It’s been almost two weeks, and I’m still not entirely sure how to process the con. It’s a blur of business cards, good conversation, game design, and arguing about Metagame cards. I spent most of the week with Chris Wright or Jack Monahan, esteemed gentlemen and cool people extraordinaire. Jack listened patiently to the current design for Solitary and completely dodged talking about his own project. Chris and I caught up with mutual friends and traded experiences of the con at the end of the day. Overall, a great experience, and I’ll be sure to attend next year.
The following is with the caveat that I’m a student, and though I call myself an indie game designer I haven’t shipped anything, so I’m not speaking from authority. When I say ‘you’, I mean ‘I’.
The insights I took from GDC:
There are many game designers, and I’m not really sure what they do.
I lost track of the amount of people I met who gave me cards with ‘Game Designer’ on them. Darius Kazemi has a good post about business cards, networking, and being memorable; a title like Game Designer doesn’t really say much about what you actually do or what your skills are. I had thought about collecting information with an eye to eventually having an actual team working on Solitary, but instead I found myself determined to develop it with as few people as possible just so I had something to show at conferences. When I initially moved to Vancouver, James Mouat was one of the first people I talked to who worked in the games industry. I asked him what a game designer actually does and the resulting conversation lasted two weeks. That’s two weeks I don’t have to pitch myself at a conference: I`m lucky to get two minutes.
Takeaway: Game credits aren’t standardized, so if you’re calling yourself a game designer, be prepared with an excellent elevator pitch about your job skills. Be working on something, even if you’re job hunting or just networking. For me, it made me determined to put myself above the crowd through the quality of my work.
It’s not who you know, but who interests you and is interested in you.
There’s a mercenary bent to networking in most people’s minds, it seems. During the weekly professional development seminar that I’m required to take at SFU as part of my MA, there was a session on networking at academic conferences. “I’ve read extensively about this in the games industry,” I thought. “This is something I actually know about!” I proceeded to raise my hand and hold forth about interesting business card design, the necessity of an online presence, being memorable and doing your research about the context that the conference is in. I promptly got shot down by the seminar leader, who proceeded to say he’d be happier if Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter all disappeared overnight.
To him, these services cheapen human interaction and make it easy to collect friends only to boost the counter on your profile. To an extent, he’s right – and that’s a terrible way to network. The people I remember most from the conference are interesting people, doing interesting things, and I had interesting conversations with them. The people who were particularly mercenary and usually jobhunting? They looked hungry, and didn’t have much to say other than to ask whether I was hiring for my volunteer hobby indie project. Needless to say, I wasn’t.
Takeaway: When you approach someone with the intent to get a job or just to pad your business card pile, they can tell, and they’ll remember you as the douche who made some cheap crack when he found out you weren’t a recruiter or connected with major players in the industry. Practice social skills and the art of conversation – it’ll probably pay off.
Swag is bullshit.
Outside the convention centre, there was a throng of hucksters pushing free t-shirts on passers-by. Gamify was particularly bad about this: by the end of the conference, the lab coat-wearing employees on the street wore restrained smiles. “They’re making me do this,” their expressions said. “I need the money.” I waved away their t-shirts probably more than ten times over the course of the week. THQ was running a Homefront promotion on the Wednesday the expo started, and that went fairly terribly for them despite handing out free tacos. At various networking events after the expo floor closed, I’d overhear people comparing notes on how many t-shirts they got that day. I can understand that attitude at PAX, where everyone’s a fan, but don’t developers have enough t-shirts? If anything, companies should be handing out button-ups.
Takeaway: It’s not a fan convention. Outside of the admittedly awesome Zombrex pen I got from the Capcom Vancouver booth, GDC isn’t about swag. It’s about meeting people and learning from your fellow developers.
There are so many people that want jobs in the game industry.
I’m gonna link this youtube video here:
There are about ten thousand people at GDC who want jobs worse than that robot, and they all have more experience and better connections than you. They’ve been trying to get into the game industry since they were seven years old; their mothers ground up 5.5” floppies and fed them BASIC code instead of milk. They want it bad.
Takeaway: You have to want it more and make better assets and games than them. Don’t be crap+1, as William Goldman says: be better than your heroes.
That’s where I am right now. See you next time!