My First GDC

GDC at Night

I returned home from the Game Developers Conference (GDC) nearly a week ago, but I feel like it has taken me this long to be able to recover from the late nights, the jetlag, the cold I caught, and put things into perspective. I thought I’d share a summary of my experience there, for those who are thinking of maybe going next year.

Executive Summary: SO AWESOME!!!

GDC is held every year in San Francisco. I’ve been in the games industry for over 6 years now, but this was my first time at the conference, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I managed to get an All Access Pass to the conference, so I was there for the summits and tutorials, as well as the main conference.

Let me back up a little and talk about my reasoning for going, as that will help you understand why the conference was so valuable to me. At the beginning of the year I started thinking about what conferences I wanted to attend. 360iDev was a must-attend for me, so I booked that first. However, I was torn between attending WWDC (Apple’s big annual conference) or GDC. I attended WWDC last year and it was great. But this year I felt like what I really needed was general game design inspiration, and less Apple-specific technical inspiration. With that in mind, I chose GDC. My goal for the conference was to focus mainly on game design sessions and take in a few technical and business sessions.

So, I arrived in San Francisco Monday, March 8th, the day before the Summits started. I managed to meet up with a bunch of iPhone devs I know from Toronto, other conferences, or Twitter. We had a few beers and tried to adjust to west coast time. It was a good way to ease myself into the week.

Tuesday and Wednesday were the Summit & Tutorial days at GDC. There were two summits I was interested in: the iPhone Summit, and the Independent Games Summit (IGS). I think I spent about 60% of my time at the IGS and about 40% at the iPhone Summit. I saw some great technical iPhone talks by Noel Llopis from SnappyTouch and Phil Hassey from Galcon. I also saw some great IGS talks that ranged in topic from managing an independent game studio’s creative process, to how to better design indie games. I saw a session by Ron Carmel from 2D Boy, several awesome sessions by the people at thatgamecompany (Flower is one of my favourite games), and a terrific session by Randy Smith from Tiger Style (among so many others!). By the end of the Summits, my head was already spinning with inspiration. The IGS design talks in particular were extremely motivating for me. Getting a chance to meet and hear amazing indie game designers/developers talk about their processes was fantastic. It started me thinking about a lot of things as they relate to my own processes. More on that later…

GDC Expo

A tiny segment of the massive GDC Expo

IGF Awards

The IGF Awards

Thursday through Saturday were the main conference, expo, and Independent Games Festival Awards. I sat in session after amazing session listening to industry leaders in game design, technical development, and business talk about their processes. I saw Peter Molyneux talk, Sid Meier talk, and even Will Wright talk. I saw a moving and inspirational talk by Brenda Brathwaite on her exploration into board games with serious themes. I saw a head-ache inducing (in a good way!) talk on PixelJunk Shooter’s real-time fluid dynamics system that made me really miss doing PS3 SPU programming. I saw an in-depth and honest look a the successes and problems encountered by Naughty Dog’s attempts to create an active cinematic experience for Uncharted 2. I was blown away by the quality of the content, and I was left reeling by how the talks started forcing me to think about the direction I want to take with my own games.


There were huge crowds in the halls between sessions!

But of course, the sessions are only part of GDC. The other part comes from meetings and parties. I was able to set up a few meetings with iPhone press to show them my new game. That was really great to be able to demo the game in person. I think it was extremely valuable. Then each night there were countless parties happening. Each party was a great chance to meet people in person who I’ve only communicated with on twitter or via email. It was a chance to discuss iPhone development with other people going through the same thing as me. It was a chance to discuss game design in general with other game designers and developers. It was a chance to have fun with people who share in the same daily challenges that I do.

Will Wright

Will Wright giving his presentation!

For me, I got out of GDC exactly what I wanted: design inspiration, new friends, new business connections and a wealth of knowledge. But perhaps most importantly, GDC helped me to put me back on track with where I want to take my games. When I decided to go indie in 2008, it was because I wanted to make the games that I was compelled to make. What I’ve noticed is that I’ve been making more and more design decisions lately based on what I think will sell well. This isn’t how I want to make games. I want to make the games that I have to make, not that I think I should make because I think it might make some money, even though the idea doesn’t excite me. Granted, I would love to be able to make the games that I feel compelled to make and have them also become a financial success. And obviously I can’t ignore the fact that I’m running a business. But GDC helped to remind me of what I want my priorities to be, and that, to me, is the most important part of having gone.