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Talking Heads: NZGDA, 25 April 2016

My first time: GDC

This year I was lucky enough to attend the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco – an absolutely incredible experience. This post is an adaption from my original article posted on gaming industry site Gamasutra, reflecting on my first impressions of GDC and offering a little advice for others planning to attend in future.

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. This year we had the biggest group of Kiwi’s attending the event ever, over 80, thanks to an amazing push for sponsorship by the NZGDA and some travel grant support from the NZ Film Commission.

How would I describe GDC to someone who has never been before?
The Game Developers Conference (GDC) is the largest industry gathering of video game developers in the world, with over 30,000 people meeting in San Francisco in March each year.  

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.

Game Developers are awesome
If there is one thing that I can take away from GDC, it is just how amazing game developers are – being so ready and willing to communicate, share and just generally be friendly to one another.

A few encounters that stuck with me after GDC would be:

Randomly bumping into one of the developers from the game 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 from a flower shop there. 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.

The IGDA Romance and Sexuality Roundtable with Kathrin Weekes that I was really excited to attend 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.

It is these small encounters which go to show just how connected the games industry is, with conversations 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.


On the business side of things, the NZ Game Developers Association surveyed the studios attending and it was clear some significant deals were being negotiated.  

These include deals with leading interactive publishers and platform-owners such as Valve Software, Microsoft/Xbox, Google/Android, Rovio (makers of Angry Birds) and PlayStation.  Several film and TV media companies are also talking with New Zealand games studios, showing that cross platform IP strategies are still important for NZ’s international screen clientele.

There are clearly opportunities to bring larger international productions to New Zealand, with outsourcing discussions held with large US, Canadian and South American studios.

Virtual Reality is the hottest trend in game development at the moment, and several competing technologies are emerging. Getting access to these early and ideally riding a launch wave can be critical. Several New Zealand studios got prized access to the ‘development kits’ for the upcoming Playstation VR and HTC Vive as a result of meetings at GDC.

Advice for First Timers
I was overwhelmed by the scale of the conference and the sheer amount of talks that were happening. With over 30,000 delegates, 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. There were also a few talks by Kiwi’s, one of my favourite’s was Partick Corrieri’s presentation about his hit game Poly Bridge and social media integration.

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 Artificial Intelligence talks. 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.

Try the diversity talks. GDC talks are about games, not only about the making of games. Every diversity talk I attended was a highlight. They challenge perspectives and make us think more deeply about games.  Diversity in games starts with diverse developers and the choices we make.  It is so encouraging to see such a push for diversity and incredible support from the industry as a whole. It was also wonderful to see fellow New Zealand student and NZGDA Board Member Farah Khalaf talk on a panel with industry leaders about the representation of Muslims in video games.

With all of the talks at hand, it can be easy to forget one of the most wonderful parts of GDC, the Expo floor. Initially I dedicated about an hour for the Expo before heading to one of my talks – leading to me completely losing track of time and wandering the Expo for four hours. I got 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.

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 and it’s important that Kiwis are amongst them.

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