Liz's GDC'07 diary

Earlier this year I was awarded 1 of 25 student scholarships from IGDA. The scholarship initially included the following:

  • A Classic Pass to the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC)
  • A mentor from the industry for the GDC week
  • A visit to a game studio in San Francisco

This is an amazing package just by itself, but what they don’t tell you, what I really received, was a one-week backstage pass to the GDC. From soaking up session information to in depth conversation with the best and most brilliant in the industry, my week was packed. The GDC has many amazing sessions but for many the main focus of the GDC is “networking”. In fact, if you attend the GDC, you will probably hear this word 100 times before you leave. Explaining my whole week could take up a 200-page journal, so instead, I would like to explain the highlights of each one of my days.

Sunday: Although Sunday was not actually an official GDC day, I did meet with three Bugbear employees for pizza & beer in Berkeley. It was one of my first chances to really sit down and get to know a few people from the Finnish game industry.

Monday: My first official day at the GDC: I arrived relatively early to register and gather my pass. While the classic pass did not include any of the Mobile or Independent games seminars (Monday & Tuesday seminars/workshops) I still had a full day. As part of being a chapter coordinator for IGDA Finland, I was invited to an all day workshop and then dinner to discuss chapter issues and formalization. It was incredible to meet so many other people who were as motivated about IGDA and the game industry as me and my fellow coordinators and volunteers in Finland. Conveniently, I only managed to stick my foot in my mouth a few times, one occasion I remember in particular included telling Michael Capps, the CEO of Epic Games and Treasurer for IGDA, that I had no idea what Gears of War was (apparently the Game of the Year!).

Tuesday: Tuesday was the first official meeting of all the scholar winners and their mentors. Everyone had really amazing people to be their mentors, but I feel I was particularly lucky in having Don Daglow, CEO of Stormfront Studios as mine. As I had already been in contact with my mentor, this meeting was a chance to get to know the other scholarship winners. We spent about 2 hours talking, eating lunch, practicing our “pitch” and exchanging business cards. (Practice makes perfect) Afterwards most of the scholars went to visit a game studio in San Francisco. I, unfortunately, couldn’t make this. Lost luggage made a visit to the mall somewhat necessary. Tuesday evening was probably the most enjoyable evening of the whole trip. It was the night of the IGDA party. Apparently a bit more popular than expected, IGDA had over 2000 people RSVP for a max capacity 900 bar. I somehow managed to do more networking this evening then my whole week combined, I would guess partially because Michael Capps was kind enough to introduce me to a ton of people. Also, I have to admit, it was interesting being one of the 5% female population in the lounge.

Wednesday On Wednesday I was finally able to attend sessions. I spent the morning and the afternoon attending some wonderful and some so-so producer and business management orientated seminars and roundtables as well as the Sony Keynote. However, the highlight of this day was not a seminar, roundtable or keynote. It was the IGDA VIP luncheon. I had the distinct embarrassment of commiserating with a neighbor at my table about how neat it would be to win an award at this luncheon, when IGDA Finland and specifically Jay Ranki were announced as one of three MVPs for this year. After Jay also pointed out Lasse Seppäinen and me as part of the award, we were surrounded by congratulatory handshakes. This moment was definitely incredible. After this I had a one on one talk with Michael Capps on the way back to the Moscone Center. He let me pick his brain and ask all the questions I could think of in the 5 minute walk back. Very cool of him.

Thursday I spent this morning in another round of sessions including the Designing Gears of War: Iteration Wins session. I was a tad curious about the makings of the Game of the Year, and apparently everyone else was as well, the room was packed. For the last two days, I made it my focus to get some one on one time with people I knew and respected in the industry. I wanted to discuss my future and figure out that ever present question, “Where do I go from here?” To this affect, I requested Jay Ranki from Bugbear and IGDA Finland to sit down to lunch with me. We had a great discussion about what I could do/read and what I should look for. In the afternoon I met up with an old friend, Jason McCord, who works for Treyarch (part of Activision). We spent the afternoon perusing the Expos. He also introduced me to some great people from both Treyarch and Activision, who in turn got us tickets to the Microsoft party that evening. Dinner that night was a sit down with 2 level designers, a tools programmer and an associate producer for a long discussion about the skills of a good producer in their eyes. To their amusement, I took pretty extensive notes on their opinions, but 5 pages of notes were definitely worth it. After our discussion we headed to the Microsoft party; a flashy but relatively disconnected party. It felt like there were more business people there then actual game makers, but on the other hand I was a bit socially exhausted at this point!

Friday Friday was a day for one on one talks. I attended a session first thing in the morning and after met with Jeferson Valadares, who recently moved from Digital Chocolate to EA Mobile, to get some feedback and suggestions. He was able to give me excellent advice and nudge me towards some assistance with my goals. After my meeting with Jeff I met up with my mentor, Don Daglow, to have a long lunch. We had a great discussion about my thesis and made sure that we would keep in touch in the future. As this was the last day of the GDC, I spent the rest of my afternoon searching out my friends to say goodbye. Overall the experience was beyond incredible. There was so much knowledge gathered in one place just waiting to be picked up. Perhaps most importantly, every burning question I had about the game industry was answered, of course they also created 1000 more but that’s to be expected. Most specifically this trip allowed me to really get an idea of what is important and what is not for my next GDC.

Photos taken by Tommi Hartikainen Article written by Liz Lehtonen Formatted and posted by Miikka Luotio