February 22, 2008

Reflections on GDC 2008

I know, the subject having the word "reflections" might make most of the readers wince and just want to skip to the next entry, and I guess I can't be entirely certain they're wrong, but this trip to GDC has made me think about a lot of different things about where I am, where I was last year, and where I'm going. Since, this blog is basically my outlet for such things it seems the proper place to talk about it, and I hope for at least some of you it is an interesting look into the journey of the aspiring game developer, or at least my journey. I imagine this is going to be a pretty long entry, and since I am going to get kicked out of my hotel room pretty soon, it will probably be written over multiple instances, so I apologize for any strange transitions in advance. Anyway, here's the actual entry...

It's strange being here and thinking about where I was a year ago...well, a little less than a year ago since GDC 2007 was in early March, but you know what I mean. I was still working at Capital One at the time, and I hadn't really started on this "grand adventure." I had already begun looking at schools, but I wasn't exactly set on the whole idea (though I do recall The Guildhall being my front runner at the time). I was still hoping that I would find a game job without any real development experience and I could just learn as I go. I ran into a few people and saw a few things that reminded me of that trip.

GDC 2008 was in the same convention center as GDC 2007 so things were set up in a very similar way. I saw people like the recruiter from Perpetual, where I managed to get an interview during the last conference. That interview (obviously) didn't get me a job, and that was probably for the best considering their subsequent closure, but it and other experiences from that trip did give me reason to believe that I really could work in the games industry and excel and I take that as a huge compliment. For instance, one of the instructors at one of the tutorial sessions last year said that she "was totally in awe of the fact that I working game designer, and that it was totally my calling." Now, I'm not saying this to toot my own horn, I am saying it because this person was, in fact, a lead designer at Electronic Arts, and it is one of a few key moments that I recall leading me to where I am now. Not to mention, when the going really gets tough here, I think it's the people that believe in you that really keep you going.

Another similar memory actually involved that same tutorial session. One of the other instructors actually asked me to submit a game design to him and he wanted to pass it on to one of their senior designers. Again, this obviously didn't land me a job, in fact, I'm not sure how far the design actually made it (I should probably try following up on that again...), but it was another positive sign that I was on the right path. The ironic thing in this case was that his company was actively recruiting at the Guildhall Career Party thing, apparently gearing up for a big project in the near future. It's just interesting to see how things can change in such a short time.

This year was definitely a different experience, I'm not sure if I would say it was harder or easier, but definitely different. I think that I am easily much more qualified than I was during the last convention, while at the same time networking was definitely a bit harder as a result of some bad advice and my place as a student. Ten months isn't really a lot of time, and I know it will fly by faster than I can imagine, but pretty much as soon as someone realizes you won't be on the market for almost a year, it becomes more difficult to have a substantive conversation. By no means is it impossible, but you have to know how to approach the conversation, and I will openly admit that I didn't at first. Unfortunately, the brevity of this trip made "learning" difficult since all my networking boiled down to a few walks around the career pavilion.

I think the trip could be best described as a sort of "trial run." A chance to network a little, maybe get your name out there with a few people, but ultimately figure out how to talk to the companies you are interested in and figure out how best to prepare when it really matters. I think one of the GH professors put it best while I was talking to him at our party. He basically said that when it comes down to it, you can't really have bad networking, at worst they don't really remember you and you are no worse off than when you started. If a few people remember you, or even have some inkling that they have talked to you before, it's an improvement. Add to that that one of my GH friends who has since graduated and moved on to work at Bioware Austin spent equal amounts of time promoting me to industry people (especially Bioware) and more or less explaining that I am "so money" (if you haven't seen Swingers, you should) and things certainly could have been much worse.

Actually, in retrospect I don't think the networking was perhaps as bad as I felt at the time. I mean, I didn't collect a lot of business cards or hand out my resume to very many people, but I got a lot of good advice and a lot of insight into companies that I am really interested in: Bioware, Petroglyph, Bungie, Insomniac, and many others. I think the truth of it is, the competition is just so ridiculous that its like nothing I've ever experienced before. I'm not saying people are elbowing each other out of line or something (though some might if they thought it would get them a job) more that there are so many people, so many and in comparison there are so few positions. I think I have pretty substantial natural abilities and my education is second to none, but still seeing what some people are capable of and what is out there can be a quite humbling experience.

Overall, I think the trip was really worth it. I built up a few contacts, I got to see people that I don't see all the time, or the ones I do, I got to see them outside of work for a change, and I just got away from work and the Guildhall, even if it was only for a few days. While it wasn't the fairy tale ending I hoped it would be (say Bioware offering me a job on the spot) or a particularly excellent networking opportunity, I think it did a lot to bolster my sometimes wavering dedication to this path. I love games, but more than just playing them I love the industry, I love the culture, I love the people. I think that the people here at the Guildhall and the people I've met in the industry are some of the most passionate, most talented, most creative people I've met in my entire life. These are people who could be making more money working less hours in a number of other industries, but instead they are here for one reason: the games.

Everybody in the industry, or everyone that should be gets that at some level. It doesn't mean that you have to love every game, and by all means you should definitely have other interests, but there is something about it that everyone wants to be a part of. That is what bolstered my devotion, that looking around that room, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of, something that I am willing to put myself through hell for now, so I can work longer hours for less money than I was a year ago. This term has been particularly hard in places and I think that there have definitely been times when one or all of us have wanted to give up, but there's something that keeps us here and something that keeps us going.

Anyway, I've probably rambled on long enough, and I would like to play some games tonight before I settled in to the long crunch that is the end of term. I hope this was at least mildly interesting, entertaining, or distracting enough, but if not, oh well, I don't usually post on Fridays so it's like a freebie anyway (ignoring the fact that I missed Wednesday and Thursday of course). I'm sure there's more I can say, but it's all sort of rolling around in my head, and I'm sure I'll get around to writing about it as it comes up. Alright, with that, I'm going to sign off, night all!

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