Another year and another conference is underway. Before you continue reading this post, be sure to check out my impressions from last year’s event. It will save me a lot of typing.
Why would I say something like that? Well, to be perfectly honest, not a lot has changed this year it seems. The formula is essentially the same though I will admit that the content feels a bit more polished overall. There is quite literally only 1 talk per profession per session block. Don’t like the one and only programming talk for that hour? Well, you better start liking business development or education.
Though the bar is slightly higher from last year, the lack of content makes it difficult to ever feel like you are missing out on something. I generally found myself with an abundance of time between sessions. Where GDC would often pack and overlap sessions at near 15 minute intervals, ECGC would have a 1 hour session followed by a 15 minute break before the next session. Even the 1:30 hour lunch break felt a bit stretched, especially for only a 2 day conference. The entire show had maybe 4 sessions a day.
By GDC standards, 3 or 4 sessions a day might be okay but that is only because there is a massive expo floor to crawl and plenty of developers at each booth who are eager to strike up conversation. This leads me to the other half of the ECGC, the expo floor. Taking up the same tiny space as last year, the exhibitors didn’t seem to know why they were there. Many of them lacked the barest of enthusiasm and striking up a conversation was like pulling teeth. I had to run outside and do a quick breath check; was it me??
Some booths didn’t even have signs while others had personnel who gave mixed messages. Some were there to show off a new game or software but other individuals from the same booth claimed to be there recruiting. To amplify the confusion, no developers were there to speak with potential recruits. Most of the HR personnel would look up from their texting session to point to a black box and tell you to drop your card in there or point you to the same corporate website that any joe sixpack could have visited without paying to travel to the conference. If I was actively looking for work and flew out here to get personal with a company I would have been pretty upset right about now.
I know it sounds like I’m beating down pretty hard on ECGC but I really did have high hopes to see a little more progress. It is definitely moving in the right direction, but at a turtle’s pace. Admittedly many of the things I mentioned above are also reasons why the ticket prices are more affordable. The affordable price tag is a definite draw, but my presence next year is a little more on the fence than it was in 2011. The only real saving grace of the event was the two kenotes given by Zynga’s Paul Stephanouk and EA’s Paul Barnett.
Paul Stephanouk was very much a quite roar, a man with lots to say but had the undeniable mumble of someone who probably spent more time with his own thoughts than expressing them to the world. It was a bit refreshing to see a personality like that on stage and honestly has put a small crack in the ass hole imagery often portrayed when Zynga’s name pops up. He appeared to genuinely care about his games, and his speech was focused on how he stopped making games for himself but instead has turned to making games for his wife and children. I still hate your games Zynga, but Paul has brought a human side to the company that is otherwise known for ripping off small business.
Paul Barnett (I just realized they are both named Paul) was like the Yin to the Yang of Paul Stephanouk. Barnett was a loud, rambunctious, and candid speaking individual who delivered his speech more like a stand up comedy routine than a formal keynote. Playing the crowd like a deck of cards, he often left everyone laughing as hard as he did leave them thinking about their place in the industry. He described what he called the “golden age” and how it changes for each generation. He went on to say that no game will ever be better than the games we all played in our golden age and that we must recognize this when speaking to people of a different golden age. He rambled off some statistics about the newest generation, the millennial generation, and how they valued internet access more than cars, or how email is what “old people do”. I listened to his description and it completely shed light on the fact that kids today are a bunch of self entitled brats that don’t know how good they have it =). It’s all so clear to me now.
Barnett ended his keynote with a string of statements that were sure to be humorous, but like any good comedy, has a lining of truth. To paraphrase, he said, “There are three kinds of developers. The first kind are the greats; and if you are here listening to me you are not one of them.” Admittedly game conferences have this sort of weird chemical way of dragging me down a bit, but that line gave me pause and I’ve been soul searching ever since. Who knows, maybe my search will lead me back to where I am now, but I won’t know until I question my place.
Over all, these two keynotes and a few other needles in the stack were saving graces for this conference. But if they hope to entice a wider array of professionals from around the US or the world, the East Coast Games Conference has a very long road ahead. Education focused talks are fine but with such a short list of sessions there needs to be a stronger focus on professionals with less talks for the common kid on the street. If I wanted to learn a textbook definition of cloud computing or navigation meshes, or learn high level lessons like “social games are a growing space” I could open Wikipedia. I attend conferences to learn what the books can’t tell you and converse with industry people who share the same love, but this year I just wasn’t feeling the love.