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Game Developers Conference: Have Fun and Be Wowed

Following an exposition to pursue game design for his thesis project, second-year student Derek Chan received a department scholarship to attend last week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. He comes back with inspiration, insights, and more excitement.

Hello San Francisco! …And just like that, it’s goodbye three days later. As I write this recap of the Game Developers Conference (GDC), I’m thinking about all the great talks and talented people I got to see over the past few days.

The GDC is the annual celebration of everything that’s been happening, and will be happening in the gaming industry. From post-mortem talks of past games to demonstrations of the latest hardware, the conference was always full of energy and, possibly the most exciting thing of all to see, was the passion emanating from every attendee. While not everyone in attendance has had the opportunity to design a game, you could tell that everyone loves playing them, and it’s that atmosphere of genuine curiosity and love of the craft that made this week so special.

My trip could be summed up in about three parts, which coincided with things I wanted to do while I was here. The first was to learn and be inspired, and there was no shortage of that. The conference’s opening keynote was by Nintendo’s President and CEO, Satoru Iwata. Mr. Iwata delivered an invigorating talk about how far the gaming industry has come and where he sees it going in the near future. Nuggets of inspiration were littered throughout, as the presentation culminated in the importance of the social experience of playing games with others being paramount, even over hardware and software considerations. Designing for that social experience, thus, will be the key to success in years to come.

2011 Game Developers Conference Opening Keynote with Nintendo’s President and CEO, Satoru Iwata.
2011 Game Developers Conference Opening Keynote with Nintendo’s President and CEO, Satoru Iwata.

Opening Keynote with Nintendo’s President and CEO, Satoru Iwata.

Outside of Mr. Iwata’s keynote, topics from other talks of note included social gaming, design principles in well-known games, the role of storytelling and narrative in games, and the importance of choice systems.

The second major part of the conference was networking. While the conference itself was a great venue to meet other designers, ultimately the real networking happened at the after-parties. I was able to attend several of them and was inspired by the ambitions of everyone I talked to. Many seemed to be a CEO of their own startup, which I thought must be the Bay Area mentality. This goes back to the importance of being passionate about what you do, because it definitely showed with how the people I talked to described their ideas and reasons for starting their own businesses.

For the last part of my trip, I just wanted to have fun and be wowed. There were plenty of jaw-dropping moments on the exhibition floor, with every major game studio, technology partner, and hardware manufacturer present with their staff, kiosks, TV screens, and demo stations. I got a chance to play with the soon-to-be-released Nintendo 3DS, talk to staff of game studios who were hiring, and was simply a part of a world that never ceased to rouse excitement in me.

As the weeks go by and my tenure at the MFA in Interaction Design program come to a close, I’m appreciative of the fact that I was able to attend a conference that means so much to my career trajectory. I’m sad to leave sunny California, but at the same time, excited to head back to New York to share my experience and continue to iterate on my thesis project that’s been so profoundly influenced by everything I learned here.

–Derek Chan, Class of 2011

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