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The Business of GDC

The Business of GDC

Over the ten years I've been in the games industry, I've attended nearly every E3 and even an ECTS, but not a single GDC. So it was with an unfamiliar feeling of unfamiliarity that I winged my way down to San Jose from Toronto, Canada to check out GDC 2004.
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My company, Decode Entertainment, is a television production outfit responsible for creating about eight series each year for channels like MTC, Discovery, TLC, Nickelodeon, CBC, National Geographic and others. My job is to develop interactive properties of varying types based on almost every one of these series. We booked our time at GDC full of meetings in order to garner interest in everything from a PS2 demo we produced this winter to two completed PC titles for preschoolers and a teen PC online game already in production.

To aid in our meeting efforts, we decided to take part in Game Connection, a two-day speed dating exercise for publishers and developers. Developers pay $4,000 USD for a 10' x 10' meeting room to host 30-minute meetings with publishers (admitted for just $500). Also promised by the Game Connection system is access to their online networking system, which amounted to a minimally-featured, somewhat buggy website.

The Game Connection event turned out to be underattended and some of the significant publishers stayed away entirely, so in retrospect I would have saved our pennies and skipped it altogether. However, the event was beneficial if only to introduce us to one or two players we didn't already know. My advice is if you're a value title publisher, Game Connection is likely a good, inexpensive forum for you to locate some solid shelf-fillers. But if you're a developer or publisher with aspirations (or a track record) beyond that, Game Connection is probably not where you want to be.

So by Tuesday we were free of our Game Connection commitment and spent the rest of the week in meetings we'd arranged ourselves - most of which took place in the lounge of the downtown Fairmont hotel. Even Trip Hawkins (co-founder of EA, founder of the now-defunct 3DO, etc.) could be seen waiting for meetings in the Fairmont lounge area. It was constantly packed and the meeting place of choice for nearly every attendee.

If GDC were still in San Jose next year - it's moving to San Francisco, apparently - I would definitely book a room in the Fairmont instead of the Airport Radisson (I know, I know). Besides the obvious proximity issue (Radisson = $10 cab ride from GDC; Fairmont = 10 minute walk), most of the business of GDC was conducted in the lobby and lounge of this relatively posh downtown hotel. Had we shelled out a bit extra to lodge in the Fairmont instead of the Radisson, we could have passed on Game Connection and instead used our hotel room as our presentation area, saving money and time and affording us a better meeting area. Ah, hindsight.

Ironically, I didn't make it to a single GDC seminar, lecture or roundtable discussion. For someone involved primarily on the production/business side of the industry, I found that the best use of my time was to take as many meetings as possible. Like any good trade show, a significant portion of its value is as a "class reunion", gathering all your distant contacts to one location for just a few days each year.

I did manage to check out GDC's Expo floor and while it has nothing on E3, it still proved interesting. I recall attending E3 one year when I was looking for a job and I found it wholly impractical. GDC, however, has a dedicated job search area with booths housing HR reps from companies like Lucas Arts, Radical, Stormfront, Midway, Relic and tons more. If I were looking for employment, an Expo-only GDC pass might have been a worthwhile investment.

But Decode really used GDC as an E3 warm-up. With less than two months between the events, GDC is an easy way to establish or strengthen our relationships with E3 attendees, gain a buyer's perspective on our product line, and improve our positions heading into E3 - the real trade show. Unless CMP (GDC's organizers) finds a way to repatriate some of the meetings-only activity back into the GDC system next year, Decode will likely save 80% of what we spent on this year's event simply by not purchasing a Game Connection slot or even GDC passes for the week.

And lastly, many thanks go to the Ontario Media Development Corporation which provided Decode with a partial subsidy to attend GDC. An application to the OMDC's Market Access Program is a worthwhile pursuit for any Ontario game developer interested in attending a major market.

Adrian Crook (www.adriancrook.com) is a MobyGames contributor and a Sr. Interactive Project Manager at Decode Entertainment

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