The GDC 2019 Experience (Archived Post: 4/6/19)
Hey guys! How is everyone holding up? Hope y’all have been alright. I can’t believe it’s already April, it seems like time speeds up more and more as the days go on… but before I get all existential on y’all, we got some stuff to catch up on.
As many of you know, I recently showcased She Dreams Elsewhere with the Indie Megabooth at this year’s GDC (Game Developers Conference); it was my first time attending the show, all while traveling and exhibiting solo. As you can imagine, it was pretty intense. Let’s talk about it.
THE INDIE MEGABOOTH EXPERIENCE:
I’ve already talked about the general experience of showing off the game at places like GDEX and DreamHack, so I won’t repeat myself too much here. I used the same demo shown at those events, albeit with a few minor changes and fixes made post-public demo release. With that being said, this was easily the smoothest and most rewarding event thus far, despite the usual hurdles when it comes to showcasing an intimate, narrative-driven RPG like SDE. I think the setup definitely helped with that - all the equipment used was provided by the Megabooth team courtesy of Lenovo and Astro (major shoutout to them), and instead of the usual table/chair combo, all of the Megabooth indies used bean bags and couches . The game looked and sounded fantastic on a 4K TV; much better than my busted monitor, and those bean bags were dangerously comfortable. It definitely helped get people better acquainted with the game, and was much more relaxing for me since I no longer had to stand on concrete floors all day. Do you know how nice it is to be able to lay down, chill and talk with someone as they’re playing your game instead of awkwardly watching them from behind? S’pure heaven, broski. It was also nice to not have to lug around tons of equipment solo for setup and breakdown, so that was another dope perk.
We were also provided headphones to use as well, but despite being in love with them, I decided to ditch them midway through the first demo session and have the audio play directly from the TV. Why? The music has consistently been one of the most praised and beloved aspects of the game, so not only was it nice (and significantly less awkward) to have it playing loud and proud, but it also ended up attracting crowds and new players. Plus, I didn’t correctly set them up and the first player I had ended up playing in silence for the first five minutes. Oops.
The game was playable during the Monday-Tuesday slot, and going into it, I thought I wasn’t going to get as much traffic compared to the Wednesday-Friday group. Believe it or not, it turned out to be quite the opposite from what I could tell. The expo hall opened up on Wednesday, and since we weren’t competing with it, it ended up being pretty packed most of the time. That’s just my take, though - my fellow indies might have a different view on it. With that being said, we were also competing with some of the major summits (which also happened to be the ones I REALLY wanted to attend, like the game narrative summit), the Google Stadia announcement that took place below us, and the fact that a decent amount of people still hadn’t come into town yet. Google’s announcement might’ve actually helped us though, since their area showing off Stadia post-announcement was right across from us, so we got some nice traffic from that. (And also shoutout to Ubisoft to being great neighbors across from us, as well!)
Not gonna lie, though; seeing that same 15-30min demo on loop got real tiring, real fast. Even moreso considering it was the same demo shown at other events and released online (which you can download here if you haven’t already; the show floor demo contained the second half of the full level), and as much as I loved people coming by to play, I did start to go a little insane after awhile. Still, there were a few surprises I noticed, like the handful of players who would veer off and explore Thalia’s room before heading to the dungeon proper, the close calls players would have during battle, or the handful of harmless bugs that occasionally popped up - at least there were no game breaking crashes this time around. It was also the first time I had an alpha version of the “Link Attack” mechanic publically playable, and while it had its fair share of bugs, people seemed to really latch onto and enjoy it.
Another thing I noticed was that I got significantly more interesting, deeper questions compared to other events, which was probably due to the fact that it was mostly fellow game devs. I really felt at home and as if I was with my “tribe”, so to speak. Much better than the usual humdrum of my (albeit lovely) coworking space where the typical questions I get about the game being “How do you monetize this?”, “Do you make any money?” and “WhAt’S a VidEo GaMe?” Also, it was pretty surreal to see and meet some of my developer idols, ESPECIALLY when they would play the game for themselves and really enjoy it! (Protip: when this happens, always keep it chill, kay? Kay.)
