Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

11 March, 2007

Weekend Design Challenge: Conferences
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 7:40 AM

I’m going to go off the beaten path here a bit. Given my thoughts on the GDC, and the impressions of other people (particularly Raph’s lament that it was “too E3ish”, I think it would be good to think about what goes into a good conference.

I’ll post my ideas a bit later. As some know, I’ve helped to put together a few of the MUD-Dev conferences, so I have some thoughts on this matter. :)

What are your thoughts? What goes into a good conference, and what would make a conference useful for game developers (particularly online developers)?

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  1. Lots and lots of downtime.

    All the best stuff comes from informal discussions and beermat drawings. We already know this. It’s just a shame that as soon as anyone formalizes a gathering, you start getting an agenda in the way to screw things up.

    Comment by Rich Bryant — 11 March, 2007 @ 9:10 AM

    1. Small size — This is the biggest thing that DICE and AGC have going for them over GDC. You can actually run into people you want to talk to.
    2. No students allowed — It’s rude to say this, I’m sure, but I don’t give a rat’s ass what some 20 year old going to Digipen or Full Sail has to say. If I’m going to sit down with a bunch of random people at lunch I want most of them to have shipped a game.
    3. Constrained subject matter — “Games” is too big for one conference as GDC shows us over and over. I don’t care to dig through piles of talks on BREW or the cell processor (or even graphics in general) to get to the talk on object databases or asset streaming over slow networks.
    4. Shorter is ok — AGC is up to three days now, which is fine… I don’t mind a three day conference. A one day conference with a laser focus on talks I really care about would be better, however.
    5. Talks about things people have actually tried in a real, shipping game — Half the talks at GDC are about pie in the sky new algorithms or high level design or art philosophies. Some of this is fine, but most talks should be about experiences, not theories.
    6. Advanced talks on topics other than graphics and physics — I care just enough about physics and graphics (and let’s put sound in there while we’re at it) to hire somebody else to deal with them. Unfortunately those are the only topics that have advanced topics, probably because they’re also the most popular topics. I want advanced talks on databases, data-driven design, software engineering, networking, object persistence models, and load distribution.
    7. More focus on failures — I want to know what happened with Horizons, Shadowbane, Asheron’s Call 2, Auto Assault, Matrix Online and D&D Online that caused these games to not meet expectations. I mean what REALLY happened.
    8. Mandatory speaker preparation — Maybe there should be a required dress rehearsal of each lecture a week before the conference. I’m sick of going to lectures where a word document full of typos is what passes for slides.

    Comment by Joe Ludwig — 11 March, 2007 @ 1:04 PM

  2. Hacking the Conference

    [...] Psychochild asks: What goes into a good conference, and what would make a conference useful for game developers (particularly online developers)? [...]

    Pingback by Joe Ludwig’s Blog — 11 March, 2007 @ 1:39 PM

  3. K, so I’ll fess up here and now, I’m not a game dev. I’m not even a software dev. I do infrastructure. Don’t get me wrong, I have lots of ideas in the gaming space (which is why I frequent blogs!) and even have some stuff written down, but financially I can’t afford to try and make a career change right now, so I keep on doing the server-OS-network thing.

    Anyway, I’ve been to a few conferences and trade shows in my time, so here’s my thoughts on what works.

    1. Keep it small. When you get to the point where you’re spanning multiple buildings and such, it’s probably getting too big to be useful other than for marketing. One hotel or convention center for 2-3 days is about where you want to be.

    2. Free time is important. Start late (9-10 am), allow a 2 hour lunch, then finish early (4 pm). Give people time to mingle, to talk about what they’re seeing at the conference.

    3. If you’re multidiscipline, come up with easily identifiable tracks that people can follow. For example, in a games conference, there should be tracks for concept/design, programming/database, art/presentation, business/marketing, and so on. People can attend cross-discipline if they want but most people want to stay within their area of expertise.

    4. Not for newbies. People like to turn conferences into recruiting events if you let them. Don’t allow general public in, or enforce a very strict “no resume” policy. No booths either. That’s a trade show, not a conference. I used to want to go to E3 to hear some of the seminars and talks there, but nearly everyone else I know wanted to go look at the new games. Thre’s a big difference between the two types of events and mixing them just invites disaster.

    5. Consider alternate deliveries. If what you really want to do is a symposium on game design, maybe a retreat format with a small audience is better than a full conference. On the other hand, if you want to show off emerging technology and methods, maybe a workshop format for a week is a better delivery model. Ultimately delivery in any kind of event is about making sure the people who come feel like they got their monies worth and giving them something that they can take back to their daily job and put to use (even if it’s just knowledge or ideas).

