Across the San Francisco Bay, on Treasure Island, you could almost forget the Godzilla-sized cloud conference and expo Dreamforce was dominating the downtown this past month. With a body of water separating the events, an exclamation point and an underline was added to the inherent notion of Gaming Insiders Summit’s exclusivity at the low-key Winery venue.
A few hundred insiders, namely executives, movers and shakers and influencers, shared insights and celebrated the state of the industry. Gaming Insiders Summit was held under white tents, where two tracks of content were presented through the day, and inside the barrel-walled winery itself, where networking and the reception itself drew people in from the windy chill outside.
The caliber of speakers was both high-quality and timely, in the sense their speakers were riding the wave of fresh news to attract attention to their narratives. Twitch, who was acquired by Amazon a couple months ago, continued the victory tour with a talk by Emmett Shear, CEO of Twitch, speaking predictively about the company’s pathway to their “next 60 million” users. Bob Meese, Head of Games Business Development for Google Play, on the heels of the aforementioned hardware announcements earlier in the day, spoke expansively about Google Play’s outreach to foreign markets, and how developers can use Google Play as a channel to access them.
Besides the speakers, networking and scenic and relatively remote location, a couple interesting particulars from this summit stood out.
Merge VR: Among the many executives and start-ups heads in circulation, armed with ideas and concepts, at Gaming Insiders Summit, Andrew Trickett, CEO and Co-Founder of Merge VR, was an attendee who brought a prototype of his product with him.
The product in question is in a fast growing segment of the gaming industry — virtual reality — and also appears like it will be consumer-friendly — both in pricing and function. The VR goggles will use a form-fitting foam body, that should wrap around a user’s face more gently than a rugged plastic or metal design. The goggles surface will have an antimicrobial treatment, to prevent sweaty players from sharing the bacterial residue of an adrenalized gaming experience.
Like other lower-cost alternatives, this product will rely on a user’s smartphone mounted in the goggles against the lens as the view screen, rendered via split screen display.
Aside from the foam body, what differentiates it is the one-handed gesture-based control, the Grip, which seems like the love child between the familiar Wiimote and a Zeemote analog controller. The Grip features nine axis movement, five buttons on top and two rocker-style trigger buttons on the backside.
The ribbon on the package is the app, which allows the Grip to be customized and the phone to be surfed for optimized and 3D content.
Trickett noted that the Merge VR headset with Grip controller (for iOS and Android) should be expected in early 2015 and will price out at $99.
Among the sponsors with booths, who were largely dominated by monetization and other platform vendors, NVIDIA represented an exception to the rule. David Coombes, who we chatted with at GTC 2014, was running the NVIDIA booth and speaking with game developers in attendance to inaugurate them into the NVIDIA developer ecosystem, particularly on the mobile side.
On display was both members of the Shield hardware family: the recently launched Tegra K1 GPU-powered NVIDIA Shield tablet, along with the older but still-potent Shield clamshell device with controller from last year. The Shield tablet showcased a smooth, clean demo of the optimized version of classic Valve’s Portal game.
Unfortunately for NVIDIA, when they started the day, they were near the top of the chain in terms of raw power fueling their tablet hardware. However, Google announced the new Nexus 9, followed later in the week by Apple’s new iPad Air 2 and iPad 3 Mini. By some benchmarks, the Nvidia Shield has now been bumped to the middle of the pack among the elite tablets. However, the developers who had the chance to leave Gaming Insiders Summit with an NVIDIA Shield tablet on which to build and test their game apps seemed pretty satisfied with their new hardware.
Lastly, looking forward, it merits notice that an early version of the Gaming Insiders Summit 2015 Eventbrite page has been posted and the location appears to have this exclusive event firmly on land, in the midst of the bustling downtown of San Francisco, at the InterContinental Hotel. Time will tell if this change of location holds, and how it will; change the dynamics of this uniquely defined game industry event.