GDC is my personal New Year. It's a time of renewal, enlightenment, connection, and reconnection that is hard to replicate anywhere else. I emerge from every GDC with a better sense of what I want to do and who I want to be, and GDC 2016 - my fourth! - was no exception. Now that about a month has passed since the event, I finally feel like I've had enough time to assemble some of my takeaways from the experience.
I. Fortify Your Network
A staple of my previous GDCs has been a mad scramble to exchange as many business cards as possible before the end of the conference. There's a lot of pressure to maximize your networking throughout the week, and, as a result, many of those new connections end up ringing a bit hollow. This year, I instead focused on nurturing the relationships I started last year and have been building ever since via social media, making only a few new connections. This approach ensured that I only spent time getting to know new people with whom I genuinely wanted to connect on a deeper level.
Because of this, I'm now engaged in thoughtful professional email exchanges with new acquaintances, and I can check in with the folks with whom I fortified my connections about game news, trends, and projects regularly and with familiarity. Also, by deepening those older connections, I have expanded my network in ways that are not readily apparent. Someone who truly knows the quality of your work and character is more likely to recommend you and introduce you to people who can help you pursue your dream projects and passions.
TL; DR: The key to expanding your network is quality of connections, not quantity; also be sure to nurture longer-standing relationships.
II. Informative Surprises Happen!
By complete chance, I ended up attending a talk called, "Anatomy of Great Voice-Over: A Casting & Recording Primer." I usually stick to the Narrative track, but this talk on the Audio and Production tracks caught my eye because of my interest in and experience with voice acting. Andrea Toyias, casting & voice over director at Blizzard, was giving the talk, but when I walked in, I saw that she had a special guest with her - Dee Bradley Baker, an extremely prominent and talented voice actor! There was no mention of Baker's guest appearance anywhere in the GDC app or program. I only got the chance to hear his take on how to craft useful VO audition scripts because I took a chance on a talk that was "off-track."
TL; DR: Attend a session that seems only marginally related to your primary discipline; you'll likely learn something new and applicable to your work.
III. Set Goals & Go for Them
Last year, I won a Platinum award in the GDC Game Narrative Review competition. I wrote an analysis of the narrative of Dragon Age: Origins, focusing on representations of romance, sexuality, and gender identity in the game. I presented my essay during the GDC 2015 Narrative Summit, and I had such an enlightening experience that I set a goal to win Platinum in the competition again in 2016...
...and I did.
This year, I wrote about representations of mental illness and the emotional impact of performing mundane activities with NPCs in Heavy Rain. I knew that I wanted to focus on the topic of mental health in games, and Heavy Rain provided a perfect opportunity to do so, as all four of the playable characters contend with challenges that prevent them from solving the game's mystery on their own. And, as it turns out, I'm the first person to earn Platinum twice in the history of the competition, which is a distinction I'm humbled to hold.
More importantly, though, placing in this competition gave me an instant talking point with industry writers at GDC and poster session experience that I could share with the members of the writing club I founded at DigiPen. Connecting with fellow writers is almost always an inspiring experience for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed supporting other DigiPen writing club members in their pursuit of placing in the competition.
TL; DR: You have a 0% chance if you don't set goals AND apply. Seek out opportunities to showcase your work at GDC/other conference and do the work to the best of your ability.
IV. Get Involved
Thanks to my Platinum win in 2015, I met Matthew Lee, a talented RN and Fulbright Scholar, who was looking to start an IGDA Special Interest Group (SIG) devoted to serious games. He came by my poster session, and we started discussing how to start the SIG. One year later, at GDC 2016, we hosted the SIG's first GDC roundtable, led by fellow steering committee member, Josephine Tsay. It was incredible to see how many people were interested in serious games - the room was packed, and it remained half full even after the session was officially over. I never thought I would be involved with such an amazing group of people, and I likely would not have gotten involved if not for the poster session.
TL; DR: Get involved in organized dev groups so you can meet other people who share your passions and who are excited about starting projects with you.
V. The CA Program is Tops
This year also marked my second GDC as a Conference Associate. At this point, I can't imagine attending the event without performing my volunteer duties and spending time with my fellow CAs. I made a special point of deepening my connections with CAs I met last year, but I also met a few new folks and welcomed fellow DigiPen student and talented game designer Aviva Schecterson into the fold.
Many of my fellow CAs are involved in the game industry, so it was once again extremely inspiring to hear about everyone's projects and skills, both game-related and otherwise. CAs also have a special dedication to supporting each other that I value beyond measure and now look forward to both giving and receiving at the event (and beyond!) each year.
TL; DR: Helping out at GDC serves as a happy reminder that there's always something new to learn and that the game industry is comprised of a lot of helpful, talented, and kind people.
Looking forward to the next round of knowledge acquisition, new connections, and exciting experiences at GDC 2017!