9 min read

GDC Saves the World - Impressions: Day 2

A 5-part series of impressions for GDC from a first time attendee and speaker. Wherein our hero stands up against evil and is attacked by a beverage.

Welcome to the Day 2 report of my GDC blog. If you missed part one, you can find it here.

Originally, I had a meeting scheduled this morning with someone high up in the hierarchy at one of the big game publishers about a possible collaboration sometime down the road maybe if the stars align just right, however, apparently someone on his end double-booked him. He suggested meeting tomorrow at 9, apparently forgetting that was the time of the GDC keynote. In the end, we settled on Friday morning.

On my way driving to GDC from my motel, I pass a giant billboard advertising CityVille. "Wow, that's an awfully big advertisement for a Facebook game," I think to myself. A few minutes later, I see the Zynga offices. Aha, now it makes sense! I make sure my shields are up, check my secret smuggler hold, and drive quickly on by.

Simon Carless commented on my last blog that not getting a Game Developer magazine was a mistake on their part so I stopped by the registration booth to see if I could rectify that. They handed me a GD magazine and told me that there was a little stand with a bunch of free publications on the bottom floor. Sure enough, there was, so I loaded up on Edge, Develop, GDM and more.

I arrived at the Moscone Center a little too late to see the first panel on my list (the Shank discussion), but I got into the Spelunky XBLA game panel a couple minutes after it started. I haven't played the free version yet, but based on the panel discussion and screenshots shown, I should probably rectify that. The talk about how they used templates mixed with randomness to create the levels was quite interesting. Both speakers seemed like cool chaps and the game sounds awesome so be sure to buy it when it comes out.

After the Spelunky panel, Andrew Dice of Carpe Fulgur (localizers of the excellent Recettear game) stopped and said hi. Very interesting personality and lots of enthusiasm. I was planning on staying around in the Indie room for the next panel (a discussion of the indie Fund), but Andrew told me that there was going to be a bloodbath next door at the Are Social Games Legitimate? panel, so I decided to change my schedule and go there instead.

The Social Games Legitimacy panel was a blast. The moderator started out by saying that they weren't really satisfied with the title of their panel and that it probably should have been called "Are Social Games Evil?" instead and it just got better from there. On the panel was the Cow Clicker guy, someone from Puzzle Pirates, a Zynga guy (pronounced like Sin + ga with a Z instead of Sign + ga with a Z like I had previously thought), and some indie social game developer I had no idea about. The first two guys were against social games and were highly entertaining. The indie guy seemed in earnest but was out of his league, whereas the Zynga guy gave the kind of slick answers I would expect from a representative of that company.

After the main debate was done, I decided to get in line to ask a question, partially out of curiosity of the result, and partially just to get the full GDC experience. Unfortunately, I was the very last person to get a chance to ask a question and so I didn't really have the time to fully build up the question and they didn't really have the time to properly answer it. The quick question: is it possible to make a good social game that isn't highly addicting? The long story...

Addiction in video gaming is a subject that is dear to my heart. For a couple of years in college, I was addicted to Magic the Gathering Online. Spent far too much money and time on it and it really had a negative effect on many aspects of my life. Thankfully, I was able to break free of it soon after college and my life has been much better ever since. Now, I'm making RPGs - a genre that is largely founded on a reward cycle that could easily cause addiction. On the plus side, my games are single player affairs with defined endings so even if someone did get hopelessly addicted to one of my games, they wouldn't be stuck for long. However, if someone gets addicted to a game without end like a MMORPG or a social game, it's a different story.

To answer my own question, I think it is possible to create a good social game that isn't highly addicting. Subscriptions are out since those tend to foster addictive behavior. Maybe make the game funded by donations and give the game an altruistic bent? For example, a game where the player starts out in a city full of crime and by doing good deeds, your city transforms into a better place. You could gain extra points by donating to charity or by writing about acts of real life service you did which you could then send to other people (anonymously if you'd like). Maybe such a game would still be "addicting" after a nature, but at least it would be encouraging people to act in a postiive way and not causing people to obsess over whether or not their crops are getting enough water.

OK, back to the conference!

After that panel, I waited outside to meet up with Scott Nichols, a freelance writer who likes to cover XBox Live Indie Games. I thought he wanted to meet up for an interview, but it turns out that he's a big fan of our games and just wanted to chat. We talked about our first two games, a little about our upcoming 3rd game (of which I can not offer many details, though I'm dying to), and about his own efforts to break into the gaming media mainstream.

At lunch, I sat near a distinguished Japanese gentleman. I didn't see his badge or even talk to him beyond a "May I sit here?," but I'm going to imagine that he's one of my idols in the Japanese game development world. Maybe Kazuma Kaneko, Noriyuki Iwadare, or Shoji Meguro. Yeah, that's the ticket. Oh and the vegetarian meal wasn't bad.

After lunch, it was time for the 4 person indie discussion featuring Luke at Radiangames and 3 other people. Luke's a really nice guy and was one of the best XBLIG developer around, although now he's moving on to richer pastures. His talk was great, although not particularly enlightening for me since it was mostly stuff I already knew from following his work and talking to him. Still, lots of great stuff for people who aren't intimately familiar with the XBLIG platform and Radiangames which I daresay was most of the group. The other 3 speakers were all good as well. The second talked about their real world adventure games where you run around San Francisco picking up clues and interacting. Not for me, but sounded kind of neat nevertheless. The third was the developer of Retro City Rampage. The way he talked, it's obvious that he has insane genius-level skills. It's not surprising that he's a one man team. Game looked a lot better than I expected as well so I'll definitely be picking it up. The fourth speaker talked mostly about videogames that don't require visuals at all. Absolutely fascinating.

Next up was probably the most useful talk of the day - After Success: Growing as an App Developer. There was so much great information in this talk and questions that I need to ask myself as Zeboyd Games grows from a low profile developer into a developer with a much higher profile developer. I'm not trying to brag - I would be shocked if our next game doesn't draw a lot of attention on us - so a talk like this to help us prepare was invaluable. One thing that I thought was especially useful was how he talked about having goals for your company - you can find huge amounts of success as a big company, a medium company, or a small company so it's a matter of choosing which type and which roles you are most comfortable with. Personally, I'm torn - more resources or more freedom? Hm...

The final panel of the day for me was quite enjoyable - bite-sized 5-minute indie talks. Lots of awesome stuff including a B&W semi-animated sketch story, a discussion on age as developers, a talk about building awareness for your games, videogamified quotes from Thoreau, and more. And there's a Zen game with a giant Kraken in it? Why was I not informed? Someone talked about using technology for gameplay ideas and it got me thinking - what if you had a game with cloud saving and your friends (or enemies) could mess with your save?

Before the final panel started, someone spilled coffee on me. While the offending party ran out to grab some paper towels, I talked to his friend who turned out to be one of the developers of Skulls of the Shogun. Never got the name of the person who spilled the coffee, but since his friend is involved on a cool project (and he easily could be as well), I'm going to let the coffee attack slide without retaliation...this time.

And that's it for day 2! Stay tuned for tomorrow's report! Will I successfully wake up at an ungodly hour to make sure that I get a good seat at the keynote address? Will Toru Iwatani sense my Pac-Man: Championship Edition mad skillzorz and invite me up on the stand with him? Will Jordan Mechner give a real life wall running demonstration? Turn in next time for the answers to these questions and more!

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