This Developer's Life: Convention Speaking and the Dreaded PPT

Didn't travel far and wide this week so you get to hear all about the trials and tribulations of getting ready to speak at GDC...

This Developer's Life: Convention Speaking and the Dreaded PPT

March 16, 2009

Dear Reader: We always think of the glamour and the highlife of speaking at conventions: the speaker’s parties, the all access passes, the hour where you have the world’s attention….  

Well this week I’m neck deep in the suck side of speaking at conventions: Power Point!
(Someone really should remind me to just do panels.  To prepare for those you simply have to grab the guy sitting next to you and ask “What’s this one about” five minutes before the thing starts…)

Over the course of this article I’ll try and give some insight into the convention speaker process as well as talk a little bit about my upcoming lectures (I’ll divulge one HUGE secret about my speech for GDC).

The Fun Bit:

Picture_3_16So this week I’m going to be trying something a little bit different and am going to put the exciting bit at the top rather than hope everyone digs through the whole article to find it.  Unfortunately I haven’t been out gallivanting - there are no rakish adventures in Vegas to discuss this week – so I’ll have to stick to talking about what I’m about to talk about at GDC: story in MMOs.

As most of you probably agree, story in MMOs is a pale mockery of even the most primitive game storytelling hasn’t quiet reached its zenith.  This year I’ll be speaking about how to change that.  My thesis is basically this:

Story won’t improve until player’s can affect the world they exist in.

When MMOs first came out, way back in the MUD days, there was much talk (or rather daydreaming) about how they would present players with a truly interactive story.  Because players could play all the important parts it was thought that great player driven dramas would emerge.  Of course we’ve found this to be incredibly impractical on multiple levels.  

Picture_4_14The first was a simple development problem.  As soon as you had multiple servers – shards to use an Ultima Online term – you couldn’t let players effect the world.  If players on one shard decided to kill a dragon and players on another decided to make friends with it you were left building content for both, which would rapidly sink your development effort.  The answer to this problem is actually incredibly simple: unshard.

Until recently this was impractical but, with many massive games moving towards an instantiated model where players share a story space but not necessarily a world space, this is becoming a very real possibility…  

*******GDC Spoiler Alert******

I spoke on this topic at AGDC last summer.  At one of the parties after my talk a very drunk Irishman came up to me tapped me on the chest and said

“Fripperin’ frittery (or at least that’s the closest approximation I can make…)!  Yer talk was a buncha bullshit.  If you knew anything you’d know no one cares about yer stupid ‘instantiated worlds’, people only care about real MMORPGs an-na you can-na talk about them because you can’t make an unsharded MMORPG.”

Fine.  Challenge accepted.  This GDC I will tell the world exactly how to how to make an unsharded traditional MMORPG.  After all, everything else we do is interactive, why shouldn’t our conferences be.


Which leads us to the second difficulty: once you let players affect the world, how do create the best possible story experience for them?  To get the answer to this one you’ll just have to come to my talk.

Picture_6_12Now for the educational bit…

So what does it take to be a convention speaker?  

First let’s go over the obvious.  It takes a killer idea, some writing skills, some speaking skills and some credentials.  

Almost every convention has a theme or a set of topics that they’d like to see presented.  These are universally listed on the convention website…read these carefully.  You can either come up with a killer idea and then try and find a convention that it fits or you can try and come up with an idea that fits the convention you want to speak at.  

The thing to remember here is that a truly great idea can usually be viewed many different ways – and there’s where the writing skills come in.  Submitting for a convention is no different than pitching a publisher or a VC.  You adapt your pitch to what matters to them.   Figure out what parts of your idea fit best with the themes of the convention and then emphasize those in the written pitch.

Remember, the written pitch comes in a number of parts.  They’ll ask for a Short Summary (usually 100 words or less) a Long Summary (usually 300-500 words or less) a Take Away (a concrete example of things your audience will learn) and an Abstract (1000-1500 words).  Each of these should be used to hammer home why your topic fits the convention but stands out from the crowd.

The Short Summary is a great place to show some finesse.  Make those 100 words exciting and topical, you haven’t a word to spare here.

The Long Summary should use some of the hooks from the Short Summary but should really sell why your topic is perfect for this convention.

The Take Away should demonstrate how thoroughly you know your topic by showing that you know exactly what your audience is missing and why you’re going to provide it.

The Abstract should be an abstract (if you haven’t written one before, look them up on the internet), if you can do a minute by minute break down of what you’re going to say all the better.  Here’s where you have to prove that you have a topic worth the half hour to hour they’re going to give you.

Now for the hard part: credentials.  Hopefully your killer idea has sprung out of your area of expertise, if so the credentialing will be much simpler.  Consider this part to be like resume writing, trim the fat and give three good reasons why you’re qualified to talk about whatever you want to speak about.  If you can use this section to demonstrate that you’re a good speaker all the better.

If you can do all that simply cross your fingers and don’t bug the convention staff, they will get back to you.  If you don’t get selected for something like GDC, don’t get discouraged, submit to some of the smaller conventions and build up your resume that way.

Pros and Cons:

Being a speaker at a convention has many benefits (which I’ll let you further glorify in your mind), but it’s also a huge distraction.  To give a good speech plan to put at least 40 hours into preparing your power point and practicing.

If you manage to blow it you’ll be embarrassing yourself in front of your peers in a very public and well publicized way.

But remember kiddies, you just look cooler wearing a speaker badge.

Gotta bounce (aka the conclusion):
Tune in next week or check out right now for my adventures gallivanting through Austin at SxSW.  And as always, let me know if there’s anything you’d like covered – [email protected]

P.S.  I didn’t get to talk at all about my speech for Login!   One of these weeks I’ll jaw your ear off about “Designing for Your Business Model”…exciting!

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