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Reflections on GDC 2018

justinctlam profile image Justin Lam ・5 min read

Introduction

I felt so blessed when my company gave me the opportunity to attend GDC aka Game Developers Conference. GDC is the world’s largest event for the professional game industry attracting the largest gathering of game developers in the world and I felt really amazing to be among all these talented individuals. At this conference, professionals such as artists, engineers, and designers come together to showcase, discuss and present the latest technologies and learnings within the industry. The conference format consists of workshops, summits, presentations, expo, and award ceremonies.

GDC 2018 is my first ever GDC, and over the course of the five day conference I picked up a lot of knowledge, experience a lot of tech, and generally amazed at how much the game development industry has grown. I wanted to summarize a few interesting tidbits as well as offer suggestions on how to navigate GDC if you ever get a chance to go.

Here is a quick high level view of GDC over the five day conference.

There are varying levels of passes you can purchase for the event where prices can range from $250 to $2300. Each type of pass provides increasingly more access to the events, for example the $250 Expo pass only allows you to visit the expo and awards ceremony while the $2300 All-access pass gives you the VRDC track, all of the GDC conference session, access to the online videos, and more.

VRDC

I was fortunate enough to get the all-access pass and I spent the first two days at the Virtual Reality Developers Conference, VRDC for short. At VRDC, I was able to get a good understanding of the latest developments in VR, AR, MR, and XR. In "Explorations in XR Creation Tools", I learned how Google built their new light panel in Tilt brush, how UnityLabs are exploring VR authoring within a VR environment and how Oculus designed their Home experience. There were good tips on prototyping with cardboard boxes from a session titled, "Playtesting VR: Brownboxing, Spycams, and Fuzzy Rugs". I also learned some good practices when building for multiple VR headsets in "1 Game, 6 Headsets, 10 Controllers: Multiplatform VR with 'Floor Plan'" and the importance of multi user collaboration experiences in "Room for Everyone: The 'Rec Room' Approach to Community VR" and "Pac-Man HoloLens: Developing a Mixed Reality Game for a Board Audience". In the session, "Exploring the Unsolved Challenges of VR Gaming", the speaker showed that VR still struggles with conveying weight, how to handle reading text, and locomotion. But despite these challenges, there were good presentations on best practices such as how to do gazing control in "Mind Control in Mobile VR: Gaze Activated in SingSpace".

GDC

GDC sessions offered up a variety of topics including engineering, art, design, and business. Many of the talks centered around the latest learnings from the past year within each discipline.

As many of the presentations were recorded and will be posted on the GDC Vault online, I decided to attend the round tables session in lieu of the presentations. I found the round tables were some of the best things to attend and were considered quite unique as they were not recorded. The round tables sessions gathered people to sit around a large table and talk about a topic, it can be about AI, animation, tools development, audio, business, etc. A wide range of experiences can be found at these round tables, from big influencers in the industry to first year students. The discussion is raw and eye opening because people speak from different perspectives and come from different walks in their journey in the industry. The hot topic this year seems to be if the game industry should unionize or not.

Expo

The GDC Expo is where companies from all around the world showcase their latest commercial products and latest technologies. You can find major companies, like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Unreal, Unity, Sony, etc. on the show floor creating excitement for their newest offerings. The Microsoft booth was jam packed all three days, where you try out mixed reality headsets, Xbox demos and their new PlayFab backend infrastructure for multiplayer and telemetry services. Amazon also had a huge presence with their new GameOn service and Lumberyard game engine. Facebook was furiously demoing the new Oculus Go and Santa Cruz (mobile 6-dof HMD). Google had some daydream stuff. Unity’s presence at GDC was huge, almost every mid to small size developers are using Unity and they have many performance enhancements coming, e.g., a new Entity Component System architecture, compiling C# to native code, and a new job scheduler system. Unreal and NVIDIA were showcasing their new real-time ray tracing technology. A few notable demos include, real time CGI human puppeteering, ultrasonic haptic feedback and full body VR equipment.

Getting the most of GDC

GDC is held at Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. San Francisco is a beautiful city but downtown San Francisco can be a bit sketchy. Just watch yourself and stick to the crowds.

As this is my first GDC, I always felt anxious about missing out on things because there was so much going on and so many sessions and events were overlapping. It is almost impossible to see everything so you need to make a plan but also allow yourself flexibility to change those plans.

If I had to do it over again this would be my strategy.

If you can afford it, definitely attend the VRDC talks or the tutorial sessions in the first two days. They are an amazing experience. But don't fret if you can't because these session are recorded and are made available on the GDC Vault online. Although the GDC Vault is not cheap, estimated to be $550 if you don't have the right pass.

Give yourself 2 hours each day to spend time at the Expo or more if you can afford the time. See if you can find time slots in your schedule when none of the talks are interesting to you or if you think you can just watch later in the GDC Vault. But be sure to attend the GDC Pitch days where participants practice pitching their games Shark Tank style. Super cool to watch.

If you have a choice between going to a round table versus going to a talk, definitely attend the round tables. While you are there, I encourage you to talk to people and don't be shy to speak up and participate in the discussions. It's a very cool experience knowing you can bounce ideas back and forth with very senior people in the industry. Also make sure to attend the IGF and Game Developers choice awards ceremony as well.

Finally, stay calm, drink lots of water, and keep snacks around. You will not have time to eat lunch : )

Conclusion

Overall, GDC was an amazing experience. The atmosphere was electrifying. You can sense the game development community is a tight knit group, who are very motivated in pursing their passion. The awards ceremony during the middle of the conference revealed how much passion is in this industry. If I had to do it over again, I would bring business cards and spend a bit more time talking to individual people about their experiences and journey in the industry. I think the networking opportunities are abundant at conferences like these. I loved it and would want to go back again.

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