GDC 2010: I (probably) won’t see you there

Last month, I ran a novel panel session at Austin GDC, which was well-attended and (apparently) well-liked.

I came up with the format myself, very different from normal panels, and spent a couple of months fleshing it out with the panellists, discussing different ways we could improve on it, different approaches, etc. I made a lot of mistakes with it, but I was pleased with how it went for a first attempt.

We filled about 1/2 of the room, I think the capacity was around 200. I’d hoped for more – but … we were scheduled on the second-to-last slot, on the last day of the conference, when lots of people had already gone home.

We were also scheduled at the same time as Nicole Lazzaro, and Damion Schubert. They are both exceptional – and exceptionally popular – speakers.

So … I was pretty happy we got the crowd that we did :).

It all went so well that I thought the organizers of the “main” GDC – the one in San Francisco – might like something similar. So, I contacted them (not exact email, some details snipped):

I just ran a really good session at Austin GDC, and thought that something similar might work really well for GDC 2010. And several people who want something like this at GDC have asked me to at least try :).

It was a novel format that I came up with originally, and then hammered out the details with the panellists over a couple of months until we were happy with it. Now we’ve live-tested it, I could do it even better next time :).

Is it worth me taking this further? I’d have to find a new set of panellists, and work out a new topic appropriate to GDC (as opposed to AustinGDC).

Here’s the salient part of the response I got:

Thank you for your email. If you’ve already done this session I would advise against a repeat at GDC, especially if it’s a panel proposal because panels are very hard to advance to Phase 2 and get accepted.

(NB: the wording is “I would advise”, but the email itself didn’t provide any of the details or info I’d need on how to submit this panel, so I read this as a polite but fairly strong: “no”).

My first reaction was that I’m quite relieved NOT to spend all the time and effort it takes finding another 4 top-class speakers, persuading them to speak, working with them on format and content, and organizing everything in the months leading up to the conference.

(for which – unlike most industries – GDC speakers get nothing in return. Oh, you do get an invite to a party. But it’s just like the 15 other parties that all the non-speakers get to go to. So … not a huge benefit, really)

I’m not going to hassle them to try to change their minds.

But then I thought a bit more, and wondered why it was that the conference organizers aren’t biting my arm off, demanding that we do this again? (assuming the session was as well-received as I thought it was). They’re always deflecting criticisms of “poor” sessions with “we’re dependent on the quality of what gets submitted”. In the past year, I’ve also seen a couple of friends get some of the highest-rated feedback from past GDC’s and yet seemingly the organizers don’t want them back again.

So, I’m left wondering what the strategy is here. There must – surely – be *some* strategy for a money making machine like GDC (this thing is making 6-figure profits each year). I’m just confused as to what it is.

Also, as an aside, since I rarely go to conferences these days unless I’m speaking at them, I probably won’t be at GDC next year. This year, surprisingly many people asked me why I was bothering to go to GDC at all (despite the fact I was a speaker :)). By the tenth time of being asked, I’d realised that my justifications owed as much to nostalgia and socialisation as to a useful use of my time. I was already feeling dubious about turning up next year, even before I heard my proposals had been rejected. So, just to be clear: I’m not skipping it because of this response from the organizers, although if they’d been keen for me to give the talk, it would have forced my hand into going.

4 thoughts on “GDC 2010: I (probably) won’t see you there

  1. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    The GDC approval process is a mystery. For several years I submitted all sorts of proposals and only ever got a from letter rejection. When I asked for feedback, I was told that they got “too many submission” to give feedback. Eventually, i stopped caring.

    This year is the first year I didn’t attend the Austin conference. I had spoken at the conference every year, usually at an advisors request, until last year. I suspect I’ve pissed off the conference organizers with my general badmouthing of the conference for a while, so my proposals probably get put in the round file quickly.

    The supreme irony here is that they’re telling you not to give the same session again; many of the sessions I’ve seen at the GDC over the years have just been retreads. Same speakers, even, just different title for the same old content.

    Ah, well, I’ve gone to fewer conferences this year and don’t seem to be any worse for it. Only ones I’ve gone to were the Indie MMO Developer’s Conference (which I helped to organize) and the LOGIN conference. Both were well worth my time.

  2. Jurie Horneman

    My proposal got rejected as well, so it’s now a lot less likely I’ll be at GDC next year,

    I once talked to someone on the GDC advisory board about panels, and the main reason for the response above is apparently that the odds of something going wrong (a speaker not being able to make it) are a lot higher. Which kinda makes sense. Also, a panel is more expensive to the organizers, although I don’t know how big a role that plays.

    Personally, I really like the idea of a panel, IF it is well done. If you’re experienced enough that a lot of talks contain little new information for you and what interests you are the little niggles and caveats around the big issues, it is much more interesting to get several people together and have them hash out exactly these boundaries between positions. E.g. you say you like SCRUM – OK, let’s get someone who doesn’t use SCRUM but is successful, and someone who uses SCRUM differently, and let’s talk about the various different approaches and experiences – let’s assume I know by now there are multiple perspectives on anything and talk about the negative space around and between those perspectives, so I can then make up my own mind. If that example makes sense.

    Bad panels are hell, though.

  3. adam Post author

    @jurie

    Yep – that’s pretty much exactly what was special about this panel, I modified the format to bring out more of the good bits you cite, and less of the boring bits :).

    The rules were: each topic is a “Red vs. Blue” argument, where no panellists are allowed to compromise, back-down, etc – the better the opposing arguments, the harder you’ll have to dig in your own experiences and nasty edge-cases for counter-points.

    The basic format worked OK, the main problem was that we (and the audience!) had much more to say on each topic than we had time for…

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