The First Game Developers' Conference

added photograph and names on October 10th, 2010

The April symposium was certainly an intense experience. I have difficulty remembering specific events or statements; it’s all pretty much a blur. Yet some powerful impressions remain.

First was the caliber of the discussion. People made good, solid points, expressed them cogently and concisely. Yes, there was a little inanity, but it was swamped by the generally high level of intellectual energy maintained by most of the attendees.

This doesn’t mean that I approved of everything said. Indeed, as Cliff Johnson’s report makes clear, we disagreed on just about everything of any importance. What struck me is that we all disagreed so well.

I was also pleased by the gentlemanliness of the discussion. We fit 26 people into one room and carried on a group discussion that worked! The intellectual anarchy and self-centeredness that are commonly associated with game designers was simply not in evidence at this meeting.

I think one reason for this lay in the makeup of the group and this was another surprise for me. I have always thought of game designers as youngsters in their early twenties. Not this group. These people were almost all untrust-worthily over 30. What a striking development! Perhaps a quiet revolution has taken place in the last few years. Perhaps programming talent (more evident in a younger worker) has taken a back seat to design talent, which takes longer to refine and polish. Or perhaps it is nothing more than the same people getting older.

I was also struck by the seriousness of the group. Yes, we had some great laughs a sense of humor still seems closely correlated with a talent for designing games but these people were here to learn and share, and there was little wasted energy. Speakers’ statements were short and to the point. Disagreements were aired but not belabored.

This was also a highly professional group. In the afternoon session we talked about business issues, and there was considerable gossiping about publishers, but I was surprised that the gossip was handled so maturely by the group. There was no pettiness or viciousness in it. Several of the attendees related anecdotes of abuse and bad faith on the part of publishers, yet the hard edge of anger was not in their voices. The few attempts at rabble-rousing fell on deaf ears.

But easily the most powerful feeling of the day was the dawning sense of awareness of community. For the first few hours, you could see people looking around the circle of faces with a sense of awe. "My God!" their faces said, "Lookit all these other people who are game designers just like me!" People who have spent years working in isolation suddenly realized that there are others who ask the same questions, fight the same battles, and make the same mistakes they have.

Like I said, the details of what was said have left me, but the powerful sense of community, the feeling of cameraderie with the others in that room will not soon recede. You shoulda been there.

Attendees of the First Computer Game Developers’ Conference

Top Row, from left:
Sean Barger, unknown, Dave Menconi (hat), Cliff Johnson (sunglasses), unknown, unknown, Tim Brengle (white shirt), Tim Fredenburg

Middle Row, from left:
Stephen Friedman, Kellyn Beeck, unknown, Brian Moriarty (brown shirt), Carol Manley (in front of Brian Moriarty), Gordon Walton (black shirt), Thurston Searfoss, unknown

Bottom Row, from left:
Gilman Louie, unknown, Jeff Johannigman (red shirt), Ivan Manley, unknown, David Graves, Chris Crawford

Known Attendees whom I cannot recognize:
Mike Duffy, Sean Hill, Dan Howlett, Jeff Jones, Michael Jones, Oran Kangas, Rob Swigart, Norman Worthington

Not in photo but attended earlier:
Brenda Laurel

The First Computer Game Designers Symposium was a rousing success. The excitement and energy level of the discussion was intense. The attendees really seemed to enjoy themselve immensely. And perhaps the only issue over which there was unanimity was the question of whether there should be another conference. The enthusiasm was so high that we formed a steering committee then and there, and there was no shortage of volunteers.

The steering committee has met twice now and has laid down the basic plan of the conference. This plan is presented in the registration form accompanying this issue of the Journal.

Realizing that few members of our community can afford to spend a lot of money on something like this, we have planned this as a low-cost affair. The Milpitas Holiday Inn can provide the services we need at a minimal price, and does not charge high room rates. It appears that it will cost us about $75 per person, and the room rate will be $70 per night for a single room. However, the first number depends mightily on how many people attend. Moreover, the sooner we have solid attendance figures, the more efficient we can be. We therefore created the steeply escalating price structure.

We are excited about this conference. This is the first opportunity for the entire community to gather and talk shop. From what we learned in the first conference, we know that such discussions can be exhilarating and enlightening. We very much hope that all professional game designers will come to this conference. We realize that it will cost you money and time, but we are certain that it will be worth your while. More than that, it is important for the community at large to have an opportunity to gather once a year and recognize itself as a community. Please come and help make this a success.