I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Game Developers Conference for several years now, free of charge. Almost everyone else forks over hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars for the same privilege. And it’s exactly that: a privilege, one that I’ve come to realize I’ve been misusing, to my own detriment, because of the wrong priorities—albeit ones that have been largely out of my control (which I’ll get to in just a minute). GDC 2011 was the first GDC where I embraced what I should be: a student.
For five days, I sat, listened, took notes, and tried to let everything sink in. You shouldn’t have to be a respected game designer to talk or criticize videogames, but you should understand how they work and the processes behind their creation. The tension between games writers and developers has more to do with a fundamental misunderstanding of each side’s job, one that each could stand to learn more about. Many (most) developers are not given much access to the press, but GDC provides an excellent venue for the opposite. For reasons I think are entirely reasonable, that doesn’t much happen.
There was a meme going around GDC this year called the “no badge club,” in which several fellow colleagues reported not having enough time to even pick up their badge for GDC. Rather, they were swamped with appointments to check out games and publisher events surrounding GDC itself. There were enough games, from Batman: Arkham City to Battlefield 3, that you could avoid GDC entirely.
The problem? You can’t blame them. The games are around, other websites will be covering them, and not seeing them out means missing out on potential hits. Well, that and gamers probably want to hear more about what new villains are coming to Arkham City than moral reflections on social games. Of course, if you never expose readers to those ideas, they can’t demand what they don’t know is there.
What I’m saying is that it’s all very sad; a missed opportunity. I don’t know if there will be another GDC where I’m able to indulge nearly as much this year, but I hope so, I truly hope so, because I absorbed more over those five days, knowledge that is directly applicable to my understanding, writing and reporting about videogames, than I’ll ever get from the next year of publisher-driven press events.