Veteran developer Cliff Harris offers initial thoughts about his first-ever trip to the Game Developers Conference

Cliffski’s first GDC and what’s in it for you

[Cliff Harris is a 43 year old game designer and programmer from the UK. He has worked as a game programmer for Elixir Studios, and then as an AI programmer at Lionhead where he worked on ‘The Movies’. For the last few years, he has worked from home for his own one man company – Positech Games, making strategy and simulation games.

This article was originally published on Cliffski’s blog, which can be found here.]
So here I am, post-GDC, from my point-of-view (I was only there for two days), reflecting on what I thought of my first ever trip there. I made a deliberate decision to only spend two days there, to attend the indie talks, meet some people, and then combine the trip with a short holiday, so I’m in a hotel room typing this up. If GDC has erupted into major scandal, I have no idea, so imagine this was written yesterday 😀

First up, I met some really cool people at GDC. Finally met Ichiro, Andy and Keith, and many other people whose names I know well but have never seen in real life. Dave Gilbert, James C Smith, Russel, too many to mention frankly. That side of things was really cool. I also attended quite a few talks, some of which were awesome, some of which were rambling incoherent waffle, but on the whole the good outweighed the bad.

Do I think attending GDC was worth it? For me, I’d say yes, mostly on a personal and inspirational note. Was it worth it in terms of making a business case for me going? Maybe.

To answer the hypothetical question ‘is it worth attending GDC’ question, takes a lot of thought. On the the one hand, you hear some great talks and meet a lot of people, on the other hand, those talks get posted online, and everyone has email and Skype anyway. On balance, I’d say the decision to go is based on a combination of money and personality.

Attending GDC for me is relatively expensive. It involves a return transatlantic plane trip, and a long UK car journey, airport parking, a hotel in san francisco and general expenses, plus obviously the GDC ticket. 

How much you can cut that cost down (easy if you live in the US), and how much cash you have to spend on this sort of thing is a huge factor. Is it worth more to you than the same spend on middleware licenses, advertising placements or contracted art/music? Maybe, maybe not.

The second factor is personality. GDC seems to be perfect for those charismatic young indies brimming with american confidence and the ability to go up to strangers, shake hands and say ‘I’m joe and this is my game!’.

That is not me. I am sometimes very loud and shouty and full of enthusiasm in groups of people. I am sometimes quiet, shy and very serious, even miserable. I don’t get to choose how those times line up. I wouldn’t bet my career on winning people over with my charm on some fixed date.

A lot of indies talk very confidently about how advertising for indies is useless, and the way to get your name out there is to attend PAX and GDC and E3 and lots of shows I don’t even know, and meet people and go to parties. Most of the time you hear people talk about the benefits of shows is when they are talking about it at shows. In other words, this is a very self-selecting group. It’s only half of the story.

I know indies that have earned over a million dollars and never met another indie developer. These people exist, but you won’t (by definition) hear them talk at shows.

So in conclusion… GDC is great as a self promotion and networking tool for a certain personality type. If that’s you, then cool. But don’t panic if you are an introvert, and all this shaking hands sounds awful.

There is another side to the coin, and you can do well without becoming a ‘face’ on the indie circuit. Will I go next year? I think maybe I will. I’m not sure. As usual, my ever-so-helpful answer is ‘it depends’.

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