The Education Summit at the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) – the largest and longest professionals-only game-industry event in the world – has had some stiff competition in years past. GDC usually draws about 19,000 attendees, each of whom has eight innovative two-day summits to choose from. Other summits featured during the weeklong event include the Independent Games and Social & Online Games summits, which generally attract large crowds.
“Over the last five years, we noticed people being sucked out of the Education Summit and into the other big ones,” said Michael Mateas, associate professor of computer science at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a GDC Education Advisory Committee member. “We needed to reboot the format of our summit to really attract a crowd.”
Inspiration ended up coming from within. For the past decade, GDC has featured a Game Developers Rant! session, open to all attendees, where experienced game developers share their grievances about the industry, for five minutes each, in entertaining and heated ways. “I thought, hey, game educators get hot under the collar about things, too,” Mateas said. “Educators have a different set of concerns and issues they’re passionate about, so let’s give them a soapbox.”
Mateas adopted the rant format for the Education Summit when he became an Education Advisory Committee member last year. But he added his own twist. The rants would be educationspecific, 10 minutes long as opposed to five, and there would be time at the end for questions from the audience. Mateas would act as master of ceremonies for the session, and invite five game educators to creatively let out their frustrations to 200-plus attendees.
Attendees offered their opinions on e-questionnaires they received after the session. “There were a lot of passionate comments on the survey sheets,” Mateas said, “and many times people wrote that the session was ‘thought provoking’ and that they’d found themselves discussing it over lunch for days after.”
After Game Educators Rant! was such a success last year, Mateas decided to keep the format for the Education Summit at GDC 2012, which was held on March 5–9 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Once again, the program garnered rave reviews. “This year we’ve become a draw,” Mateas said, “attracting people from other summits.”
He added: “The range of topics changes each year, which always keeps it interesting. We want people to be somewhat improvised, not all these super-prepared PowerPoints and speeches, because it loses the live quality of a soapbox presentation.”
Game Educators Rant! this year actually went down in flames – in a good way. The final speaker, Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games, lit a $50 bill on fire in order to demonstrate how “if grant givers aren’t educated about different game researchers, who can make a game and who can’t,” Mateas said, “it can be the same as burning money.”
New School Surveys
At GDC, even the note taking needs to be savvy. That’s why this year, the conference ditched the old pencil-and-paper approach to attendee-feedback surveys and took everything online. GDC Education Advisory Committee member Michael Mateas said: “The GDC is scrupulous about polls at the end of every session and using those numbers to drive future scheduling.”
When attendees entered a session at GDC 2012, their name badges were scanned and they were automatically emailed a survey requesting feedback about that specific presentation. That cut processing time and paper waste in half, making it easier to review attendees’ opinions – and put them to use.
For more information about the Game Developers Conference, visit gdconf.com.