Our first ever GDC!

Ben (@perplamps) here, writing during the fourth hour of our plane ride back across the country. We’re coming back from the Game Developers Conference, which is a huge all-week event in San Francisco where people in the game dev community run talks, show off their games, schedule a billion meetings, and go to way too many parties.

I figured I’d do a bit of a recap of our experience and some random post-GDC thoughts since it was Rebecca’s and my first ever GDC (and she’s asleep)!

What we did:

Along with visiting the conference, we were also participating in a few parts of it, mainly demoing the game. We were invited to show off Ooblets as part of Double Fine’s Day of the Devs booth (which had a crazy good location right at the main entrance) as well as at the Alamo Drafthouse and the ID@Xbox Loft Event (which I guess were technically more GDC-“adjacent”).

So one quick thing I’d like to say about Double Fine is that they invited us to demo at GDC and Day of the Devs before we signed with them as a publisher without asking for anything in return. Since pretty much the very beginning of our work on Ooblets, they (and particularly Greg Rice) have helped us navigate the grown-up side of game dev and were instrumental in whatever successes we’ve had so far. They’re just genuinely awesome and helpful and they’ve worked really hard to nurture the indie game dev community behind the scenes.

Demoooos

Showing the game to people was really fun and insightful for us. It’s hard to get a read on how well people liked playing it, but everyone who played it did so for A REALLY LONG TIME. We hadn’t even made a coherent ending to the demo because we didn’t think anyone would be playing that long… I don’t think I saw anyone play for less than 15 minutes.

The Alamo Drafthouse event Double Fine put on was perfect but we were totally out of our element trying to stumble through a walkthrough on stage in front of 300 people and a spotlight. We also accidentally played it at the lowest graphics settings so the game looked like poo AND huge. A huge poo.

The ID@Xbox Loft Event was a press-only (fancy~~~) thing where we walked people through the game about 300 times over the course of 8 hours. It was a really nice venue, the other games there were gorgeous, and all the Microsoft folk are super friendly.

Throughout the week, we went to a few loud parties and grabbed lunches with a bunch of incredibly talented game devs (who are too numerous to list). The other games we checked out were wonderful and it’s inspiring and terrifying to see how many incredibly cool games are coming out.

My favorite parts of GDC were the rare unhurried moments where we could have real conversations with all the people who we’d normally be too afraid to bother online. Chatting in the park, finding a quiet corner of a party, hanging out in an empty Indonesian restaurant after we accidentally walked too far into the rough part of town… It was all a lot of fun.

Takeaways

  • Social stuff is hard for us and I’m always worried that we’re coming across as rude by accident. We’re not really used to so much going on, and the million social stimuli tend to leave us making a lot of mistakes. We’d forget to introduce people, accidentally blank people on the street, ask the same questions multiple times, and generally just klutz our way through every conversation. On top of that, I lost my voice the first day and had a sore throat throughout the week, so I think I sounded way more gruff and serious than I usually do. I really hope you all got an okay impression from us despite all that because we were trying really hard to make you all like us (as always).

  • It’s really hard to keep track of everything. I’m so impressed by people who had hectic packed days and could still manage keeping up with emails and social media and stuff because we let just about everything slide while we’ve been here. It’s super easy to read various bad intentions into someone’s silence, so I can imagine how things like an unanswered email, friend request in limbo, or accounts not followed back could be seen as a slight— when it’s totally not what we’re going for.

The bad

So one thing that really sucked for an industry built around happiness and fun is that a lot of the game developers we talked to seemed to have to deal with a disproportionate amount of negative emotions and general emotional fatigue. This one is tough to write about because it’s always safer to be super positive about everything in public, but I think it’s important to acknowledge it.

It seems like as everyone makes their own way in this industry, it becomes harder to find people in your specific situation to commiserate with. Even after all these years, it still seems like gaming is in its infancy, and the whole concept of indie gaming is just getting started. Everyone is doing their own thing, and in the rare instances that someone else is in a similar position as you, it’s easy to see them as the competition.

We’ve personally found it difficult to find people with the same contexts and perspectives as us, and similarly we don’t have a clue about what most other people are going through. That can feel like a tightrope walk without a net a lot of the time.

Another thing that we’re learning from our own small set of experiences and from talking to a lot of people who have actually found success, is that while your situation can change dramatically for the better, your tolerance for bad stuff tends to stay the same. It’s natural that not everything will go the way you want it to, and as more and more stuff starts happening as you reach a broader audience—even if the vast majority of that stuff is great—the bad stuff will increase too. That bad stuff ends up feeling a lot heavier than the good stuff, and now there’s way more of it in your life than before the good stuff started happening.

(Very scientific graph of what I’m trying to say)

For whatever it’s worth, if you’re feeling a bit isolated out there in game dev land, you can reach out to us about stuff you’re going through and we’ll try to help in what ways we can. I don’t think either of us are that good at the whole emotional support thing since we’re socially inept, but, for example, I’m happy to chat about what little I know about building audiences, branding, and strategy, and Becky is happy to talk about kittens, building kitten audiences, and kitten strategy.

I can’t wait to see you all again at the next GDC!

TL;DR: Bring more than 150 stickers to an event with 20,000+ people