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Impressions of a GDC first-timer

My first time at GDC was simultaneously incredibly inspiring and depressing. The size of it overwhelmed me. These are some of my impressions of the conference.

Charles Cordingley, Blogger

March 12, 2015

4 Min Read

I'm just back from GDC2015 with mixed emotions. The experience was simultaneously incredibly inspiring and depressing. At GDC there is always an informative presentation to attend or interesting person to meet. However, the scale of everything overwhelms. Most of my indie gamedev activities and assumptions have been validated - nothing I heard or saw was particularly surprising or caused me to reassess my plans. Although it is now clear that obscurity is an everpresent threat to a new indie developer. Many talks discussed how elusive indie success can be (apart from creating a good game, the secret seems to be perseverance, marketing and luck). 

GDC week started with a shock. I had signed up for the 5 day pass specifically so that I could attend the 2 day Game Design Workshop. Turning up 15 minutes early I found myself at the back of a long queue. Worse, this queue turned out to be the overflow queue for the backup queue. The workshop was full, about 20 people had been allowed to stand inside the room as backups incase people left. Then there was the overflow queue for the backup queue - about 40 people would have to leave before I would be able to join the workshop. I heard later people started arriving over 2 hours before the start. This wasn't the only session I missed due to crowds. Arriving 5 minutes early for the Hearthstone UI talk, I was greeted by a huge line, again after the room was already full. 

With 26000 attendees, GDC is huge, and can be intimidating to introverts (like me). This has its pros and cons. It may be that you might not be able to get into your chosen activity, but there is always something else interesting happening somewhere. After missing the Game Design Workshop, I just walked into a discussion on the AI system in Guild Wars II and learnt a some new useful techniques (although as a result I now want to completely rewrite the AI in Concealed Intent). 

Many of the best activities available are not even part of the official program, such as meeting other game developers and just chatting. Of course being an extrovert (or being able to pretend) is a great help here. I only spoke to a few people, but they all had very interesting things to say. Most of the people I spoke to were also attending for the first time by themselves. I don't think this this is a coincidence. 

It appeared as if most of the people at GDC already knew lots of other people at GDC, either through work or online connections. This was quite daunting to a quiet person on their own. Since returning I have discovered there are many "ice-breaker" events: the indie hostel; open party lists; the lost levels unconference; reddit meetups; and more. My mistake for not discovering these before going. 

How would I advise a first-timer? What would I do differently?

  • Know why you are going. What do you want to achieve by attending?

  • If you want to meet other gamedevs and don't know anyone yet and are not an extrovert, you will have a tough time. Be ready for this. Prepare in advance. Find people or events online. 

  • If you want to learn about the gamedev industry (both technically and business aspects), I doubt there is a better place to do so. I went to exactly 30 talks over the 5 days I was there. All were of a high quality and worthwhile. I could have easily gone to 30 more based on personal interest.

  • Don't feel the need to attend tons of official sessions. There were so many interesting talks I was always either in one or on my way to one. This meant I missed many of the happenings and people elsewhere around the conference. If I go again, I would probably only aim for half as many sessions.

  • If you are a student looking for a job, you are in luck at GDC. The one party I attended seemed to have a large number of people looking for jobs. Walking around the conference expo I was twice approached by people from large well-known studios asking if I'd like an interview. Many companies had "we're recruiting" signs on their stalls. 

Will I go again next year? I'm not sure. I'm glad I have been at least once to see what it is like and to get a good overview of current gamedev. Although the expense and time to go to GDC from here in Malaysia is very large. It would have to be for a purpose. GDC has huge potential for indie devs, but requires some planning if attending is going achieve anything. I didn't prepare adequately this year, I won't make the same mistake again.

This post was first published on the Jarrah Technology blog.

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