GDC 2011 Recap: Part 1

While I wanted to keep everyone up-to-date on a daily basis while I was at GDC, it clearly didn’t happen. GDC is a pretty busy week and it has you going from talk to talk, booth to booth, and party to party. Top that off with being an IGDA Scholar and my week was full, busy, and amazing.

Since I was not able to keep the blog updated, I will now take this time to recap my week at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, CA. I will also write a testimonial of my experience as an IGDA Scholar in a separate post. Since there is a lot to talk about, I am going to split this GDC recap into several posts.

First off, it should be noted that this was actually the first time I had ever left the Eastern Standard Time Zone. I’ve been many places across the East Coast, and I’ve been on Cruises, but never have I traveled to another time zone. Needless to say, that when I got in on Sunday, I was pretty tired.

Nothing exciting happened on Sunday, February 27th, it was merely a travel day. I got in around 9:45 PST and checked in at the Courtyard Marriot with fellow FIEAn programmer Zach Ellsbury. I got to sleep pretty early that night in preparation for a very busy Monday.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday and Tuesday at GDC was full of awesome tutorials and summits. However, being an IGDA GDC Scholar meant our schedule for Monday was full of amazing tours and events. The day started out by meeting the other 24 IGDA Scholars at the W Hotel.

It was really great to finally meet them. We’ve all been in contact since we found out that we were chosen as scholars a month ago. So it was awesome to finally put an actual face to the Facebook profile. We all chatted amongst each other for a while and then it was off on our first tour – Double Fine!

To preface, we had to sign NDAs at Double Fine, so I can’t discuss too much of what we saw, but I can say that it was an amazing experience. To see a studio in action while we toured was pretty exciting. We met and talked with several of the developers at Double Fine. We talked with Zack Karlsson, Vice President of Business Development (he actually gave us the tour), a technical artist, an animator, and we talked with the great Tim Schafer himself, maker of such awesome classics such as Monkey Island, Full Throttle and Psychonauts.

Double Fine was an awesome experience. We got to see what life is like in the studio and we got to see some of the games they were working on. We also received some valuable information from the staff including how they got into the industry, what their processes were for game development, and more. Before we knew it though the tour was at an end and we had to leave. After our tour we had a quick pizza lunch before heading to our next tour location, LucasArts.

We had to sign another NDA at LucasArts, so again I can’t speak too much about what we were shown, but I can say how gorgeous the location was. From the facility, you had great views of downtown San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the surrounding area, the Presidio, was amazing. It definitely would be an awesome place to work just on location alone.
Me With Vader Suit

The campus was quite large as it is headquarters for more than just LucasArts. LucasArts is located in the Letterman Digital Arts Center which also includes Industrial Light & Magic, Lucasfilm, and Lucasfilm Animation.

To start our tour we had the opportunity to be a part of a Q&A session with four LucasArts employees. We were able to ask them questions like how they got into the industry and what their day-to-day life was like at the company. We also got to ask them what they look for in new hires. It was a great experience to get behind the scenes information from the developers.

After that, we were given a short presentation about the company started by George Lucas and how it grew. We also learned about the various internship programs offered by Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries. From there, we continued our tour of the facility checking out the ILM offices in the process. Again, the facility was quite large and it contained a lot of ILM and Lucasfilm history.Yoda Fountain

The tour wrapped its way back to the entrance where we all got pictures next to the cool Yoda fountain, as well as pictures of the full-sized Darth Vader suit. All-in-all the LucasArts tour was enjoyable. It was interesting to see the difference between a smaller studio like Double Fine and a larger studio like LucasArts, and having the tours back-to-back made the stark difference that more apparent.

From there we hopped back on the bus and were off to Playdom. At Playdom we were graciously fed pizza and snacks, much obliged to the Playdom staff. After pigging out, we all sat down to hear a very interesting talk from Eric Todd, the Creative Director at Playdom. The talk was about the trends in today’s social gaming market and how things have changed in a short period of time.

The talk was very informative. It discussed statistics and gave information about daily active users, or DAUs for the most popular games and how they have boomed recently. It also went over how cloning was a big thing for a while and that games were coming out so fast that a lot of them were all just the same game.

The talk also went over some good ways to differentiate yourself in the social gaming market. It’s normal to use a lot of common genre’s or themes when coming up with ideas for social games, mainly because the audience you are catering too is most familiar with those themes. This is why there was a huge boost in cloned farming, city building, and other similar games. One way to change that is not to necessarily go crazy and find an original theme, but rather take the common themes and find a new pattern or a different way of using that theme.

Finally, the talk discussed how to retain users and how to attract new users and how much was spent marketing to users. It also discussed when the appropriate time was to pull a game off Facebook if it wasn’t doing well.

The talk with Playdom was a great ending to the day. It was a very busy and full day, so when the bus returned to the Moscone center, we were all pretty tired. A few of us stayed around at the W Hotel and had a few drinks, but there was no crazy partying on Monday night.

Most of us just went off to dinner or to bed. I went back to the hotel and did some work on Nexus for a little while and cleaned up emails. Not a glorious partying night, but I saved the partying for Tuesday night, which I will discuss further in Part 2 of the GDC Recap.

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