Whew!  It’s a week later, and I’m almost recovered from the non-stop whirlwind that was GDC 2016!  I thought I’d do a little write-up of how my week went while it’s still fresh in my mind. (I also got a lot of good inspiration for blog content from GDC, so stay tuned over the next days and weeks.)

Going into the week, I was primarily interested in a few different areas:

  • VR
  • Diversity and Gender Issues
  • DevOps Tooling and Automation

I had an All Access pass giving me access to all of the summits as well as the main conference (I highly recommend the All Access pass if you can be in town for the entire week), so, using the mobile app, I prepped a schedule that covered an array of topics and worked around the customer meetings that I needed to do.

I saw a dozen or so talks throughout the week.  Here are a few that really stood out to me:

  • Mobile Devices and Disabled Gamers – This talk is pretty much what it sounds like: how to make games — particularly mobile games — accessible to an audience that includes people with varying levels of mobility and accessability.  I hadn’t really thought about this before, and it definitely helped me gain some new perspective.  A few interesting points included:
    • The types of issues we should try to consider when designing games include things like limited mobility and limited hearing or eyesight, but also color blindness and motion sickness.
    • Many of the accommodations made for gamers with disabilities benefit non-disabled players as well (example: being outside in direct sunlight creates a similar issue with lack of contrast that many people with limited eyesight experience).
    • Our likelihood of developing an issue with our hearing, or eyesight, or something else as we get older is ever-increasing, so unless we intend to stop playing games as we get older, we should get into the habit of developing games that can accommodate these issues now.
  • Emotional Labor and Diversity – This was a particularly interesting session for me, as it actually introduced me to the concept of Emotional Labor.  The content of the talk was quite good, with the speaker discussing how community management and moderation is handled at MetaFilter.  I highly recommend this talk for anyone who’s working in a community management role.
  • DevOps for Mobile: It’s Not Just for Enterprise Anymore – This was a talk given by a quite experienced speaker that was a good “This is how you get started with DevOps in your engineering organization”.  I didn’t learn anything new here, but I thought the content was very good for the general game development audience, and I hope attendees take home the ideas and put them into practice in their own studios, if they aren’t already.  The only point I raised a question about was the idea that a dedicated DevOps team is often just another Ops team in disguise.  I suppose this may be true (depending on how you implement the team), but I don’t think that should let us be scared away from dedicated DevOps teams — they just need to be correctly implemented.
  • Harassment in Social VR Spaces – I really thought this talk was phenomenal, to be honest. In short, this talk really connected some dots about how, if consumer VR actually takes off, the kind of harassment we see already in online games (particularly in the MOBA or MMORPG genres) has the potential to be taken to a whole new level with VR, due to the level of immersion and emotional connection that players can achieve with a VR game.  I highly recommend this talk to everyone — especially anyone who is creating, or might in the future create, VR content.
  • 10 Ways to Make Your Game More Diverse – This was a really interesting talk about how designers and writers in particular can make a game appeal to a more diverse audience.  It specifically used a lot of examples from how the writers behind “80 Days” approached diversity.  Overall good, solid, interesting content delivered by a good speaker.  I recommend this for designers and writers (and anyone interested in diversity issues).
  • [Continuous] Delivery Pipelines via Docker – This was one of my very favorite talks of the entire conference.  It was technical and meaty and of great value to anyone in the industry who is dealing with tooling and infrastructure at a large-ish organization.  It’s basically the story of how the build, operations, and network engineering teams at Riot Games automated their way out of being a blocker in the pipeline between development and delivery.  Some heavy follow-up reading from the talk includes The Borg Paper from Google (which I’ve read before, but this talk inspires me to re-read), as well as literature around the cluster management system Kubernetes (I haven’t made myself familiar with the concept of cluster managers before, as my background is on the software development side, not operations — but I certainly will now).  If you’ve already got some experience in the whole DevOps area (or even a subset of it — particularly Build Engineering or Operations), this is a must-see talk.

I saw lots of other great talks as well, but I’ll stop here.

General Take-Aways and Observations

I got to try the VR demo for Paranormal Activity: The Virtual Reality Game, and I really loved it.  It made me scream (I wasn’t the only one), and my only wish was that the demo went on longer.  I think anyone who isn’t a believer that VR games can be run and people would actually like to play them should definitely try this demo.

I’ve tried the latest generations of several VR headsets now, and the HTC Vive is definitely the winner for me.  The controllers, however, are still a bit clumsy to use (especially with the grip button).  I definitely find that the VR experiences where I am standing up and can walk around make me significantly less prone to VR sickness than the experiences where I am sitting in a chair.

Overall, I felt like discussions around harassment and diversity were positive and productive, which was great.  I am still convinced that a fundamental issue in this area is that we don’t even all agree on what the problems are, so it’s pretty hard to talk about solutions in a lot of cases.  But I do believe that sharing viewpoints and perspectives and seeing how other people see the same situation differently are all part of the solutions, whatever they are — and there was a lot of that going on.

On a bit more of a touchy subject: there was a lot of noise in social media about the party hosted by Microsoft and its hiring of scantily-clad women to dance on platforms and socialize with guests (there is added irony, of course, from the fact that Microsoft hosted a Women in Gaming event earlier that same day).  Microsoft did issue its own responses.  Obviously this industry isn’t yet a place where everyone feels comfortable and included, but in all of this noise, I do want to make clear one very important thing to anyone who is entering the games industry, or who is considering entering the games industry: The people who plan parties and events are not the same people you’re working with side-by-side as a developer.  Especially in large companies like Microsoft, the event planning may have even been contracted out to another organization.  I’m not saying that it’s excusable, I’m just telling you to not let it discourage you.

On top of all of the talks and demos, there was a lot of customer interaction and general mingling with other people in the industry.  I believe one of the most valuable benefits of attending GDC is actually all of the networking you do.  Maybe I met someone I’ll hire in the future . . . and I certainly expanded my network with some more awesome, talented tools developers, helping to cultivate a community where we can all learn from each other.

And of course Unity announced some cool things that I’m super proud of (see our keynote, or one of the many write-ups about it).

As far as GDC goes, that’s about it from me.  Until 2017!

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