My GDC Europe experience 2016

Last week i attended GDC Europe, a conference for game developers.
This was my first GDC, but not my first developers conference, I’ve been to quite a few over the years, and I’ve even spoken at some.

Today I want to post a few words on my GDC experience.

Lets start with a quick look at the sessions that i did attend to:

Vulkan: Games Benefit from Khronos’ Explicit Graphics & Compute API

This was the first session I visited, and I was kinda expecting it to be out of my comfort zone, as this kind of API is quite far from what i usually do.
However, within the hour I didn’t learn much new – it felt like most of what they where talking about I could read on the Vulkan website with just 5 to 10 minutes time.

Github: Managing Your Large Files with Git LFS

This session was one of the few which was what I expected from it. A well done presentation of a rather unknown feature, including all information required to get started with githubs implementation of Git LFS. I wish more sessions would have been like this.

Stop Shooting Yourself in the Foot: 10 Elusive Secrets to Avoid Complete Commercial Failure

I kinda expected this one to be on the “Lessons Learned”-Side of presentations, presented with a bit of humor, but it ended up with the Speaker (Venture Capital Guy) talking mostly about mistakes that startup studios do when approaching his company.
The talk wasn’t exactly bad – but I felt it didn’t offer much to the audience of a conference where mostly already established companies send their people – most certainly it didn’t offer anything for me as someone who is working for an established publisher.

8 Keys to a Long Career in Games

So, I didn’t even look at who presents this, till I was sitting in the talk – turns out it was Don Daglow – an absolute veteran of the industry, who worked on games that I played in my childhood in the 80s and 90s.
Now for the talk itself, I didn’t feel like i learned something new, but I think it reminded me of some of the things why i like my job so much.
This session very much had a keynote character to me, and I feel it should have been the opening presentation.

Data and Insights in the VR Market

Not much to say about this one, they presented “hard” data on VR usage and where the VR market is at the moment, together with a few projections on where it will go. A lot of what was said seemed to confirm my own opinions about VR, so that was interesting, but I was a bit annoyed by the focus on the US-American market (by numbers and examples), as I think that for the GDC Europe the european Market or International Numbers carry more relevance.

Take the Lead: Lessons Learned During My Transition from Expert to Manager

This was a talk that I was very interested in, the presenter who works for Ubisoft spoke about her transition from a pure dev role to a team lead role. Sadly the timeslot was too short. At the end of the presentation she talked about a few things that happend and how she handled those, and I personally felt those where quite valuable lessons, of which I would have loved to hear more.

‘Project Discovery’: How Citizen Science Got into ‘EVE Online’

There was basically two reasons for me to go into this session: there was no other session that seemed interesting to me, and I’m an EVE Player for over 10 years now.
The talk however turned out to be better than I expected, as they (the CCP guys) had brought someone from Massively Multiplayer Online Science along, so there was a chance to make an interesting new contact. Besides that the talk provided some interesting information about the usage of a pretty innovative feature.

The Early Days of id Software: Programming Principles

Done by John Romero this was a fantastic talk – having someone, who was a hero to me in my youth speak about how the games that I used to play came to be, and by that explaining principles of how to work on games was great. In the Q&A session there already came a few good questions to some of the principles, as some of them probably won’t work for every Team (for example the no Prototyping one), but all in all this talk would also qualify as Keynote material, and if you are starting gamedev and decide to get gdc vault access, you definately want to watch this one.

No Text, No Tutorial: Fully Embracing Human-Centered Design in VR

I had a few issues with this talk, as the presenter had this way of talking extremly fast with very little breaks to think about what was said – I had to fight drifting away in my thoughts, to not zone out, as when people talk this way my brain starts pushing it into the background (that might be a ME problem, as in the Q&A at the end quite a few people where saying how much they liked the presentation). That the animations that she had embedded in her presentation where looping didn’t make better, as for me it was hard to tell when something i was supposed to look at was done.
Now you might have noticed that I haven’t lost any word on the content yet – I think I’m not in a position to judge the content, I’m not a UX designer, which means I might simply lack the training to get to the right conclusions, but to me some of the things talked about seemed a lot more case specific to the project the presenter was talking about, than to VR games in general.

Shrinking Data for Fun & Profit

Also a good talk, I ended up learning a bit about compression for games, where there are a few differences to what I’ve been using compression for in my pre-gaming-industry life. I’d say this session qualifies for the same “was what I expected from it”-Badge that I’d give to the github one.

The event itself

I personally enjoyed the GDC, but there is a hand full of issues that I feel I have to mention before I get to my conclusion

  • The searches of my backpack where annoying, something that got worse by them putting the toilettes on the entrance floor on the outside of the “safe zone”, as well as the places where you could smoke/vape – in two days, my backpack was searched 11 times. I sometimes carry a knife (as a tool) in my backpack, obviously not on Events like this, but i noticed that within 11 searches, not once they looked into the bags pocket in which I usually would have had the knife.
  • the short breaks between sessions, especially with some sessions offset to others, and with some speakers overunning made it unpleasant, and hard to talk to people which is also my next point
  • the GDC seemed to cater very little to networking – there was no evening program by the GDC (there was by the Respawn – another dev conference – and people with a GDC pass could go there, but that was some information that wasn’t communicated well), and no seating arrangement that would have provoked sitting together.
  • The food. For the price of the ticket, they should have been able to have a bit more of a selection.

Conclusion

My 832 € Ticket (early bird price) was paid by my employer, as i couldn’t and wouldnt have spend that much money for two days out of my own pocket, and looking at the overal experience, I’m not sure it was worth it (for my employer).

The talks had limited learning value, thus making the case for it as a learning experience is tough.
The networking possibilities where limited, so I wouldn’t say that made it worth it either.

So I don’t think it was worth it from a pure business standpoint.

However that said: I did enjoy the GDC, I made an effort to talk to people despite having only short windows of time to do so, and I found a few things to think about afterwards – so there is some bonus points where the company having let me go there might profit from this being seen (by myself) as a great contribution to my employee-happyness – does that mean they should send me again? I don’t know.

regards,
PP

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