Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Initial thoughts about my first GDC

So here I am, post-GDC, from my point-of-view (I was only there for two days), reflecting on what I thought of my first ever trip there. I made a deliberate decision to only spend two days there, to attend the indie talks, meet some people, and then combine the trip with a short holiday, so I’m in a hotel room typing this up. If GDC has erupted into major scandal, I have no idea, so imagine this was written yesterday :D

First up, I met some really cool people at GDC. Finally met Ichiro, Andy and Keith, and many other people whose names I know well but have never seen in real life. Dave Gilbert, James C Smith, Russel, too many to mention frankly. That side of things was really cool. I also attended quite a few talks, some of which were awesome, some of which were rambling incoherent waffle, but on the whole the good outweighed the bad.
Do I think attending GDC was worth it? For me, I’d say yes, mostly on a personal and inspirational note. Was it worth it in terms of making a business case for me going? Maybe.

To answer the hypothetical question ‘is it worth attending GDC’ question, takes a lot of thought. On the the one hand, you hear some great talks and meet a lot of people, on the other hand, those talks get posted online, and everyone has email and skype anyway. On balance, I’d say the decision to go is based on a combination of money and personality.

Attending GDC for me is relatively expensive. It involves a return transatlantic plane trip, and a long UK car journey, airport parking, a hotel in san francisco and general expenses, plus obviously the GDC ticket. How much you can cut that cost down (easy if you live in the US), and how much cash you have to spend on this sort of thing is a huge factor. Is it worth more to you than the same spend on middleware licenses, advertising placements or contracted art/music? Maybe, maybe not.
The second factor is personality. GDC seems to be perfect for those charismatic young indies brimming with american confidence and the ability to go up to strangers, shake hands and say ‘I’m joe and this is my game!’. That is not me. I am sometimes very loud and shouty and full of enthusiasm in groups of people. I am sometimes quiet, shy and very serious, even miserable. I don’t get to choose how those times line up. I wouldn’t bet my career on winning people over with my charm on some fixed date.
A lot of indies talk very confidently about how advertising for indies is useless, and the way to get your name out there is to attend PAX and GDC and E3 and lots of shows I don’t even know, and meet people and go to parties. Most of the time you hear people talk about the benefits of shows is when they are talking about it at shows. In other words, this is a very self-selecting group. It’s only half of the story.
I know indies that have earned over a million dollars and never met another indie developer. These people exist, but you won’t (by definition) hear them talk at shows.
So in conclusion… GDC is great as a self promotion and networking tool for a certain personality type. If that’s you, then cool. But don’t panic if you are an introvert, and all this shaking hands sounds awful. There is another side to the coin, and you can do well without becoming a ‘face’ on the indie circuit. Will I go next year? I think maybe I will. I’m not sure. As usual, my ever-so-helpful answer is ‘it depends’.

2 thoughts on Initial thoughts about my first GDC

  1. Aside from the bit about living in the U.K., you just described me and my experience perfectly. I’ve met maybe five people in four days, because I’m utterly terrible at initiating conversations. GDC always feels really inspiring, but I always wonder too if I really got anything actionable out of it or if it was just a holiday disguised as work.

    It’s good to know indies can be successful without having to become famous extroverts, though, as that’s pretty much exactly my path right now.

  2. Hi,

    this was my first GDC, also. I’ve been in and out the game development industry for the last 17 years and my main focus currently is outside the industry. Even though I’m quite shy of a person (it takes me a lot of courage to head to someone, even if I already talked to him through mails or other online premises), I’ve attended quite some events (i.e. different E3s).

    What strikes me most with those events is that they’re quite “self-centric”. While I really enjoy the talks and sessions (and even manage to head to the front to ask a question or two), approaching people outside the talks is “difficult”. Most people try to quickly determine how you can help them on their “journey”.

    It happened several times to me that when talking to people they ask me “And what are you working on?”. And when I reply “Well… you know… I’m currently outside the gaming industry because that pays my bills and my employee…”, they turn away and lose their interest for you. Even if you have a lot of experience inside the industry, if you’re not in it, you’re out…

    And that’s a shame. Because a) it gives the impression that any other business is crap and b) it shows that most game developers (not all) are quite egocentric.

    That said, I met a couple of old colleagues, had a chat with them and a good time.

    Will I attend the GDC another time? I’m not sure… because this superficial behavior is something I really don’t like. People are interesting even if they’re currently not in “the business”…

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