If you have been following Unite Berlin, you might be aware that OMG NESTED PREFABS!
Fun fact: I was literally below the confetti explosion; I’m back to London, and I’m still finding those damn confetti everywhere. And I have evidence…
— Alan Zucconi (@AlanZucconi) June 19, 2018
Thanks to Unity, I had the opportunity to attend Unite Berlin. Hundreds of passionate people have worked really hard to organise and run this event. And a big thanks goes to all of them; from the speakers who gave amazing talks to the receptionists who patiently welcomed every single attendee.
That being said, Unite Berlin was not free from problems: quite the opposite. Compared to previous years, there has been an unprecedented level of disorganisation. Many attendees, myself included, have felt somehow disappointed. Especially given the cost of the ticket. When I reached out to them, I was encouraged to be open about my experience. I do hope that by provide constructive criticism on what went wrong, Unity will be able to address those issues and make the next Unite a more inclusive and accessible event. And if that will be the case, rest assured that I will be the first one to write about it.
Please, keep in mind that this post focuses on what went wrong and what could be improved next year. Many people had an amazing time at Unite Berlin, and besides a few setbacks, the event has been an exceptional opportunity to meet other passionate developers.
The single most outstanding problem of Unite was accessibility. The venue was clearly not designed for wheelchair users, and there has been no real attempt to mitigate this. In particular, the refreshment area was placed on a raised platform that was accessible via stairs only. A few areas had no ramp access, de-facto preventing users with limited mobility to access some of the talks and workshops.
There were a couple of generic signs indicating “Toilet”, but they failed to indicate which toilets were actually present in that direction. Such a generic sign usually means that all the toilets can be found in that area. This was not the case, as as the toilet area indicated by Unity was inaccessible to wheelchairs. To be fair, the venue was equipped with a disabled toilet, but there was no clear direction to find it from the Expo floor. A wheelchair user would have had to leave the venue and return to the registration block, just to use the toilet. I have enquired about disabled toilets, but most of the Unity crew told me to ask the venue staff; which was in the before-mentioned refreshment area.
To the best of my knowledge, none of the rooms where the talks took place was fit with a hearing induction loop, and there was no space reserved for wheelchairs.
A significant percentage of people who use Unity are game developers. There is a massive request for more accessible games, and disabled players are becoming a demographics that cannot be ignored any longer. Yet, “accessibility” and “disability” are two words that were nowhere to be found in this year’s Unite schedule.
Moving forward. Accessibility is a very broad subject: invite people with different disabilities to talk about what is needed, and what developers can do to improve their games and, potentially, access an entirely new market. Liaise with companies such as Special Effects and Game Accessibility Guidlines, which have been providing support to players with disability for many years.
Host panels to give voice to disable players and developers, and make sure their needs are heard. There’s so much to be said about this topic, and so many people eager to talk about it. Games like Hue and Celeste are perfect examples of how accessible design can make the difference.
Lastly, I hope that the next Unite will be fully accessible to wheelchair users. I have not seen any wheelchair users myself on the Expo floor, but this is not an excuse for giving up on accessibility. It is time for Unity to raise awareness on the topic of disability in games. So please, fewer talks about monetisation, and more discussions about accessibility in the context of game development.
Food was one of the main issues that attendees have complained about. On the first day there was a single line, with queueing times peaking at around 45 to 60 minutes. The venue provided a single choice of food. A hot dog. When questioned about vegetarian and vegan alternatives, I was told to just eat the bread. In all fairness, the buffet did offer apples and bananas, but I would hardly call that a meal.
Muffins and cookies were later provided, but you were allowed to only take one, even if you had skipped lunch. The coffee stands did not offer any non-dairy alternative, and I was told that the catering was not instructed to provide any. Even despite the fact that many people, myself included, have clearly indicated they were lactose intolerant.
