GDC 2011 – The Year of the Indie

Banner of GDC 2011

This post is a bit overdue since Jeff and I attended GDC 2011 last month in March but I thought I’d take the time from our busy schedule to share my thoughts and impression of this year’s conference. GDC was a great success for us on many levels including networking, learning, and getting a handle on what’s going on in the games industry so it was a very worthwhile trip.

GDC – Then and Now

The last time I’d been to GDC was probably in the late 90′s when I was working in the mainstream games industry so I wasn’t sure what to expect this time around. Would it be more of the same or had it totally changed? I guess the answer is a little of both. The format was the same, tons of content and not enough time to attend everything, and just as exhausting every day with lots to do both during and after the main conference hours.

One thing of note is the addition of on-demand viewing of sessions via the GDC Vault so you can go back and watch any sessions you couldn’t squeeze into your packed schedule. The last time I was there we all got a huge tome of a book with conference notes from all the sessions; I’m glad we’re not killing trees like that anymore. :)

Indie Games Summit

GDC IGDA Business Cards Artwork

IGDA art piece made out of indie business cards

We started the week by attending the Indie Games Summit on Monday and Tuesday before the main show floor opened. This consisted of various sessions all focused around independent game development and I have to say this was definitely time well spent.

We got a chance to hear from and in most cases meet many developers including Team Meat, 2D Boy, Playdead, Supergiant Games, Chris Hecker, Pocketwatch Games, Wolfire, and many more. The talks themselves were filled with shared experiences detailing struggles and success of various projects that were both equally inspiring. The big takeaway from the sessions was that this is indeed the best time to be an independent game developer. There is so much opportunity to innovate by prototyping and iterating quickly, lots of choice with regards to platforms for distribution, and an audience of gamers who is increasingly becoming familiar with and becoming fans of indie games. Altogether we are a part of a very vibrant and exciting scene, a movement that is growing very quickly.

The Showroom Floor

Once the main show floor opened on Wednesday I took some time in between sessions to look around but nothing really struck out as impressive. It seemed much smaller than I remember. Most of the big companies were represented but my impression was they were there more in a recruiting capacity rather than to show off anything groundbreaking. So other than Nintendo showing the 3DS there didn’t seem to be much buzz. Maybe they’ve all shifted their focus to E3 for that sort of thing?

GDC IGF Booth

Indie Games Festival booth during the show

What was nice to see was the Independent Games booth was the place where most people were gathered around and really the center of excitement on the show floor. I got a chance to try out Bastion which was great and one of the games I’m really looking forward to getting. Another one that was gathering quite a large crowd and attention was Nidhogg which I didn’t even get a chance to play as there was such a line but it was actually very fun to watch and looks to have nailed the gameplay. We also got a chance to meet Markus Persson (aka Notch), the developer of Minecraft which was very nice.

The Awards

The last part of the conference for us was attending the awards ceremonies for both independent and mainstream games. I won’t go into detail here as there are plenty of sites covering this but the quick version is that Minecraft won by a landslide picking up various awards both indie and mainstream which was very exciting. The other game that won the night was Red Dead Redemption which won numerous awards including game of the year.

Overall it was an amazing trip that inspired us and validated our excitement about the opportunity of developing games independently. If you’ve never gone to a GDC I’d highly recommend it, it’s worth saving up for the expense. We are glad to have connected with other passionate developers who are contributing to this vibrant community and we’re just thrilled to be a part of it. Please feel free to share your thoughts on GDC 2011. Now back to prototyping. :)

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