Wot I Imagine GDC Is Like

I’ve never been to GDC, essentially because doing so has never been comfortably compatible with my home life. Every year I feel bluer and bluer about this, which is partly because every year seems to involve everyone who did go declaring it to be the best one ever, and partly because it’s grown into this impossibly fabulous thing in my mind.

This is what I think GDC is like:

– Warren Spector spots you the second you enter the show floor, smiles and beckons you into a sideroom, where he proudly shows off the new immersive sim he’s been working on for kicks. “Oh, I probably won’t release it, but I just thought you’d like to see it.”

– On-the-spot bearhugs from anyone who recognises your name

– It’s one big party all the time. I dance rather than walk to meetings, and when I do enter them it’s high fives all round. And maybe there’s a little bowl of Twiglets in there too.

– My interview questions aren’t met with prepared, practiced, pleasant-but-evasive PR lines, but heart-warming honesty and openness. I come home with stories to tell, rather than marketing to interpret.

– I play a million billion amazing games I’d never heard of before. And actually play, not just get shown pre-rendered trailers for by a slick guy with lots of gel in his slick hair.

– I am festooned with amazing job offers. None of which I take, of course, but it’s nice to feel wanted.

– Games are everywhere. PCs, consoles, arcade machines just lying around, you turn it on and it’s all “hey, what’s this cool thing?”

– Vegetarian food is everywhere (in contrast to GamesCom, which I’ve been to many times, and always struggled to find anything that doesn’t have sausage in it).

– Anyone who says “monetise” or “gameify” is immediately escorted off the premises.

– I try out some amazing new VR tech and end up just living inside it forever, happy as can be. Better than life.

– I get invited to parties. (It’s been a while.)

– A rolling reminder that games are good and surprising and brave and diverse and non-cynical, and that the vast majority of the people who make and play them are good-hearted and culturally curious, and that the toxicity and entrenchment we often see online comes from just a tiny, angry minority.

The last one might even be true.

This article was first published as part of, and thanks to, The RPS Supporter Program.


  1. amateurviking says:

    Next year? Book it now.

    Do it.

    Doooooooo it.

    • amateurviking says:

      Did you book it yet?

      • Alec Meer says:

        I don’t expect to be able to go next year either, alas.

        • amateurviking says:

          Nooooooooooo. Definitely organise something though.

          Knowing I’ve got a conference coming up in 6 months where I’m going to see friends and colleagues really helps get me through the day-to-day not-really-interacting-with-other-humans-in-meatspace thing (my job is in Italy, my partner, friends and social life are in the UK. I don’t speak Italian well at all (yet)).

  2. Premium User Badge

    Ben Barrett says:

    “Better than life.”


  3. Grizzly says:

    “– Vegetarian food is everywhere (in contrast to GamesCom, which I’ve been to many times, and always struggled to find anything that doesn’t have sausage in it).”

    It always surprises me how this is a thing. I am not a vegetarian myself (since that would mean giving up salmon, which would be unbearable) but my brother was for a long time. As such, the occasional restaurant visit was met with me buying the normal meal of the day whilst my brother ordered the veggie meal of the day – and every single time the veggie meal was both tastier and cheaper! THought the tastyness was probably due to the usual “meat every day” thing just gets stale after a short while.

    • squirrelrampage says:

      Well, GamesCom is in Germany. That might explain the sausage thing.

    • trollomat says:

      You can be a vegetarian who eats salmon every now and then. It’s ok. It’s not that you have to decide between “meat every day” and “abstain from salmon for the rest of you life”.

      • El Mariachi says:

        The way things are going, salmon abstention is going to be the default state in the Not Too Distant Future.

      • Kefren says:

        No, that’s someone who is nearly vegetarian; or someone who would be vegetarian apart from eating salmon; or someone who eats salmon but no other meats. Those are all accurate, non-critical statements. A vegetarian doesn’t eat meat; if you eat meat intentionally, even a bit, or one type, or only on a Sunday, you’re not a vegetarian. That isn’t a problem, it’s just important to use words accurately.

      • DanMan says:

        Especially if you’re a grizzly.

