IntroductionBack in 2001, I helped to form the IGDA New Jersey chapter. At the time, the IGDA was itself only around 2-3 years old as an official organization (formed from the Computer Game Developers Association) and its reach was hardly felt domestically, let alone internationally. I had no local resources to turn to in my quest to become a game developer, so I was forced to make my own. Over the years the New Jersey chapter grew and began to influence surrounding areas, most notably New York, which founded their own chapter around 2003 as more game companies started to spring up in the city. As the IGDA grew and coalesced, NY and NJ began to form relations with other neighboring regional chapters - those in Boston, Philly and Baltimore. Even before all this though, there were many talks about hosting some sort of GDC-like conference or summit here somewhere along the Eastern US. I no longer have the web forum, but my original game development company Blade Edge Software (now just my personal blog) once hosted a forum back in 2003 where several members of the east coast game development community discussed such a conference - obviously nothing became of it.
That was really the one and only real push to get a conference started - in the years since there was still plenty of discussion, but no real moves were made to actually do anything. Then, in 2007, I got wind of this consumer show called America's Videogame Expo (VGXpo), which was held in Philadelphia, PA. What caught my eye was the fact that they were having several game industry sessions as a sort of side show to the main event. It wasn't much, but it was something and I decided to check it out. What I found was both encouraging and dissapointing at the same time. Encouraging was the fact that developers like Tommy Tallarico were willing to take the time to attend such an event, dissapointing was the fact that only about 25 people were in attendance to hear him dish our great advice about getting started in the industry. Furthermore, many of them didn't really know there was anything about game development out there like the IGDA or sites like GameDev.net.
I returned to VGXpo in 2008 to find the situation had not improved all that much. While there was definitely a larger crowd in attendance for the industry side of things, and the speakers were of the same caliber as before, this time they had a huge response to the consumer show, so much that it practically smothered the industry event and relegated us to side rooms that were difficult to locate and poorly marked. Heck, I realize now that I didn't even really cover it anywhere here on the site. However, there was definitely a better sense of community from the various people attending, and stuff like the IGDA was actually being tossed around and featured for some sessions. Women In Games hosted an industry party as well.
Another great thing that came from the 2008 VGXpo was NBC's involvment as a media sponsor to the consumer show, which was a major factor in the huge increase in attendance - so much so that NBC considered hosting its very own consumer expo, bringing along many of the people responsible for organizing the industry side of things as well. Recognizing that, in the past, trying to clump both shows together isn't a good solution, while NBC focused their media might on organizing the consumer show, the various regional IGDA chapters around and in Philly were contacted to help organize the industry summit. What began almost 10 years ago was finally going to come to fruition.
GameX Industry SummitThe summit was composed of two tracks, loosely defined as "Left Brain" and "Right Brain" that held creative lectures and business/leadership lectures. It was mainly a way for us on the Steering Commitee to keep things small and manageable for this first year of the event. In addition to the regular sessions, all of the chapters pulled together to draw in some big names for the 4 keynotes we had planned. We shot really high and even had a direct line to Sid Meier, but unfortunately where not able to schedule him in. We did, however, end up with a great lineup: Jason Della Rocca, former Director of the IGDA and now owner of Perimeter Partners; Clint Hocking, Creative Director at Ubisoft Montreal; Chris Foster, Design Director at Harmonix; Richard Rouse, Lead Single Player Designer, Kaos Studios|THQ. In addition, some of the talks submitted and approved were dry runs of potential GDC lectures.
The two track format meant sessions had to be held side-by-side, and in this case it was really quite literally as we had to divide the one long room available to us into two seperate rooms by means of simple partitions that did only a slightly decent job of filtering out the adjacent speakers. It certainly was not the ideal situation, and yet everyone took it in stride, more than happy to deal with the problems and work around the sometimes hackish solutions. Another aspect was that, unlike problems with VGXpo, a lot of the attendees willingly pitched in to help work out issues and nothing really went unmended in some form or another. One telling tweet from the #GXIS twitter stream was "Back in the lab. #gxis was useful, and interesting, and fun. Next year, it needs to not be in a warehouse, though. :)"
So despite the fact that we weren't in some upscale, classy convention center, everyone who showed up got a great deal of enjoyment - the sessions were all of great caliber with lots of well-known speakers taking the podium and informative panels covering a variety of topics; the parties were packed and people were mingling it up with lots of enthusiasm, with plenty of live music and entertainment accompanying them; in general all the attendees of the industry summit knew a lot of other people, so it was like one big communal get together, and those who didn't know anyone but a few people were quickly passed around and introduced to just about everyone else.
Running alongside the Industry Summit was also the Philly Game Jam, which had ten teams of about 85 people total working for 48 hours from noon on Friday to noon on Sunday to make a game under a specific theme announced at the start of the competition. While they could come and go as they pleased, all development had to be done on site. Many chose to camp out in the sleeping area alloted to the competition for quick naps in between development sessions. It was a really intense challenge and during the judging I was fortunate enough to get to play a lot of cool games (which should also be avaialble on the website). It was a bit rushed, since the competition ended right before the awards luncheon - next year we'll probably have a more formal means of judging so it doesn't take myself and the other judges almost an hour to get through all the games.
GameX Consumer ShowThe consumer expo was busy all weekend long. I was never in there at a time where I would say it was packed, but I wouldn't neccessarily view that as a bad thing - VGXpo was jam packed last year and it was more of an annoyance than anything else, squeezing in and out of crowds. Instead, a nice steady stream of people were milling about the entire time. SEGA was displaying Bayonetta, and EA was there as well with Dante's Inferno. The Escapist had The Guild, Zero Punctuation, and other celebrities like Brian O'Halloran from Clerks and David Nykl from Stargate Atlantis. An artist's corner displayed great artwork and game-related crafts like mushroom plushes and fantasy role playing costume pieces. Plenty of game shops were on hand selling old game cartridges and systems, and plenty of technology companies were around showing off the latest in gaming hardware. Center stage held host to live musical performances, game tournaments and a Rock Band 2 competition.
The consumer show was included in the Industry Summit pass, and so developers got to walk out of the sessions and straight over to the expo floor to satisfy the gamer inside all of them for a little while. A Career Forum was held for consumer pass holders that allowed them to learn more about the games industry if they were interested in pursuing a career within it. As with any good games expo, cosplay participants abounded, with a contest held on Saturday and plenty of Star Wars characters milling about all weekend, including the local 501st garrison.
Reaction to the consumer show, which was also very positive, can be found on the #GameX twitter stream
GameX 2010Things are looking good for a return to the Philly area next year for another event. There's a chance that the show may move into the city of Philadelphia itself - it was held this year at an expo center outside the city. Many people wondered about that. Besides the difficulty of securing space at the convention center in Philly, the show organizers were also enticed by the fact that there was no union running this expo center, which meant that we had full run of the facility to pretty much do as we please. However, it turned out to be a pretty direct trade off in terms of attendance and quality. It would certainly be much easier attracting people to the convention center inside of the city, despite having to put up with unionized labor.
The Industry Summit will most likely try to expand, but there's only so much that you can cram into a single weekend. It will largely depend on the facilities we have at our disposal next year. One thing I know for sure is that people really won't care so much as long as they still have as great a time as they did this year.