As rewarding as the whole showcase was, it was no doubt exhausting as hell, much more compared to other events thus far. On the first day, I booted up the game at 10am, didn’t get a break until 1pm, and wasn’t really able to get lunch during either day. Since my hostel was pretty far away, I also wasn’t able to go back home and rest for a bit, so most days I would be out of the house around 8/9am and wouldn’t be back until 1/2am. Such is life of a solo dev, no? Thankfully, the IMB ambassadors were around to help whenever I needed to step away for an interview or to go the bathroom, and the only reason I didn’t use them even more was mainly due to my own stubbornness and FOMO. Many thanks to PJ, one of said ambassadors, who covered for me several times and was one of the friendliest, chill dudes I met at the event. (Also many thanks to the other ambassador who covered for me once - I’m so sorry I’m blanking on your name but you were really dope too!)
Even with those challenges, the showcase was a resounding success. It was exhausting, sure, but well worth the exhaustion. There was nothing but love for the game, with a few players even having strong emotional reactions to it. The organizers were great and extremely helpful, with constant communication before and during the event, and setup/breakdown being smooth as butter. I was able to get in several press interviews (which should be up later this month), got featured on Rock Paper Shotgun and Windows Central, received a few publishing offers, and got a ton of new ideas and inspiration to bring back home. And most importantly, it gave me a huge boost of motivation to actually finish the damn game. For those of you who came to check it out, I can’t thank you enough for your support. It means the world to me, truly.
So that was the Megabooth experience. How about the rest of the week?
THE GDC EXPERIENCE:
Like I said before, the expo hall opened up Wednesday and man… it was insane. Going down those long escalators and seeing the view of those big name developer booths, dope games and tons of people never got old. I didn’t get to explore too much on Wednesday and Thursday due to meetings and other commitments, but Friday I was able to walk around the entire day at my leisure. Other than a few mandatory things I had to do, I didn’t keep too much of a schedule and ended up mostly wandering and finding cool stuff. And believe me, there’s a TON of cool stuff. Like… there’s a reason it’s spread out over three buildings. There’s so much to do that you’ll be hard pressed to not find something you like. Game demos, meetups, VR, tech showcases, tabletop games, retro games, talks, bizdev opportunities, music, films, free swag, the gardens, who knows what else - I barely scratched the surface of it all. It can definitely be a little overwhelming, but maps, the official GDC app, and the helpful volunteers made the whole thing a little less intimidating.
Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to go to any talks except one (the very informative marketing postmortem of Dead Cells), which is a bit of a bummer. It’s not too bad since my pass includes access to the GDC Vault, so I can just watch them all online later. Unfortunately, that’s not an option for many attendees due to the RIDICULOUS cost of the passes. Mine were provided for free, as was the booth setup thanks to the Indie Megabooth, but if wasn’t, I highly doubt I would’ve been able to go.
Speaking of costs, let’s talk about San Francisco real quick. It was my first time visiting the city and my first time back on the West Coast since I was a kid. The city itself is beautiful and bustling with things to do, plus seeing as it was cold and snowy in Cleveland during that time, I vastly preferred the weather in San Fran over that mess. (I still love you CLE <3) All in all, it’s a great city… except for the fact that’s really, really expensive. Like, more expensive than I initially thought. And that’s not even taking into account the cost of airfare and accomodations. Food in particular was somewhat of a shock, at least in the area around the Moscone Center - going a little further will net you cheaper prices, but I often didn’t have the time for that. Also, unlike previous cities I’ve been to/lived in, BART (their subway system) charges based on distance, and depending on where you’re going and how often you use it, it can really add up. Same deal with Ubers.
On that note, San Francisco can also be a little, uh… sketchy, to say the least. It was actually a bit dystopian seeing it all, what with these marvelous, modern buildings bustling with activity and well-off people (at least well-off enough to attend GDC) juxtaposed with homeless people in a tough situation, with a fair amount of them having mental health or drug related issues. It was absolutely heartbreaking and I’m still processing how I feel about it all... Oh, and apparently people have also gotten mugged while attending, so that’s a bit of yikes situation too. It’s weird; I’ve always been mostly comfortable walking around alone in cities, even at night, but San Fran is the only city so far where I never got to that level of comfort. I ended up taking Ubers home every night because I wasn’t about to mess with no late-night walks and subway rides in a city I didn’t know.
Oh yeah, nights! Parties! Less depressing topics, yay!
