Originally Published on Gamasutra: 04/04/2016

This year I was lucky enough to attend the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. This was a very exciting trip for me, as it was my first time at GDC and I had an absolutely incredible time at the conference. This post is an extract from my GDC Diary. I wanted to share a condensed version of this with Gamasutra and talk about my first impressions of GDC, thoughts and reflection on  the event and a little advice for others planning on attending for the first time.

I was fortunate enough to be awarded my GDC pass by the New Zealand Game Developers Association, so firstly I would like to thank them for the opportunity to have all of these amazing experiences. Next year, I hope to see even more passionate people, people who are ready to try everything the conference has to offer, people who don’t shy away from climbing out of their comfort zone and going on an adventure. This has truly been a valuable experience for me and I would consider it an essential event for bringing more business and opportunity to New Zealand

 

San Francisco

San Francisco is a beautiful city, but if I could describe it in a single word it would be juxtaposed. The city is a strange place of new on top of old, beautiful frescos covered in neon lighting, Irish pubs in Little Italy that made the best Indian food, high end department stores and a lot of homeless people.When I arrived, I was warned of the serious homeless problem that the city faced. I was warned to avoid sporting any tech industry paraphernalia because many people, in fact, blame the rise of the tech industry and Silicon Valley for the rise in housing prices and the displacement of some of the city’s poorer people. With that said, I would have to say that people in San Francisco are some of the friendliest I have ever met, a little eccentric and rather boisterous. People were extremely polite and very easy to strike a conversation with. If you’re heading to GDC, go a few days earlier – the city of San Francisco is one worth exploring.

So many talks

The first day was really exciting – I was overwhelmed by the scale of the conference and the sheer amount of talks that were happening. The Moscone Conference center is absolutely huge and every room is filled with an interesting talk, it is impossible to decide between all of them. Fortunately, with a conference pass you also get access to the GDC vault, which lets you catch up on the talks you may have missed.

Go to a talk that is not in your field of expertise

A few talks I went to were a little out of my comfort zone, particularly the few AI talks I opted to attend. I would recommend anyone going to GDC to try going to a talk they normally wouldn’t, something that is not their primary job or interest. It was wonderful to gain a deeper understanding of AI functions; even though I only do little programming, it was still highly educational and would argue that it has improved my ability to understand and communicate with the programmers in our team. The VR talks I attended made me more passionate about testing out VR in our next game and considering things that could offer players completely new experiences outside of the game. I felt as though I could take something new away from every talk at GDC, especially those that were outside my area of experience. It is always worthwhile to try something new.

Try the diversity talks

I only attended a few diversity talks at GDC and everyone of them was a highlight. These talks challenge perspective, they make us think more deeply about games and consider things about developers we may not have considered before. Try it – diversity in games start with diverse developers; challenge yourself to think about these things.  It is so encouraging to see such a push for diversity and incredible support from the industry as a whole. Some highlights included:

  • Renee Nejo’s talk about Shame and Vulnerability – She discussed her experience as a minority game developer and how she used video games to help her better identify with her Native American heritage.
  • Farah Khalaf and Rami Ismail’s talk about the representation of Muslims in video games. It was certainly something to consider and I am glad I went, it made me more conscious of my own perceptions of Muslims in games.
  • IGDA Romance and Sexuality SIG Roundtable – This was probably one of my favourite talks, it was totally improvised and the goal was to create a safe group for people to discuss issues around sex and sexuality within games.

Get out of your comfort zone

To reiterate my previous two headings, try something new and explore everything that GDC has to offer. It is a wonderful opportunity to try something new and explore and while it is great to travel with a group of friends and people you know, don’t just stick to the people you know. GDC attracts some of the most talented game developers in the world, but you will never get the chance to meet them if you’re not putting yourself out there. You cannot get bored at GDC and anyone who claims that a party or event there is “boring”, “not worth going to” or “not their kind of thing”, in my own opinion, is missing out.

Dedicate a set of time for the Expo

With all of the talks at hand, it can be easy to forget or dismiss one of the most wonderful parts of GDC, the Expo. Initially, I dedicated about an hour or so for the Expo before heading to one of my talks – leading to me completely losing track of time, wandering the Expo for 4 hours. There is just so much to see; the Google booth was a great place to relax, the Epic booth had a VR party going and Allegorithmic had a load of cool Substance painter/designer displays. I ended up getting lost in the PlayStation and Xbox booths, playing a variety of unreleased games. You could literally spend the full week in the Expo and Careers Centre and not get bored.

There are a LOT of parties

Hopefully you have unlocked the ‘Lead Belly’ and ‘Party Boy’ perk, because there is a lot of fun to be had in this regard. Alcohol is an excellent social lubricant and a lot of the networking at GDC is done at the bar. Hopefully, you can hold your booze well enough to still do the networking stuff, otherwise I would recommend not drinking too much. There is still an expectation to be able to have fun and talk professionally about yourself and game development. You will also need a lot of stamina, with some of the most interesting people I met crossing my path near the end of the night as things were closing. If you can, try and stay out until the end of the night – going back to your hotel early in the evening is not something I would recommend. While I know that this sort of behaviour isn’t the norm for everybody, try just hanging out and having a good time, because you never know the next interesting person you will meet.

Game Developers are awesome

If there is one thing that I can take away from GDC, it is just how amazing game developers are – we really are a cool bunch, being so ready and willing to communicate, share and just generally be friendly to one another. Here are a few accounts of encounters that stuck with me after GDC:

Randomly bumping into one of the developers from Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. We ended up just having lunch together and I got to hear that the idea for the game originally came from one of my favourite TV shows.

The GDC flower game – some friends had bought a whole bunch of poppy seeds. Poppies are a seasonal plant, with the goal of the game being to plant a few seeds somewhere at random around the conference, then pass on the bag and ask another person to do the same. The goal was to return to GDC in a year and hopefully see a bunch of poppies growing everywhere.

Unfortunately, the IGDA Romance and Sexuality SIG Roundtable I was really excited to attend with Kathrin Weekes was full, however Michelle Clough and Patrick Weekes held an impromptu meeting outside in the hall of the conference. It was a wonderful opportunity to discuss the issues that some people had with the representation of gender, homosexual, transexual, polyamourous people etc. I enjoyed hearing about other people’s views and enjoy having my own perceptions changed a bit. I even got the chance to speak to Patrick Weekes about his writing and character choices and design, ending up passing on the flower seeds to him.

Something like GDC reminds us just how connected the games industry is, with conversations just in passing that make me so excited about game development as a career. We have an industry filled with exceptionally talented, kind and inspirational individuals.

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How would I describe GDC to someone who has not yet attended?
I wanted to end this post on the answers I put on my feedback from for GDC. GDC is a crazy week full of information, it is not very hard to find something fun or fascinating. It is impossible to get bored during that week and I would recommend wearing comfortable shoes.

The best thing about GDC is not the expo or the talks though, it is having the incredible collection of game developers, which these events draw, under one roof. I had the opportunity to talk to amazing people I never thought I would. I got to catch up with old friends and make some new ones; the people that GDC draws in are some of the best in the world.

I would simply describe GDC as an adventure. If you’re going to GDC it is great to wander around alone for a while and see what you find, I guarantee it will always be someone or something interesting.

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