conferences games industry

Why I’m not going to GDC 2011

I just got two more emails about GDC attendance, and had to apologise that I won’t be there. Hopefully, this post will head off some of the rest.

Disclaimer: for the past 4 or 5 years, I’ve run one of the main calendars of unofficial GDC events. Every night of the conference, I’ve had invites to at least 3 parties, usually 5 or 6. This year, I’m not going, so I’m not bothering with the calendar – sorry, it’s a lot of time and effort (I used to personally check every single event + time + location), and if I’m not at the conference, there’s no point in me doing it.

Instead, I’ll be running my company. I wish I could justify going to San Francisco for GDC, but I need to focus my efforts on making sure we don’t slip up…

Generally, I don’t go to games-industry conferences unless I’m speaking (I used to go to many of them as a delegate). At my level of experience (technical director / studio head) it isn’t worth it. It may be worth going for the non-conference parts, but it’s not worth paying for the show itself. In the last 4 years, I can only remember learning one significant thing by attending a conference session – courtesy of David Edery (who was a fellow panellist at LOGIN/ION – so, incidentally, I was speaking on that occasion too).

I made the decision about a year ago that I wouldn’t go back to GDC until/unless I was invited to speak. I love GDC. I love being there, and I love meeting all the wondeful people there (and catching up with old friends). But … I decided I would no longer put effort into pitching a proposal to them – if they didn’t ask me in, either my work was no longer interesting enough to the community OR it was interesting but not relevant enough / not proven enough to justify me pontificating at my peers.

Historically, the above statement is often proven false: games industry conferences treat most of the speakers so poorly that rarely do they attract (or retain) the best speakers – it’s “buy em cheap, pile em high”. They tend (NB: this is not exclusive – they do lots of good too!) to attract the famous speakers (by showering them with accolades and free publicity), and retain the speakers who are about to launch a new game, and who need the free press. The truly important people? The influencers? Meh. Sometimes, but often not. Often, the really useful stuff at GDC is stated only when drunk, and at parties. Which are free to attend…

However, I felt it was a good metric: the few who *do* get chased-down by organizers to speak always (IME) “ought” to be speaking – the organizers know lots of the right people, and chase them assiduously. Although … sadly, the chase-ees often give mediocre talks, probably because they didn’t care enough … because they were cajoled into speaking, rather than choosing to.

(In my experience, volunteers who are doing something because you tricked them into it generally give little; those who do it out of personal interest / engagement tend to blow the roof off.)

Ironic and tragic.

But, yet – a great way to test (effortlessly) if your areas of interest are of great importance, or if you’re imperceptibly turning into Chris Crawford (founder of the original CGDC, which became GDC), and have gone off on a tangent THAT NO-ONE CARES ABOUT.

This year, thanks to the urging of two people on the advisory board(s), I put in some proposals anyway. In all honesty, I was too busy with work, and servicing clients, to notice the deadlines coming and going, so it was all done last-minute. My proposals sucked. The main one, though, was (IMHO) clearly important and worthwhile – rough around the edges, but I cited *3 years* of R&D behind it (even if I didn’t have time to write it all out in detail).

(NB: c.f. my previous statement about Crawford-ism: I can only tell you what *I* believe, I can’t fairly judge how important / irrelevant this stuff is to the rest of the industry)

The main one (on entity systems) was rejected silently, the second one (on mobile / iPhone) I didn’t get time to finish. Laughably, it was judged anyway – I heard on the grapevine that the judges thought it was a crap proposal. Well, duh – I only filled in the the title and a few aides-memoire on the rest of it – I ran out of time before I’d even decided what I wanted to say. But the process (apparently) auto-submitted my empty proposal anyway. Sigh. That implies to me that a lot of games-industry speakers only put a half-arsed effort into their talks – otherwise, the system would just auto-ignore the incomplete entries.

Anyway … if you do go to GDC, please have a great time. And if you’re not sure what to do, short-cut the few years it took me to work it out – go read Darius’s blogposts on newbies and games-industry conferences … I wish I’d known his tips before I first went to GDC!

3 replies on “Why I’m not going to GDC 2011”

You’ll be sorely missed this year. But you’re right, conferences are a different beast when you’re experienced. I wouldn’t even consider myself all THAT experiences except in my own super-niche skillset, but I skip almost all the talks at almost all conferences.

Joe Ludwig wrote about this a bit more than year ago (good discussion in comments too):

Wow, a post that’s tangentially related to games instead of just being a rant about some poor customer service? I didn’t think this blog did that anymore.

Good thing you managed to fit in how they’re not good enough to accept you, or there wouldn’t have been the necessary levels of condescension.

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