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What I learned after over 200 GDC talks

Hundreds of talks, one lesson to be learned.

After GDC 2017 I was lucky enough to get a GDC Vault access so I decided there and then that I would cram as many talks as I could. Throughout the year I spent a lot of time watching and listening to all kinds of talks available. And I only achieved this number by doing it at any extra possible time. Cooking, eating, cleaning, doing laundry, shaving and stretching are great moments to cram some content since those are the kinds of activities that do not require that much attention, but still need to get done. I definitely recommend enjoying your food instead of watching something. In my case adding a 30min talk during lunch breaks that I would be eating alone anyway does stack up throughout the year.

Please remember, all these values are approximations as some talks got canceled, others got added and not everything (like round tables) is available online. Also they vary wildly in time, some go a couple minutes over, a few end with 10min to spare.

Here is a breakdown according to my GDC 2017 Pocket Guide:

           Talks       Hours
Monday    53 / 110  35,5 /  79,5
Tuesday   54 / 154  40,5 / 117,0
Wednesday 48 / 179  39,0 / 164,0
Thursday  44 / 182  36,5 / 159,0
Friday    18 /  95  16,0 /  85,0

Totals:  217 / 720  167,5 / 604,5
//        (27,7%)      (30,1%)

In a nutshell: I watched about a quarter of the convention while consuming about a third of its content.

Anything that sounded interesting I would give it a try. After so many talks I got pretty good at deciding which ones were worth going all the way, and which ones I should cut early. If a talk hasn't "picked up" in the first 5min, it hardly will.

And what did I learn then, you ask? Lot's of things, but there is one point that really sticks out. And guess what? It has nothing to do with games. It has to do with working together, being creative, leveraging your colleagues strengths while compensating your weaknesses. You know what it is deep inside, you have always known: Communication!

And not just how effective you are at communicating with your direct co-workers. This encompasses every kind of communication. Including how you communicate with your players! A bad development hick can be smoothed out with proper communication with your player base. The opposite though is not true, this is a one way road. Bad communication will not make a good feature great.

How you communicate with your co-workers, with your team, with your investors, publishers and your customers, even how your company communicates with you! All of that matters, and it matters a lot. Every single job posting out there asks for "great communication skills". Yet, it doesn't seem like we are getting much better at it. Why? I don't know. But my current theory is that we are not caring enough about it.

In general we understand the importance of communication, yet we spend hours and years getting better at our "hard skills" (like programming, designing, drawing, etc...) but not nearly enough into our MOST important skill, communicating! After diving some more into communication issues all the sources I found seem to agree in one thing: The very first step into communicating better, is to listen.

Jesse Schell GDC talk from 2015 gives a great introduction to the issue: Game Studio Management: Making It Great

According to him difficult conversations are things you want to say to someone, but you don't really want to say for a myriad of reasons. Any difficult conversation is a massive information block. His advice is to, instead of dumping a bunch of "dos and don'ts", say something on the lines of "I feel this way about X, and I want to understand your point of view". This way you can maximize listening.

So, to all my fellow developers and human beings out there, I ask you only one thing: Communicate better.

Thank you very much!

May 2018 bring you great adventures.


PS: Here are my GDC 207 Talk recommendations:

  1. 'Guild Wars' Microservices and 24/7 Uptime
  2. A Crash Course in Business and Leadership for Indie Game CEO's and GM's 
  3. Animating an Agent of Mayhem 
  4. Audio Bootcamp XVI: Fighting Legos: Audio Choreography for Battle Design 
  5. Awesome Video Game Data 2017 
  6. Balancing 'League of Legends' for Every Player, from Bronze to Bengi 
  7. Butterscotch Shenanigans: From Early Failures to Cross-Platform Success 
  8. Everything I Said Was Wrong: Why Indie Is Different Now 
  9. Fade to Black? Writing and Designing Sex Scenes in Games 
  10. Flame Retardant AI: Stopping AI Fires Before They Ignite 
  11. From Indie to 'Fable' & Back Again: 30 Years of "Wisdom" 
  12. Game Studio Leadership: You Can Do It 
  13. Lean Live Ops: Free Your Devs! 
  14. Math for Game Programmers: Noise-Based RNG 
  15. More "I", Less "A" in AI Interviews 
  16. Practical Contract Law 201 for Indie Developers: Moderately Scary Edition 
  17. Prototyping Your Monetization: Evaluating Monetization Potential Early 
  18. Still Logged In: What AR and VR Can Learn from MMOs 
  19. STOP SHOUTING! Collaboration Through Candid Conversation 
  20. Storytelling Tools to Boost Your Indie Game's Narrative and Gameplay 
  21. Strategic Design Or: Why 'Dark Souls' is the Ikea of Games 
  22. The Design of Time: Understanding Human Attention and Economies of Engag...
  23. The Freedom Fallacy: Understanding "Player Autonomy" in Game Design 
  24. The Last Game I Make Before I Die: The 'Crashlands' Postmortem 
  25. Throwing Out the Dopamine Shots: Reward Psychology Without the Neurotrash
  26. Trolls: The Cost of Doing Nothing 
  27. Turing Tantrums: AI Devs Rant!! 
  28. Unpopular Opinion: All Narrative is Linear

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