On the second day, the only vegetarian option available was a potato. A potato. Only by the third day, Unite offered a meal that featured multiple options for vegetarian people. Below, one of the images shared on the Unite app by attendee Maxime Philipp.
Generally speaking, the staff was unsure about which options were Halal, gluten-free, lactose-free or low FODMAP. There was no indication about allergens, and nobody was able to provide a list of the ingredients used.
I want to stress that Unity indeed made a constant effort to improve the catering situation over the three days of the event. However, I was still surprised by the lack of alternatives for people with dietary restrictions. It is very important to remember that, for people who cannot eat meat, offering a single choice is not a “vegetarian alternative”. It is an alternative only if you can choose between more than one item.
As a person who has somehow strong dietary restrictions, this is the aspect of the entire conference that frustrated me the most. I ended up skipping most meals for the entire week, and when I arrived home I had lost 1.5 Kg.
Moving forward. I hope that the next Unity will provide a wider range of food choices, paying particular attention to the attendees who, like me, have very specific dietary requirements. A full list of ingredients, allergens and nutritional values should be available at all times, and released prior to the event. This is to allow people to plan their lunch accordingly.
If you cannot guarantee that all dietary requirements are met, offer people vouchers that they can use elsewhere. Unite was a paid event, and food was supposed to be included in the cost of the ticket. Failing to provide valid alternatives ends up discriminating against people who have special needs.
It is understandable that providing food alternatives for everyone is expensive; but so is beer. So please, do not expect to make up for poor catering choices by providing a lot of free alcohol. Because many of the people who are under a strict diet probably cannot drink beer either. I personally believe that alcohol should be banned from conferences like Unite, as is it often used by some as an excuse to behave inappropriately. Foster a safe space for the ones who needed it the most, and not just for the majority.
The first talk of Unite was scheduled for 9 am. The registration desks opened at 8 am, and many people were still queueing to collect their badge at 10 am. The queue was so long that is reached out in the street. Below, a picture shared on the Unite app by attendee Martin Saldert.
Moving forward. Given the fact the event started on a Tuesday, Unity should have allowed ticket collection from Monday. Other events, like GDC, indeed follow this strategy.
The second most raised issue at Unite Berlin was the lack of chairs. Some rooms were so packed that people could not even sit on the floor. I have been at Unite every day, and I was only able to attend a single talk. At the end of day one, it became clear that hundreds of chairs were stored in another room, where they were supposed to be used for the keynote.
By the second day more chairs where added, but Unity still had to add monitors outside the rooms so that people could watch the talks in streaming. A big part of investing in events such as Unite Berlin is the chance of talking directly with the people giving the talks. This was simply impossible for most of the attendees.
It is clear that the venue was not big enough. While the showroom floor was relatively spacious, the rooms where the talk took place where way too small.
Moving forward. A better planning is definitely necessary to avoid a similar situation from happening again. Perhaps Unity can use the Unite app to estimate how popular talks will be, and allocating rooms accordingly.
There should be plenty of time between talks, so that people have time to move to the next room with a chance of finding a set. At Unite Berlin you had to arrive 30 to 45 minutes before a talk started to get a seat.
Increasing the number of chairs is not always a valid option. If the room is too small, it can get way too hot. I had to leave a talk because of this. Also, the illumination was too low, which could have caused issues to attendees with impaired vision.
♀ Women In Games
One of the events I was most interested in attending was Women In Games. Paradoxically, it was scheduled at the same time as the Industry Connect networking event. If you were a woman, you had to choose which one to attend. This means that fewer women were at the main networking event, de-facto giving them fewer chances to establish professional connections with their peers. This poor planning ended up isolating some women from the main event they could benefit the most.
Incidentally, many women were initially denied access to the party. I was told that after the issue was raised, all women were later accepted.
Moving forward. Generally speaking, Unity has been known to promote gender equality. I do not think there was any malice in what happened, but next time I would like to see a more friendly and inclusive schedule, that does not force people to choose.