My First GDC
Modojo staffer Ryan Morgan isn't jaded (yet). While many view GDC as a chore, to him, it was a wonderland of games, heroes, and plenty of free booze...
After years of being a gamer, 2007 officially marks my first year working in the video game industry; I'm lucky enough to not only write for Modojo but also work at a game development studio you've probably heard of. Being a newcomer, I was completely unprepared for the craziness that was GDC: a total immersion into the industry from the moment I picked up my press badge on Tuesday morning to the final minutes spent in the expo hall Friday afternoon, hoping to get a Nintendo shirt emblazoned with Mii's of Reggie, Satoru Iwata, and (of course) Shiggy.
What you have to realize about GDC is that it's NOT and has never been E3. It's a meeting for the people who make games, not the people who report on them or play them. We press people were out in full force, but the show didn't feel geared toward giving us information. The real core of GDC is the lectures, talks by people from companies around the world about what it is they do best.
After attending the Sony keynote, where seeing the announcement of LittleBigPlanet firsthand proved to be quite a rush, I listened to Warren Spector talk about how graphical advancement may be hurting stories in the games we play. Looking around, it dawned on me that half the people in the room probably worked at companies I knew, that there were people in the audience I would have loved to have my picture taken with. That's an incredible thing, to be sitting in a room with one of your industry heroes and realize that both of you are there to learn. What's even more wonderful is that this makes GDC mostly neutral territory. For every outburst about the Wii being "two gamecubes duct-taped together," you get ten chances to sit next to leaders of the industry and listen to Chaim Gingold (from the Spore development team) talk about the beauty of Harold and his magic purple crayon.
While seeing people like Shigeru Miyamoto, Tim Schafer, and Warren Spector in person certainly was a blast, I couldn't just spend my whole week rubbing elbows with game design royalty... I had a GDC badge to earn. Fortunately, while the show may not have been press-oriented, I had no trouble filling my schedule. This was largely due to the fact that the previous two weeks had been spent either receiving emails about interview opportunities or scheduling said interviews.
I rounded out at somewhere around 7 major meetings, mostly mobile game developers, and found them to be every bit as entertaining as the expo hall. While they weren't to remain a secret for long, the things I learned and the games I saw were fresh news, first looks at titles that had been nothing more than a name and press blurb the week before. It's always neat to be let in on a secret, but the entertainment increases exponentially when you are talking about an industry you live for, information that people you know would love to be hearing themselves.
My impressions of these new games and other fun tidbits should be popping up here and there over the next week, so let me instead tell you about the highlight of GDC press nightlife: the corporate-sponsored party. I won't lie, the first night of top-shelf-open-bar partying nearly took me out of commission for the rest of the conference, but I made it to Sony's keynote the next morning and continued to have a blast every following evening.
From Vivendi to Nokia to Microsoft, everyone had at least one big shindig, and every single one I attended was over the top, packed, and overflowing with free food and drinks. The really entertaining side to these parties was running into people I had interviewed earlier that very day, getting to chat with them person to person instead of "reporter to PR guy." This isn't to say they were spouting nonsense in the interviews, just that it was another neutral playing field, a casual chance to talk about the industry.
In the end, the 2007 Game Developer's Conference was an eye-opener of an event that I almost feel privileged to have attended. I saw (and met) some of my heroes, heard exciting news firsthand, played games that won't be out for months, and got to know an industry that I've wanted to be involved with since first picking up an NES controller. Only meeting Shiggy in person could have made GDC more memorable, and I'm sure I'll have more opportunities to do that... after all, E3's just around the corner.