GDC: In Retrospect

Going into GDC 2016, we had a lot of expectations. The Game Developer’s Conference is obviously a work conference, aiming to help developers cultivate new techniques, helpful advice, and make great connections. Players going into GDC are somewhat few, and feel the difference when comparing it to other annual events, like E3, for instance. Most people at GDC are, in fact, in the industry, or trying to break in. The few casual gamers attending should have spent their time at events, making friends, or checking out the new games with an Expo Pass.

Upon attending, the expectations were simple: passionate developers, exciting games and gameplay, perhaps something that made VR seem like a great idea, and a few entertaining events to attend. What we got was jaded older developers, and wide-eyed newbies trying to break in. Exciting games and gameplay, and entertaining events, were all around, fortunately. But VR never seemed like a good idea, in the end.

In retrospect, the best part of GDC was being able to meet new people. Everyone was friendly, and more than willing to showcase their game, or talk development. The games were at the Expo, but also at events, and on the show floor. People walked up to others and sparked up a conversation, some stiff, others laid-back and witty. In essence, it was very much a place to connect and feel renewed in the daily challenges of working in game development. There was a sense of comradery, of understanding, that everyone expressed in one way or another. Even the established developers had stories to tell of their struggles early on in their careers.

The downfall of GDC 2016, however, were the sessions. Yes, they are aimed toward developers trying to learn new technical tricks for their work. Yes, some had AAA game titles in their session names, like Bloodborne, or Fallout 4. But the issue was the lack of passion of the speakers, and the developers listening in. Everyone was stiff, or serious, with the exception of a few handful of speakers. Developers walked out in the middle of a Bloodborne session because rather than make it exciting, as it should be, it was very much a lesson in what notes were played when making the soundtrack.

Overall, developers at GDC seemed to be hyper-focused on their craft, to the point where they forgot that they work on games for a living. If someone is overly stressed and jaded, can they really make great, exciting games? Where was the spark, the thrill? Where was that inner wide-eyed newbie in all of them? The new developers, those trying to break in, were excited to be there. Some were even insecure in the daunting environment. But you could tell, with just one look, that they felt like they were heading in the right direction, just by being there.

Perhaps that is what is missing in the industry. Perhaps the sessions were a reflection of what it has all become: a series of technicalities that lead to an entertaining conclusion. These people make games for the sake of others, but they themselves don’t seem very much entertained. Changes need to occur to make the industry better than it is now. The passion is missing, but it can be rekindled if everyone simply remembered that little voice inside that says: “‘I get to wake up everyday knowing I make games, and make someone smile.”