Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Austin GDC Roundup

Last week was the annual Game Developers Conference in Austin, Texas. For those of you who don't know, GDC is a massive game industry conference where companies of all sizes get together and discuss the latest trends in the industry. Sessions can vary from "how to grab the attention of the casual markey," "how to make sure you aren't infringing on copyrights," "how to better market your games," and "how we used this piece of software to make our game really cool and now we're telling you how to do the same (in other words: really technical stuff)."

There are several difference locations that hold a GDC every year at the same time. Austin's is always in September, San Francisco is always in March, Europe's (held in Cologne, Germany) is every August, then there's Canada's and China's as well. Out of the two I've been to (Austin and San Francisco), Austin is much smaller and has a more relaxed atmosphere whereas San Francisco is more like the E3 of GDCs. By this I mean that is it extremely huge, showcases new games as well as industry insight, and the after parties are pretty much all exclusive. I guess while I'm at it, I should explain what E3 is in case people don't know that one, either. E3 stands for the Electronic Entertainment Expo and is held every June in Los Angeles. Unlike GDC which is more technical, E3 is the time for all the companies to display all the newest games and hardware for the next year.

Anyway, back to GDC. Like I had said, Austin is much smaller and has a more casual atmosphere than San Francisco. You are able to walk around the Expo floor and talk to people for pretty much as long as you like whereas in SF you might have a minute if you're lucky. This was certainly true again but something else I notice this year compared to last year was that the crowd size had been reduce dramatically. Sessions weren't nearly as full as they usually are and the Expo floor was literally half the size that it was last year, if not more. The majority of booths at the Expo were also software and technology companies rather than actual game companies. I heard that there were 4,000 people in attendance this year, which by itself is by no means small, but when you compare it to previous years, some heads might turn wondering why the difference. I have two theories. The first and most logical to the average person: the economy. With things as they are now, most companies probably can't afford to send people to these events and would rather save up for E3 or even possibly GDC San Francisco since it is bigger. This theory is backed by reports I've heard on state government conventions, mainly dealing with the DoT (Department of Transportation). They had a big conference a couple of weeks ago as well and most places couldn't afford to send their employees. So many, including the guest speakers, had video phone conversations set up in their offices that were broadcast at the convention site.

My second theory is the main theme of this year's convention: MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games, or even simpler just MMO). While this is a huge market and brings in a ton of revenue, there really aren't all that many companies that are focused on this genre of games as compared to the industry as a whole. This means that while some topics can be beneficial for non-MMO companies, the majority are leaving the rest of the industry without much to take in. Several companies were also saying this as well as the indie crowd.

Overall, though, Austin was just as much fun as it was last year. The sessions I attended were extremely beneficial. I'm going to post some links to some articles on these talks below if anyone is interested in reading on them. For two nights, the Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Austin held showings of two different documentaries. The first was filmed at last year's GDC SF and is called Into the Night. It followed Chris Crawford, an early game designer and founder of the GDC, and Jason Rohrer, a young indie game developer, around SF as they talked about how games have changed over the years. The second night featured a documentary on the rise and fall of pinball, most notably Williams Pinball, called Tilt. Both were very good but I found Tilt to be extremely interesting - especially because of the fact that there is only one pinball company now and Williams, who used to be the largest distributer in the world, had made a ground-breaking new machine in 1999 that I had never seen and now they are gone.

Before and after these documentaries, there were short films that people had made that were inspiried by the look and feel of video games and also probably animation on the whole. Some of these were pretty funny but on the whole they were really messed up. I'll post links to two of them so you can see what I mean.

In other news, my Zelda Overworld is about 80% done by now. I'll have more screens of it up later this week. My plan is to have the entire Overworld (e.g. - layout, secrets, shops, etc.) completed by next weekend. Should be a pretty easy deadline. Then it's on to the dungeons.

- VashTS


GDC Sessions:

Storytelling through Independent Games

Splosion Man Postmortem

Flashbang Studios: How to Make a Game in 8 Weeks

Fantasic Contraption Postmortem

Gaijin Games: Holistic Indie Game Design

The Universe Behind World of Warcraft


Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball Trailer

Into the Night (It's in English but has German subtitles)

Kings of Power 4 Billion %

Pirate Baby's Cabana Battle Street Fight

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