Yeah, no, the parties were great. I dunno about y’all, but I’m always down to party, and there’s a ton of stuff that goes on every night, both public and private. I mostly stuck to the public, free ones but I got a few invites to some of the private ones as well (s/o to Matt for the Xbox party invite <3). It can be a lot to take in, but thankfully there’s a list out there that helps sort them all out. Hell, if you can swing it right, you might not have to pay for a single party or drink the entire week. (I almost accomplished that. Almost.) Regardless, I had a great time meeting new people from all walks of life and had a ton of wonderful conversations. It really is inspiring getting to know fellow game devs in such strong force, y’know? One my favorites was definitely the Blacks in Gaming party hosted by Microsoft; it was really dope to see that hey, black people make games too! And there’s a ton of us! And there’s more of us every year! Hell yeah!
As great as they were though, it was exhausting nonetheless, particularly on the days where I was also showcasing or had a ton of meetings beforehand. I typically got back to my hostel around 1-2am every night, with the 30 minute drive across the bay not helping matters. Again, protip for any future Megabooth participants - try to showcase earlier in the week, and try to find a hotel/AirBNB near the Moscone Center. Your body will thank you.
There’s so much more I could say about the week, but this thing is long enough as is. Some other highlights include the retro gaming station, the IGF Pavilion and alt.ctrl.GDC (a MUST see), trying out Stadia, going to an IMAX theatre for the first time to see Us opening night (A+ movie), meeting online friends IRL for the first time, making friends out of developers whose work I love, and the entirety of the Epic Games booth - shoutout to them for the free swag, food, booze and the chance to finally play Kingdom Hearts III for a bit (I can’t play the full game or Persona 5 until She Dreams Elsewhere is complete, otherwise I won’t get anything done). Oh, and I can’t forget the Uber ride where a friend of mine freestyled the entire way with the driver hyping us up. Good times.
TIPS FOR FIRST-TIMERS:
Contact press as early as possible. Journalists (and really most attendees) get their schedules set up pretty early, what with the sheer amount of stuff there is to see and do at the event. I dragged my feet on this up until the week before GDC since I was busy with other commitments (plus the unfortunate, and thankfully averted, chance I wouldn’t be able to go at all). I was still able to do a few really dope interviews, but those were mostly on the spot. Thankfully, one of the perks of the Indie Megabooth is the press registration list, so I at least still have all those fantastic contacts.
Book your flights and accommodations as early as possible. Virtually the entire gaming industry comes into San Francisco that week, meaning accomodations get booked fast and rates go up the closer it is to the show. For the best rates, definitely book early, and if you can, book somewhere close to the convention center. I stayed in a hostel in El Cerrito across the bay, and while it was a nice stay and traveling was simple enough, it still took a fat minute going to and from the event. Speaking of which…
Be vigilant, take Ubers/drive home, and don’t go out alone at night. It can get pretty sketchy around the Moscone Center. Like, I mean even a street or two away. Put your badge away when out on the streets so it’s not a dead giveaway you’re a tourist, and don’t go waving your phone around all willy-nilly either. Also, just straight up avoid the Tenderloin area. If you’re just exploring, it’s very easy to wander into it accidentally, but believe me - you really, really want to avoid it.
Promote your presence at the show as much as possible beforehand. I tweeted several times in the leadup to the show (should’ve done even more, if I’m being honest) and released the game’s official trailer and cover art a few days before which provided even more traffic. Plus, the Indie Megabooth shouted the game out a few times both before and during the show, so much love to them for that as well!
Make a schedule for the week, but be flexible. There’s a boatload of things to do and I barely scratched the surface with what I did. Plan ahead, but also be open to spontaneous hangouts, parties, distractions, and time to explore (which you should also try to set time aside for, SFO is a beautiful city).
Talk to EVERYONE! Okay, maybe not everyone, but definitely as many people as you can wherever possible. Some of the most interesting conversations I had were with people I met while standing in line for something. For all my fellow introverts out there, I know you’re probably screaming in anguish right now, and I hear ya. Honestly, the best advice I can give you is to just go for it. Everyone I met was super friendly and welcoming, and just like the first few weeks of college, everyone is down to meet other people! Just be chill and confident; you never know who you might meet...
