Game Developers Conference '12
Once every year, I head off to San Francisco to visit the Game Developers Conference. This is an account of this years' Game Developers Conference for me - half of Dutch indie game studio Vlambeer.
- Once a year, the Game Developers Conference attracts over 150,000 people, transforming San Francisco's downtown area into the center of the game industry at large. In this day and age in which practically everyone plays (video)games - be it Solitaire, Bejeweled, Angry Birds, Spelunky or Call of Duty, GDC is practically the main meeting point of a global and relevant medium. Unlike most gaming-related events, GDC is restricted mostly to those working in or related to the gaming industry. Between the creatives and the suits, the press and the aspiring developers, you'll find the group that over the past two years I've grown to identify with most: the independent game developers - the indies.
- For independent developers, GDC is probably the one time in the year in which the majority of the scene - or at least those capable of affording it - meets up. Many developers are friends that during most of the year can only communicate through chat, phone or blogs. For returning visitors, GDC is a moment to meet up with old friends and meet new ones, for new visitors the experience of finally meeting friends and personal heroes and inspirations in real life is oftentimes enough to be life-changing. Either way, bringing them all together makes the conference one of the most inspiring, energized and overwhelming experiences for the independent developer.
- Vox Games, a recently founded gaming website hosted on The Verge, caught onto this and decided to reach out to Vlambeer to try and make a short video feature about what GDC is like for an independent developer - this meant we'd have camera's aimed at our head for most of the week, but that was something we'd happily endure for being able to show what GDC is like. We met up with the camera crew on Monday, did some interviews, sat in the park over Moscone with friends and picked up our badges for the event.
- Indies are most likely the most publically undersung voice in gaming - a group of people that at some point in their life concluded that this medium - the "sum total of every medium, made interactive" - was the best way to express their feelings, thoughts or opinions. They make games that are intensely personal, often working in small groups or even alone in their desire to create personal, creative, novel, relevant and beautiful things. These are people that are willing to stake years of their life, their reputation, their money and their emotional energy into this one game because they want to, with more often that not no guarantee for success. These are the people that create things that revolutionize the industry, that are willing and daring to foray into unknown territory.
- Back in July 2010, when Vlambeer was still a vague concept in the head of Jan Willem Nijman and myself, a Kickstarter appeared that promised to make a feature-length documentary about indie game development. Without a second thought, I pledged the majority of the money I had set aside to pay my rent that month to the project. The Indie Game: The Movie Kickstarter was an astounding success, in the end almost gathering $100,000 and almost two years later, Blinksworks' Lisanne Pajot and Jamie Swirsky held a free screening for the movie at the event where the idea of the movie was sprouted in the first place.
- During the screening, Jan Willem and a group of other indies organized the first ever Independent Drinking Game Summit, an idea conceived during the Nordic Game Jam a few months ago. The summit turned out to be an amazing success, evidently so since by the time most of the movie-goers had reached the secret location of the summit, most attendees of the summit were pretty hammered. For reasons unclear to this day -especially seeing the fact that I don't drink- I ended up in some hotel room with some fellow indies and long-time friends Daniel 'C418' Rosenfeld and Brandon 'brandonnn' Boyer.
- By the time Daniel and I finally returned to Hosteling International San Francisco Downtown, it was 4:30AM. San Francisco is a bit of a weird place, especially at night. The city is, as Jan Willem put it, probably the place with the largest amount of mentally unstable people that'll never hurt a fly.
- The hostel is a special place during GDC, as the entire building is basically filled with independent game developers. Traditionally branded the 'indie hostel' by many, the hostel has a small lounge area where short game development competitions (the so called game jams) take place and where sometimes, you can play a game of Jenga on the head of some overly tired (or drunk) developer sleeping in a corner.
- Either way, by the time I arrived there I noticed that the neon light of the cafe right next to my room provided me with some soft, free light that allowed me to succesfully dodge the many items scattered around the room. Sharing my room with fellow Dutch indie Richard Boeser, who is one of two guys spearheading the absurdly beautiful cooperative game ibb & obb.
- Waking up on Tuesday was one of the toughest things I've done, even moreso because I had to wake up early. Tuesday was the second day of the Independent Games Summit at GDC and coincidentally, it was also the day on which Vlambeer gave its talk on the issue of game cloning. Unsurprisingly, our talk needed some more preparation and polishing so Jan Willem & I ran through the entire thing in the early hours, missing the talks of two of my favorite fellow indies, Bennett Foddy and Douglas Wilson. We met up with the camera crew for a quick interview about the talk and proceeded to hurry to the stage. Cloning is a pretty touchy subject filled with strong opinions - those who believe cloning is inherent to any creative field and that it is ultimately harmless and those whom, like us, believe cloning is a problem and should not be part of our industry.
- Either way, we made a point that the industry discussion on the subject had stalemated between legally fighting clones and accepting cloning as part of our industry. We argued that those are both wrong approaches and that we needed more constructive approach through improving public cultural literacy on game development through developers, press, industry and initiatives such as Indie Game: The Movie.
- Cloning is a topic that lies close to the heart for both of us at Vlambeer, as halfway last year our upcoming iOS release, Ridiculous Fishing was cloned by a San Francisco Bay Area company. A clone is a game that is a direct copy of another game in most aspects, even so much as that one could say that it was completely based on the original. The entire debacle cost me many sleepless night and being allowed to speak about the subject at the Game Developers Conference - undoubtably the largest venue one could wish for - was a tremendous honor.
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