This is funny – when I applied to be a volunteer at GDC 2013, I mistakenly read the essay requirement as 1500 words, rather than 1500 characters. I actually wrote a 1500 word essay, and only when attempting to paste it into the text box on the application did I realize my mistake. So I had to edit it down substantially, which turned out fine. I also ended up not being selected as a volunteer, which is fine too. I’ll still be at the conference in March.
However, I thought that the original version of the essay turned out to be a very heartfelt reflection on myself and my career, so rather than let it go to waste, I figured I’d share it here, in its entirety, unedited. And if you happen to be a fellow game developer reading this, whether we’ve met before or not, I miss you and I can’t wait to see you in March.
Never before in my life have I been so excited for any single game-related event as I am now for the Game Developers Conference in 2013. I’m sure this sounds trite, but coming from me, it truly means something. In order for you to understand why, I have to tell the story of my turbulent history as a game developer.
My earliest memories of learning about game industry events date back to my teenage years. Back then, when I was still much more simply a gamer than a game developer, GDC was overshadowed by the E3 convention. During our senior year of high school, my best friend and I were so enthralled with the game industry and E3 that we flew to Los Angeles and went to the expo. We got in with press badges by posing as assistants to his mother who had legitimate press credentials. Imagine the excitement of a videogame-obsessed 18 year old flying to California to actually go to E3. Yet that excitement pales in comparison to my feelings toward the upcoming GDC.
Today, memories of my past experiences at GDC conjure a strange mix of emotions. Each time it was accompanied by a different mindset. The first GDC I attended was during college. This was an incredibly optimistic time in my life since at that point, my lifelong dream of becoming a game creator was on track to becoming a reality. I had recently been accepted as a summer intern at a major game publisher, so I knew that in the following summer I would be living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. Attending that GDC was a little preview of what living there was going to be like.
The following year, I accepted a full time position as an engineer at the same studio that I had interned at. To make a long story short, my naive idealism for what working in the AAA game industry would be like faded rather quickly and was replaced by a cynical disenchantment. This disenchantment was accompanied with the rise of an ego-driven sense of entitlement with regard to my position in the industry. At that point, I decided going it alone was the only way for me, and this was fueled in large part by my perception of the indie culture and community I had observed at GDC each year that I lived there.
It’s important to note that I decided to go it alone, because my perception at that time of what it meant to go indie had been significantly warped by my ego. What followed was an attempt to work on my own game designs and it ended in complete failure. After a year, I had released nothing and had little more than a few very incomplete prototypes to show for it. My cynicism toward game development was at an all time high. This ended with the decision that I no longer wanted to be a professional game developer, that I would be happier just making games as a hobby. Thus, I moved back to my native New York and got a job as a data system engineer in the education industry.
I did, however, stay true to the hobby and eventually released an esoteric puzzle game for iOS that I developed with a musician friend of mine who had an appetite for game design. After that, I continued working on some iOS game designs of my own at a very leisurely, relaxed pace.
Something amazing happened to me during those years being away from professional game development. With the complete lack of pressure in a hobby, I was able to gain a whole new perspective on the experience of game making. My cynicism faded away, as well as my sense of entitlement. In other words, I grew up. And having grown up, I found that I had never lost the passion for game development. Instead, I had just let negative attitudes toward specific aspects of the profession and industry sour the whole experience for me. I recalled the community and culture epitomized by GDC and realized there are many tremendously positive and uplifting aspects of the industry to balance out the negative stuff that had brought me so far down. And with this renewed spirit, I left my data systems job and set out on the greatest adventure of my life. I started an indie game development company with a few friends, and we are now hard at work on our first game.
I stand today reflecting on this history as the anticipation for GDC in March builds. The reason I will make a great volunteer is my supreme excitement and strong desire to thoroughly reconnect with the vast community of game developers that GDC fosters so well. If I am not selected as a volunteer, I will probably still attend the conference, but it will put a serious strain on my already strained indie developer budget. But I don’t think any GDC experience will be as fulfilling as having the opportunity to give something back to the game development community after all these years of being apart from it.