  4. blind_boy_grunt says:

    gdc’s the best, isn’t it? I thought the real-life transformer they give you to escort you around is a bit over the top. But meh, i don’t want to sound too complainy.

  5. RobF says:

    “– A rolling reminder that games are good and surprising and brave and diverse and non-cynical, and that the vast majority of the people who make and play them are good-hearted and culturally curious, and that the toxicity and entrenchment we often see online comes from just a tiny, angry minority.”

    Yeah, I’ve struggled with this and it’s especially easy given we’re in the thick of this shit at the best of times. I’m hoping to make it out to Rezzed next week for the leftfield stuff and to Feral Vector in a month or so because, well, with the exception of that time I had to sit through a dude telling me to monetize my fans and another dude insisting I make Facebook games, that’s the reminder I generally get and it is something I think it helps to be reminded of. (FWIW, I have long since avoided anywhere that has milk your fans dry or monetization talks because I can’t afford to keep replacing the shoes I vomit into during them)

    GameCity is, still, for me the best way to get this reminder. Watching kids getting involved in the silliest things, families being content to play games in big tents or on a big screen in the square is absolutely proper amazing and a reminder of why I stick around through some of the worst games have to offer. I don’t think I could hack GDC, for all the parties, Lost Levels as important sanctuary and all that, it’s too big, too busy, too corporate. GameCity’s everything that isn’t, it’s for people and that works so much better for me.

    The last time I agreed to give a talk there a few years back, I met Keef in the morning and said hi then in the afternoon spent the rest of the time just sitting in the middle of Nottingham chatting away to people about life and videogames before Mrs B took the kid off to play in a room full of Lego whilst I called Sonic 4 shit on a stage. That’s so much more my bag! And so much more easy a reminder of what this stuff is really for, -who- it’s really for.

    I hope you can find a thing like that somewhere, some time for a thing like that somewhere – I know that’s always the daft hard part at the best of times. But it’s not all bad but I reckon sometimes you need to be where the good is to see it for reals.

  6. padger says:

    I am pretty sure half the sessions are devoted purely to people saying “monetise” over and over again, powerpoint slides of graphs flicking past in the background, until a tear rolls slow down one cheek.

    (I say this because actually I’ve been to GDC and the happy game dev fun times part is one corner of a gigantic and very boring business event with a lot of men in company branded t-shirts trying to sell useless middleware crap.)

    • tigerfort says:

      Oi, padger, stop harshing Alec’s squee. Everyone’s entitled to a squee now and again.

    • Foosnark says:

      I went to GDC one year… trying to sell very useful and awesome middleware.

      It was exhausting. Standing around trying to explain a complex product to the three people who might actually be potential customers who hadn’t already seen it and the 15,000 students who for some reason think want to be game developers.

      Occasionally taking breaks to wander around and look at other booths, which were for useless middleware crap or trying to entice people to move to Lichtenstein or Uruguay to develop games, and gigantic booths from NVidia to remind everyone that NVidia is a thing that exists. And catching the occasional panel on some awesome graphical technique that there was no way we were going to implement in our engine and probably would never appear in any published games for the next six years.

      And then after a long day the boss would take us to some ridiculously expensive restaurant with pretty decent food, and then we’d go back to our hotel rooms and nurse blisters and collapse.

    • jrodman says:

      I went to a GDC where Intel’s new MMX was announced. I saw Cliffy B play with the unreleased Unreal engine, and swooned over Robert Allen inappropriately. The Duke Nukem dev team left an unfortunate impression.

      Now I am old.

  7. Premium User Badge

    selkcip says:

    It wasn’t that exciting. I very briefly played Crysis 3 death match on the new Nvidia Buckler insole and it was impressive for such a small device, but stuttered like hell and then I got bored. Then I forgot to even look for the Valve booth. Maybe it would have been more rewarding if I got to see Source 2 in action.

    • dragonfliet says:

      I’m sorry, what? You went to GDC to play with AAA baubles? That’s….sort of missing the point by a mile, friendo.

  8. Slinkusss says:

    Jeez I hate abbreviations in journalism, I really do.

    So, uh… what’s a GDC and why do I want one?