Find other opportunities to showcase your game outside the expo hall. There’s a bunch of different events going on after-hours, with some like The MIX requiring submissions in advance (plus a booth setup fee), while others will just allow you to bring a laptop, find an open space, and do your thing. Sadly I wasn’t able to do any of this, since my laptop has been busted for well over a year now and can only be used with a monitor. The joys of being a broke solo dev, amirite?
Bring a boatload of business cards. And follow up on any (or at least the most relevant) you receive as well, particularly if they’re an especially important/notable contact. If you have trouble remembering names/faces, you can also ask to take a picture of the person with their card next to them. Or just write down a note about where/when you met them. Oh, and another protip: the front/back of your badge is a great place to store business cards, just be sure to empty it out and store them at the end of each night.
Use hand sanitizer. Liberally. I’m JUST now getting over a gnarly cold… two weeks after the event. It’s not a fun time, yo. Granted, said cold got a second wind due to staying mostly outdoors for two days straight moving furniture and shooting a music video… but that’s a different story. Also, buy a pack of Airbone if you can (I didn’t, sadly) - they’re great at staving off colds like that.
Mind your conversation topics at the show, on the streets, at the airport, etc. I personally didn’t have an issue with this, but you never know who could be listening. Just something to keep in mind, you feel me?
When choosing one of the many, many parties to attend, decide whether you’re there to network or to straight-up party and choose accordingly. Some events are more laid-back where you can talk to a ton of people at a relatively normal volume for a long period of time, while others are full of energy where you have to practically scream to be heard. To give you an example, on Wednesday night I went to three parties - the first one was mainly networking-focused, the second one was more chill with me and a few friends talking over drinks, and the third one was a straight up rave. You can definitely do both, but it’s good to prioritize and decide whether said party is a good fit for your needs. No matter what you decide, definitely have fun but remember to be respectful.
Get as much rest as you can and save some time for yourself. GDC is fantastic, but also extremely intense, and by the end of the first day I was already completely pooped. It’s a long week, so save your energy and prioritize the stuff you really want to do. As someone said best on Twitter (can’t remember who) - “It’s better to do half the things at 100% than all the things at 50%.”
Be respectful and don’t be an asshole. You would think this wouldn’t need to be said, but you’d be surprised at some of stories I’ve heard… particularly when it comes to douchey guys condescendingly questioning or even straight up harassing women. If you see/hear any harassment of any kind, either call it out, step in or report it to a volunteer. Remember: no one likes an asshole, y’all.
As always, have fun! And take lots of pictures and selfies. :)
So yeah! That about wraps things up for GDC 2019. Overall, it was an amazingly rewarding experience, and I’m so glad and thankful I was able to attend. I’m definitely looking forward to next year, and hopefully then I’ll be able to do more things, yeah?
Much, MUCH love to the organizers of the Indie Megabooth for including the game (Ashley, Hamza, Karen, Teresa and Kelly), as well as the super talented devs behind the fellow Megabooth indies! Also, and this definitely isn’t everyone (apologies in advance), but major shoutouts to Thomas (One Step from Eden), Kartik (TwinCop, always with the fresh fits), Dani and everyone at Studio ZAUM (Disco Elysium, our booth neighbor), Oleg & Georgii (While True: learn, our other lovely booth neighbors), Stu (Looking for Heals), Brian (Where the Bees Make Honey, which JUST released so buy it plz), Jenny (The World Next Door, which also just released), Zac (Bombfest, a fellow Ohioan), Jarryd (Art Club Challenge, another fellow Ohioan and GDC legend), Mike (Depth of Extinction), Dante (Paste), Walker (Cliqist), Fenyang, Jabari, Justin, Kenny, PJ, everyone who showed up to play and check out the game, and a literal shitton of others that I’m forgetting to include i’m so sorry plz don’t hate me i still love you <3
And last, and most certainly not least, huge thanks to James Gifford and Shmuel Nathan for the support in getting me to the event in the first place. Without their help, I wouldn’t have been able to go, so much love to them for all the support and kindness.
For all the newcomers, if you’re interested in checking out She Dreams Elsewhere, feel free watch the full trailer, wishlist the game on Steam and download the free demo! The full game will be out later this year, but you can also follow the game’s progress via Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. There’s also my personal Twitter or Insta if you really care about what I’m up to. And please spread the word! Every little bit helps and means the world to me. More updates to come soon!
Until next time, peace and love <3