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GDC 2011 – Part 1

Posted by saleem

This post was originally written by Salvador Garcia-Martinez. It is part 1 of our 2 part GDC 2011 post as Salvador was one of two TAG members to attend the conference after being awarded the GDC Student Scholarship.

A couple weeks ago, the 2011’s edition of the Games Developers Conference (GDC) took place in San Francisco, California. I had the chance to go as a GDC scholarship recipient of the International Games Developers Association. It is hard to summarize my experience; there was tons of interesting stuff. However, my top picks are:

1)     My experience as an “IGDA scholar”. As part of this scholarship, we had access to all the presentations, we got paired with an industry mentor and we had the chance to visit studios such as DoubleFine, LucasArts, and Playdom. We also had lunch with the people from Zynga and we had private tours at the Playstation and Microsoft booths. It was very interesting to have a closer look to the game industry and to get to know people involved on it.  I would like to encourage all eligible students to apply for next year’s scholarships. It was a very positive experience – in my case, it was like an introductory boot-camp to the game industry.  Something that I found very valuable was my interaction with my industry-mentor. He introduced me to very interesting people and gave me tons of advice for the conference and for my future career.

2)     Social Gaming.  It seems that this is one of the trendiest topics of the year. Everybody is talking about its potential and how games such as Farmville have been very successful.  My only concern is… Is it a fad or a fashion? No idea.
An interesting presentation related to this topic was:  “No Freaking Respect! Social Game Developers Rant Back,” where different game developers got together to share their ideas and different perspectives. Here is a detailed review.

3)     Classic Games Postmortems. The main goal of this type of presentations was to discuss what went right and what went wrong along the way of the development of classic games. Games discussed this year were:  Prince of Persia, Elite, Pac-Man, Bejeweled, Marble Madness, Doom, Populous, Maniac Mansion, and Raid on Bungeling Bay. I especially liked the last one, presented by Will Wright.  A summary can be found here.

4)     Learning and Video Games. Two summits were related to this area: serious games and GDC Education. For the first one, even though some presentations were interesting, there is still a lot of work to do. However, an interesting topic that was discussed in many presentations was GAMIFICATION. This term refers to the use of game play mechanics to other fields such as marketing and education. GDC Education was very interesting. Most of the topics that were discussed can be applied to different fields.  A highlight of this summit was:  “Bringing Games User Research into Our Educational Practice”, by  Katherine Isbister.  She discussed the importance of rigorous user research for the video game development process. It seems that user’s experience is one of the biggest research topics in the video game industry.

5)     Others: Having informal conversations with other assistants, we were discussing the relationship between the academia and the video games industry. Unfortunately, there is still a disconnect. Game developers were complaining about that we tend to write long academic articles in sophisticated journals; they do not have the time to read them. The good news is that most of game developers are open to listen to us. However, if we really want to communicate with them, it might be a good idea to also publish in places such as the Game Developer Magazine or Gamasutra.  On one hand, it is true that we won’t get an academic researcher promotion publishing there; on the other, the industry will begin to listen to us. We just have to find the “right balance”. For those interested in the topic, I recommend to read the February blog-post by Ian Schreiber.

For a full coverage of GDC 2011, please check out this website.