MVP Corner: Perspectives from a .NET Guy at GDC
I’ve been going to major developer conferences for 10 years now. My first was the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in San Diego back in September 1997. Whether I’m speaking or attending, I’ve always loved conferences for many reasons. Aside from the obvious knowledge value, the new business contacts and friends I meet there, the cool parties and geeky swag, I feel that conferences are a good way to get the pulse of an industry. I get to learn about the latest buzz, what makes people tick, how the professionals of that industry think, what projects and technologies matter, and which are just fads.
This year I finally made it to the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, which is *the* premier conference for game developers. We .NET geeks have PDC (and Tech·Ed to an extent), they have GDC. I’ve been eyeing GDC for a long time, and this year, with XNA now opening the doors of game development to .NET developers, I felt the timing couldn’t be better. My angle was to explore how XNA was perceived by professional game developers, which led to my article, “Microsoft XNA: Ready for Prime Time?” in this issue. However I was also able to get the pulse of the gaming industry (to an extent) and wanted to share some of the conclusions I drew.
Judging from the 400+ attendees who made it to XNA Evangelist Dave “LetsKillDave” Weller’s session at the last Tech·Ed, it certainly seems like I’m not the only .NET guy who likes games. I’m sure that many of you have looked on the other side of the fence a few times and wondered if the grass is indeed greener in the gaming industry. I know I certainly have (and still am).
While I am definitely not an authority on the gaming industry, I thought I would share a few observations I made at GDC, all from the perspective of someone like you: a .NET guy.
“I don’t know anyone here!!!” Yeah, this was a harsh reality for me. I can’t walk for more than 50 paces at Tech·Ed, MEDC or DevConnections without running into someone I know. At GDC, I was a “n00b”. However I was also accompanying Infusion’s CEO, Greg Brill, who recently invested (via our sister company Infusion Angels) in a small gaming studio in Canada, aptly named Frozen North (www.frozennorth.net). The guys had a booth there to showcase Project Hippasus, which is a fantasy MMORPG in development where magic is pervasive and players can craft their own spells using math equations. “Imagine that Mathematica and World of Warcraft had a love-child” as Greg put it. What amazed me was that here was a brand new (and unknown) studio, and a lot of people (including some very well known ones who shall remain unnamed) just loved the game idea and Frozen North’s demo and could not wait to try it out. The gaming industry is always looking for the next best thing, whether it comes from a big publisher or a small independent studio.
“GDC speakers are the real deal.” Every session I went to featured a speaker who had worked on this game or that MMORPG. Designers, developers, and producers from Bioware, Blizzard, Perpetual, Harmonix, Epic, and other studios and publishers that brought us some of the best games ever. When these guys talk about something, you truly get the voice of experience.
“Roundtable sessions are the best!” Moderated by industry experts and GDC speakers, these sessions allow anyone to be part of the discussion. A topic is introduced by the moderator, and everyone gets to discuss, share thoughts, and debate. The couple of roundtables on MMORPG game design I attended were by far my favorite sessions of the whole show.
“There’s a whole section just for recruiting!?!” Yes, recruiting is not only accepted at GDC, it’s a major activity. All these guys carry resumes, looking for their next project. From Electronic Arts and Disney to Lucas Arts, SOE, and Ubisoft, they were all there, ready to talk to anyone who stops by. I could not help but remember the time when an attendee gave me a hard time once at DevConnections because I had mentioned we were recruiting at Infusion at the beginning of my session in my introduction, fearing I would steal his developers. Quite a contrast.
“GDC honors its own.” Granted, games being a form of entertainment makes it easier to have an awards ceremony, but I still thought it was a cool idea and a great evening. The first half of the evening was for awards presented to independent game developers, and the second half saw professional titles like Gears of War, Guitar Hero II, Okami and Wii Sports win the praise of their peers in the Developers Choice Awards.
“Miyamoto is more popular than Bill Gates.” Love him or hate him, Bill Gates is respected as the King of Geeks, the one who showed the world that nerds truly matter. People line up far in advance for a Gates keynote at a conference. But all this pales in comparison with the reverence awarded to Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Donkey Kong, Mario, and Zelda, and new member of the Time 100. People were lining up for over an hour before his keynote (which was delivered in and translated from Japanese, no less). Simply put: to them, he is a God.
Sure, things may not be perfect in the gaming industry, but I had a great time. Playing games may be fun, but making them definitely seems fascinating. Eager to get started with your own? Then look no further than the pages of this issue to find out how you can leverage your .NET skills for game development.