    Comment by Talaen — 12 March, 2007 @ 10:55 AM

  4. Conference feature wishlist

    [...] Monday, March 12th, 2007 in General Design Psychochild has yet another interesting weekend challenge up… what features make for a good conference, more specifically a good “professional conference”? [...]

    Pingback by Voyages in Eternity — 12 March, 2007 @ 2:47 PM

  5. I think the lines have been blurred to much and we are trying to get more out of a ‘conference’ than it can offer.

    A good conference should be packed full of interesting sessions where the participants can learn. This mandates a healthy mix of presenters/speakers and should not rehash topics/speakers from other conferences in the last year.

    A good networking event should be all about the card exchange.

    A good expo should have a great conference floor.

    I missed GDC this year, but it seems like it was more of a mash than a conference.

    Comment by Grimwell — 12 March, 2007 @ 9:44 PM

  6. More focus on failures — I want to know what happened with Horizons, Shadowbane, Asheron’s Call 2, Auto Assault, Matrix Online and D&D Online that caused these games to not meet expectations. I mean what REALLY happened.

    That requires good bars, flowing drinks and dim lights. And usually from someone who wasn’t a lead.

    It is possible that I’m mistaken, but I’m pretty damn sure that these conferences are a business for the people who put them on.

    I thought GDC in 99 was marginally useful, but my company at the time (Roger Wilco) could afford to send us there and we were there for the booth/exposure and meetings and such. The conferences I got to sneak into…meh. I get the impression it is much worse now, but it had enough of the ‘big booth look at our shiny stuff’ to annoy me. Thankfully, we were kept very busy.

    E3 – for the love of Thor why? I would never attend that on my own dime. Working that in ’99 was trench warfare at the back of Kentia Hall (or whatever the basement was – we were across the aisle from China – as in “the People’s Republic of”.

    AGC has a nice focus on MMOs. The two I’ve gone to were somewhat fruitful. It is also convenient to Dallas. The expense is also low, both registration and hotel stays. Last one is getting to be too large. Seriously – bigger damn rooms. You know some rooms are going to be cramped and uncomfortable every year. (Except for the price gouging on crappy food and sodas). I know that in the past, some of the more technical presentations there have been particularly helpful to programmers I know.

    Best conference I’ve been too really was the Texas Independent Games Conference last summer. Greg Costikyan and Warren Spector were the keynotes, but Gordon Walton also carried a lot of water. Very cheap as conferences go. Easy access to those guys, plus plenty of others, such as Steve Jackson. But even though I enjoyed attending and learned some things, IMO, you shouldn’t need to pony up conference and travel fees to benefit from what was said. The keynotes and Walton all covered most of the same ground, which shouldn’t be too surprising given this was focused on independent games (though when Gordon Walton, admittedly an non-independent, says with a smile, “You’re dead before you know it if you try to compete on our terrain,” it does resonate.

    I posted my notes on that on, for the interested:

    Comment by bloo — 13 March, 2007 @ 9:34 PM

  7. I agree with most of what has been posted here. The only mildly controversial topic would be Joe’s suggestion for “no students” above. Not sure if I agree with this 100%.

    On one hand, getting rid of the students and the wannabes would eliminate a lot of the bulk of the conference. One of the reasons why E3 was so huge is because they let just about anyone in. The GDC is also large because the main audience is the students who want to break in.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure that eliminating students is a good idea. First of all, it denies them a chance to mingle with other professionals. You could argue for a special event for them, but would it attract as many professionals? I know most of us got into the industry through luck or circumstance, but not everyone is so lucky. Being able to chat with a real developer helps a lot, especially when that doubt starts to set in. We’d probably lose a lot of otherwise talented developers from the industry. (Some people might argue that’s not a bad thing….)

    So, yeah, it’s annoying when you want to talk to someone you only see briefly once per year but there’s a line 12 deep of students trying to show off their portfolio or some wannabe explaining how all MMOs are crap and he has the only good idea in the industry. On the other hand, eliminating them all eliminates part of what will make it easier for them to get a job in the future. If only you could separate out the serious people from the crackpots; of course, that would make hiring easier, too. ;)

    Otherwise, yeah, everyone else is on target, IMHO.

    My thoughts.

    Comment by Psychochild — 16 March, 2007 @ 9:38 PM

  8. Maybe we just need to ban the students from one of the three days of the conference. Or make them wear special hats or something. :)

    Comment by Joe Ludwig — 17 March, 2007 @ 11:35 AM

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