enjoyed by people sharing the same passions and background. People were sharing ideas, making deals, exploring new business and artistic opportunities, but most often, they were just having loads of plain fun.
Robert Lapinski, a Pixel Heaven organizer, concluded: “I'm shocked. We're all shocked, even the food trucks. The whole party is just amazing. It makes me really happy that so many people are interested in the history of Polish games as well as the modern shape of this flourishing industry. With support of many good people as well as municipal officials we managed to create a recognizable brand and attract thousands of visitors from Warsaw, Poland and Europe – from where many of our special guests came, which I'm particularly proud of. Are we planning to make a fourth edition? We have no choice – of course, we are!”
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