Pocket Gamer Connects brought its renowned mobile gaming and technology conference to Toronto for the second time, gathering industry professionals at the Marriott Hotel. CGMagazine sat down with Dave Bradley, Chief Operating Officer of Steel Media and a leader in the mobile gaming space, to discuss the event and his extensive experience in the industry.
With over 25 years in editing and journalism, Bradley has been at the forefront of the rise of mobile gaming. In 2006, he began working remotely with Chris James, Jess Bridgeman, and others he knew from his days as a games writer. Together they launched Pocket Gamer before the App Store even existed, betting early that mobile would become the next big thing in gaming. So who better to talk about the event and his involvement in the games industry as a leader in all things mobile gaming?
Could you briefly review your position and role and give us your insight?
My name is Dave Bradley, and I’m the COO of Steel Media, with an editing and journalism background. Twenty-five years ago, I met journalists Chris James and Jess Bridgeman, amongst others. They were people who I had known as a games writer. They went and set up Pocket Gamer in 2006. I worked with them remotely, and we all believed mobile was going to be the next big thing. Bear in mind the App Store hadn’t launched yet.
Mobile gaming meant things like the N-Gage, Java (based games), and dedicated handhelds, things like the Gameboy and PSP. It was an early gamble that you could tell was going to be important because the ability to carry games around with you is obviously going to be big. When the iPhone and the app store launched, Pocket Gamer was one of the first to completely cover that scene.
Please give us some insight into Pocket Gamer Connects.
A quarter of our business is websites, but in 2014 there was a real need for a mobile conference, as there wasn’t really one dedicated to it. We were encouraged in 2014 to launch Pocket Gamer Connects as an experiment, and it was really successful. Hundreds of people came, made some money, and we got positive feedback. Since then, it has become a cool part of our business. We take it on the road to about seven countries.
When asked about transitioning to speaking on stage vs writing?
You get used to it; it’s actually really fun being on stage. Increasingly it feels like the same discipline but applied in a different way. I like writing, and the research that goes into it, and those skills are transferrable when you get up on stage. When I first started out as a writer, I liked the process and being isolated. Over the years, I grew to really like the process of collaboration.
What are some of the nuances and differences between a mobile-focused conference versus a more traditional PC or Console Event?
We are a business-only conference. We are B2B. If you go to something like Gamescom, there are loads of gamers there. Here in Canada, there are around 750 people, all professionals in the games industry, so 70% are game makers, by which I mean developers and publishers, with the other 30% being service providers, advertising platforms and that kind of thing.
“Mobile gaming meant things like the N-Gage, Java (based games), and dedicated handhelds, things like the Gameboy and PSP.”
We’re also very international here, which is something Distinct here (Canada). We regularly get about 40 countries represented. Typically for an event like this, a little over half are local, while others fly in. Everyone here has two things in mind, which makes it different from other conferences. Number one: They are here to network immediately, and everyone is really open to making new business acquaintances, swapping business cards, sharing a coffee and just networking.
The other thing is there is a real sense of knowledge sharing. One thing I like about the games industry, which is particularly true for mobile and Canada, is that people are open to sharing what they know and revealing the data for the companies while giving talks and panels.
What are your thoughts on the evolution of mobile gaming, specifically how modern mobile titles are often in parity with their console and PC counterparts, where before, they used to be very distinct experiences explicitly made for mobile?
That’s so true. Mobile phones are incredibly powerful now. Call of Duty Mobile is a great implementation of Call of Duty, right? It’s really good. The crossover between mobile games and other platforms is closer than ever currently. I think right now, the games industry is about 200 billion dollars, and mobile is about half of that, which is incredible. I’m not surprised and wouldn’t bet against a games console. The mobile phone has turned everyone into a gamer. They can play games like Call of Duty, Fortnite or even mobile-first experiences like Marvel Snap (Have you played Marvel Snap?!).
I think the big challenge for mobile gaming currently is that it is becoming very expensive to do user acquisition. Mobile, for years, was a real science around user acquisition and IDFA data from Apple and Google, and that’s challenged at the moment.
What are your thoughts on emerging technologies and things like the recently announced Apple Vision Pro?
I am a technophile by nature. First of all, stuff like AI is incredible. Every talk here at Pocketconnects has turned to AI at some point and has affected every pipeline. Just being able to converse with data is game-changing. I heard someone here say that it’s not so much an AI revolution but a UI revolution. The ability to interact with your computer using natural language and have it understand, even down to a particular nuance, what it is you want it to do is a game changer. I’m fascinated by its future, while I greatly respect those whose jobs will be affected by it, and I’m watching it with interest.
“Where Apple leads other people go, I think spatial computing will be huge.”
I don’t like the idea of jobs going from the creative arts to the tech sector, with things like the writers’ strike, etc. But I think those things will work out, and natural language models will continue.
The Vision Pro, and similar technologies, whatever you want it to call it, have been in my mind for years. We launched a site in 2017 called the Virtual Report, and even that felt kind of early, but between even then and now, the tech has evolved with things like the Meta Quest and now the VisionPro. Where Apple leads other people go, I think spatial computing will be huge. In the next year, we’ll see Samsung do a cheaper version of it. With VR and AR, you have a form of entertainment that completely monopolizes your attention. I think the storytelling potential we will have will be interesting.
What are the challenges you currently face in this space, and what are some challenges in the future?
We just mentioned AI, but there are more direct challenges in the industry right now. We just saw some layoffs, we just came from Seattle, and we saw companies that were facing layoffs. The games industry saw its first slowdown in about 25 years. The pandemic was a kind of boon to the games industry. The
Covid lockdown years were very difficult, and many industries suffered, but since people were all at home, the games industry had a very successful couple of years. Coming out on to the other side of that, there was a bit of a course correction, and I think a lot of studios made budgets that they had in mind based on stuff that happened in 2020, while 2021 and 2022 weren’t as good as a result.
Finally, what advice can you give new faces trying to break into the games industry?
I’ve got three things, first thing: I’d say ask around, make friends, and connect to people. People are very generous with their time. I just interviewed John Romero, and he said every time he wanted to learn something in his career, he’d just ask someone in the field, and I totally agree with that. Your biggest asset is your network around you.
The second thing is to remain open to new technologies and be open to new experiences. I’m going to try this new headset, the new console, etc.
The third thing I’m gonna say is a bit cheeky, but come to PocketGamerConnects! Conferences like this, to my other two points, are a really focused space where you will get to share loads of knowledge and get to try loads of new games!