    • airmikee says:

      It’s your own personal member of the Society of Graphics Designers of Canada to design lovely artwork in the background of your life, or a job at General Datacomm. A coin flip determines the outcome, you call it in the air. Your choices are nickel or quarter.

    • jrodman says:

      Game Developer Conference. The one (in the US) that is actually useful to developers sometimes, as opposed to being more about branding, promotion, and boobs, which is the others.

  9. gaiusimperator says:

    So, you are saying it’s… an excellent adventure?

  10. Shardz says:

    I forgot just how much Keanu looked like Alex Van Halen back in the day…

  11. doombob says:

    I’v been to several GDCs, I can tell you the last one is very true, and is by far the most important takeaway. I always come back from it reinvigorated and excited to be a developer.

    • airmikee says:

      Thanks for confirming, that’s good to hear. I inevitably get sucked into some of the controversies surrounding games, and sometimes even let myself think that the industry is doomed and all is lost because of the drama. Those thoughts usually disappear after a few hours of gaming though, so it’s nice to hear that the people making the games are able to see past all that nonsense and get back to developing with a positive attitude.

  12. ThomasLund says:

    Having been at many many GDC’s including this one, its good to remember that its not just 1 thing. You have the option of doign biz suit Game Connection, go to indie summit, run around on the expo floor looking at all the middleware people, go to some of the tons of cool meetups happing around, take the various summits (with anything from F2P monetization for 2 days over how to optimize code for Intel GPU bla bla to panel discussions with the rock stars of this industry). Not to speak about GDC play to see cool games (and play them), the indie train guys, look for jobs in the industry at the recruiters booths.

    At night you can decide to do some of the mixer parties, go to the indie events, (if invited) some of the large player parties, the hotel suite presentations of game X or Y etc.etc.

    PHEW – its damn hard work, and not 2 people will have the same experience out of a GDC :-D

  13. jrodman says:

    Any food-situation lacking vegetarian options seems strange to me. I’ve been living in California for 20 years, and 20 years have gone by in general. I just assume that the world must have caught up.

    • El_Emmental says:

      It’s a small detail, out of hundreds of more important parameters to check.

      The organizers must make sure to have all the necessary security and medical staff and certifications, everything accessible to people with disabilities, the right logistic (available space, electricity, water, toilets, Internet access, local network infrastructure, some extra hardware available for booths just in case), some staff able to speak different languages because it’s an international conference, rent and organize the nearby parking lots (with VIP spots), get the local taxis at their full capacity, hire a bus company to do shuttle trips around transport hubs (airport, railroad station, subway), get certified and reliable food/drinks stands, make sure the city council authorized all that…

      Wait, you said something about the food? It’s about the health inspection and the certificates? They’re all here, and here, and here.

      Oh, the type of food offered to visitors could be problematic? Is it peanut allergy? Lactose intolerance? Glutamate intolerance? A stand with no pork meat nor additives derived from pork products? Halal/Kosher stands? … Vegetarian food ? The typical ovo-lacto vegetarianism, or veganism?

      ps: ” I just assume that the world must have caught up” *sigh* – while you were busy eating your fancy salad, “the world” is busy trying to actually survive and feed everyone. California can perfectly afford its “superior” way of life because most of its inhabitants never actually felt hunger and thirst, while access to basic education and basic health is something nearly all californians take for granted. Most of the planet have no access to any nutrition education, nor have enough protein in their diet, which is directly affecting their personal health that won’t be backed up by a solid health system, so whenever they can get some meat (chicken, pork, fish, stray dog – which is tasty), they eat it because they need it.

      The fact that most of the regional food cultures are still allocating an important place to meat comes directly from the absolutely vital need for protein to live, something that was extremely important less than 100 years ago (especially in the poorest area where meat was a luxury).

      Saying these cultures need to “catch up” is openly insinuating they’re primitive and backwards on the nutrition question, which is exactly what’s so annoying in the current vegetarianism: pretentious disdain and smugness. That might be unconscious, but that’s clearly noticeable.

      • El Mariachi says:

        I’d guess that most people who are in the position of chasing stray dogs through open sewers are not attending software development conferences in Europe.