I’ve always been a fan of GDC. When I was younger, the amount of information people were willing to share blew me away; as a learning addict, it fed that desire in astonishing ways. I still love the conference, but for different reasons now that I already know about most of the things people are talking about. Here are some of my impressions, in no particular order.
- The format continues to evolve. This year, there were a lot more roundtables, maybe as much as twice as many. There were also fewer sessions, with the Friday afternoon schedule, in particular, having been cut back, probably to allow people to fly out that night. The summits and tutorials section has expanded a lot; next year, I may have to spend the entire week in SF. The upshot for me, doing business as well as going to sessions, is that the Vault subscription that comes with being a speaker is going to be a life-saver.
- No one knows where the business is going. I talked to a lot of people about the big picture, as I usually do. In previous years, there have been clear trends – the rise of free-to-play, the explosion of social games, the move to mobile – but not this year. Everyone recognizes the problems, but there were no clear solutions. If you haven’t seen Greg Costikyan’s rant yet, go read it now. It’s a grim picture, but frighteningly accurate.
- Diversity remains an issue. Several talks, even entire roundtables, were dedicated to issues around diversity – gender, race, and sexual orientation in particular. While some people took this as a sign that we’re turning a corner, I have a more cynical view. We wouldn’t need to be putting so much energy into this if it weren’t such a glaring problem. It will take years to make progress on this. We are still in the early days.
- The people are more important than the programming. In spite of my years of experience with this conference, my hit rate for sessions was still about 50% (half of them gave real value). On the flip side, every time I got together with people outside of the sessions, I learned things, had great conversations, and got great value for my time. This year, in particular, I had a great time talking to a couple of folks who were involved with the very early years of the industry; it was a blast just listening to their stories.
- Expectations can lead to disappointment. Much like you are more likely to be disappointed by a movie if your friends have been talking it up for a while as the best thing, so with sessions. Soren Johnson’s talk on transparency in games brought this home to me this year. There wasn’t a lot wrong with it (I can quibble, but that’s always true), but it just didn’t hold a candle to the awesomeness that was his talk on Civilization IV. I was surprised by how many people were enthusiastic about it, but it turned out that a lot of that was just being grateful for a talk that was in-depth about game dynamics; that says something distressing about the quality of programming in the game design track.
That’s it for now. I’ll definitely be back next year, if I can. GDC remains one of my favorite things to do, in spite of any issues.