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GDC 2007 Random Notes

GDC is my favorite game industry event.  As someone with an academic bent, having several thousand developers gathered in the same place talking about everything from specific production issues to the state and future of the industry to process and relationship structures is just bound to be a good time.  On top of that, it's a great opportunity to touch base with various people I've worked with and get into ridiculous conversations.  There's plenty of coverage (and more coming, no doubt) on the talks themselves, so here are just a few quick hits on things that likely won't get discussed elsewhere.

The need for iteration and serial playtesting was a running theme through the talks I saw.  It seems the industry, or at least part of it, is reaching a consensus that one of the best ways to mitigate against your game not being fun or accessible is to focus on those aspects early and often, use empirical methods to generate feedback, and build on concrete experiences rather than hoping it all comes together at the end.  This is a good thing.  Now if we can only get people to understand the value of beta-testing...

There were more women at this year's conference than at any of the other ones I've been to, not just in absolute numbers, but as a relative proportion of the population.  The attendees were still overwhelmingly male, but it was obvious that the industry is making strides in the right direction on gender balance.  Sadly, the same cannot be said for racial diversity.  African Americans, in particular, were just as rare a sight as they've always been.

I went to the Sony party for the first time this year.  Generally, I steer clear of the big parties because they tend to be just loud rooms full of drunks, and it's near impossible to have a decent conversation, but this year I went because one of my colleagues wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and I didn't want to leave him to his own devices.  We got there a little early and got to see a steady stream of semi-attractive women arriving at the side entrance and being let in because they were working the event.  Once we were inside, it became clear that several of these had been hired to dance for the amusement of the invitees.  More disturbing, though, was that clearly a large number of them were there simply to circulate and engage people.  While this may be related to the different cultural background of the Japanese hosts, it was still an unfortunate counterpoint to what I touched on above.

The move to San Francisco is both positive and negative.  On the plus side, the conference had clearly outgrown the San Jose convention facilities, and it was much, much easier to find hotels with easy access to the Moscone; there are also a lot more restaurant options nearby, and downtown SF is more interesting than downtown San Jose.  On the down side, there's nothing like the Fairmont pit in SF, at least not yet.  It was always nice to know that you could drop by one spot and run into half a dozen people you'd like to have a drink with.  Another hassle was that the talks ended up being divided between multiple locations within Moscone, so trekking between them was not as convenient.  Finally, when the conference was in San Jose, the hordes of developers really took over downtown, turning it into its own geek mini-city; in SF, even the large numbers of conferences attendees could be lost in the regular traffic of people.

The weirdest thing that happened during the trip was on the last night.  Coming back to the hotel across from the convention center, a friend and I got stuck swimming upstream against a steady flow of middle-aged women.  It turns out that there was some kind of Christian women's gathering going on, and there were literally hundreds of them streaming up to Market Street.  I have to say, I never expected to be inundated with middle-aged Christian women in the middle of downtown San Francisco.

I'm fairly used to running into people I know at the conference, but a couple of times, I was greeted by people whose faces I couldn't place.  It's odd to have someone know who you are and be clueless about who they are, which is a good reminder that I'm much more comfortable not being famous.

It's still a lot of fun to strike up conversations with random people.  For no particular reason, I ended up chatting with a guy from one of the leading game education programs in Australia, someone who used to make documentaries with Michael Moore, and a network programmer from an innovative start-up.  That doesn't happen at a lot of other events I go to.

That's it for this year.  I look forward to seeing what new, odd, and educational things happen at the conference next year.

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