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GDC 2020 Virtual Talks
March 16 - March 20
GDC 2020 will stream recorded versions of speakers’ GDC 2020 sessions on the official GDC Twitch channel. Virtual awards ceremonies for The Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice Awards will be stream on March 18. Directly before the awards, Double Fine & iam8bit will debut a virtualized 2020 edition of its Day of the Devs showcase.
Get the full schedule below.
(All times are Pacific Time.)
- 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. – The Kine Postmortem – In this example heavy talk Gwen Frey (President, Chump Squad) discusses her journey taking Kine from an after-work passion project to a fully realized multi-platform puzzle game. She’ll use footage from development to demonstrate how she crafted the game iteratively, only increasing the scope of the game as she received funding to do so. She’ll cover her design goals and methods at different points in production, and she’ll explain how she developed the game’s overall vision. Finally, Gwen will discuss Kine‘s budget and breakdown the sales split across SKUs. This talk showcases and celebrates both the missteps and the victories of a game that birthed a brand new studio.
- 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. – Storytelling with Verbs: Integrating Gameplay and Narrative – Storytelling with Verbs focuses on the ways in which we can reinforce gameplay with its inherent storytelling capabilities. Kaitlin Tremblay (Writer & Narrative Designer, Capybara Games) will discuss the inherent fiction behind our most common gameplay verbs, such as shooting, talking, deciphering (puzzle solving), hacking, etc., with specific examples from games in AAA, indie, mobile, ARGs, and escape rooms, and with a special eye toward how this becomes even more imperative in collaborative or competitive game spaces. This talk is intended to encourage greater collaboration between game design and narrative design in order to leverage the innate storytelling qualities in the fundamental building blocks of all of our games, to design together more playfully and more cohesively, and to create more compelling experiences, situations, and stories for players.
- 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. – Intrinsically Motivated Teams: The Manager’s Toolbox – Managers get involved in various tasks every day—planning, hiring, team organization, communication, giving feedback, performance evaluation etc.—but how can we tell what will have a positive or a negative impact on our team’s motivation? Self-Determination Theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 2000) can help with that. SDT is a macro theory of human motivation that emerged from research on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and identifies three universal psychological needs that, if satisfied, enable optimal function and growth: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. In this talk, Alexandre Moufarek (Product Manager, DeepMind) introduces SDT and gives practical examples taken from a manager’s day to day tasks and discusses what can facilitate or undermine a team’s motivation (supported by research findings). Moufarek elaborates further on the science of motivation, in his talk Intrinsically Motivated Teams: Applying Self-Determination Theory in the Core Concepts: Production & Team Management track. Happy game developers make happy gamers is not just a saying. It’s science.
- 12:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. – From Assassin’s Creed to The Dark Eye: The Importance of Themes – Through an exploration of her work composing music for games such as Assassin’s Creed Liberation, God of War, LittleBigPlanet, and the upcoming RPG The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes, composer Winifred Phillips (Composer, Generations Productions LLC) will examine the potential of thematic music to enable a game to stand out as special and unique. By employing musical themes, a composer can infuse a game with a strong sense of character and originality. According to research, music heard during activities is remembered vividly. Coupling this with the innately memorable nature of themes allows a game composer to create an indelible musical signature for any game. This talk will examine composition techniques that extend the life and utility of themes. Variation, development, figures, fragmentation, and motifs will be explored, along with examples of themes in combat, menus, cutscenes, and stingers. Finally, dynamic music construction will be considered, including workarounds to enable effective themes within interactive systems.
- 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. – Representing LGBT+ Characters in Games: Two Case Studies – How do you respectfully create LGBT+ characters and narratives in a way that naturally fits into your game’s world? Game narrative designer Tori Schafer (Writer & Designer, Proletariat) will explain her design process and implementation of these themes from both the MMORPG The Elder Scrolls Online—in acclaimed quests such as the GLAAD Award-winning “Manor Of Masques”—and the upcoming indie game Backbone. In The Elder Scrolls Online, LGBT+ characters are fully accepted by their society, whereas the society of Backbone rejects any character who is openly LGBT+. What can be learned from these two approaches, and how can we as game designers ensure that all depictions, good and bad, are respectful to the LGBT+ community?
- 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. – The Sound of Anthem – Immerse yourself into the Sound of Anthem from high-flying Javelin maneuvering, epic four player battles, unique and driving soundtracks, massive otherworldly creatures, and the exotic serenity of Bastion’s wilds. Director of Audio, Eric Vervaet, and Audio Lead and Technology Supervisor, Cody Behiel will guide you through the high level goals of the project and how they were achieved through deep dives into audio implementation and dynamic mixing along the way of BioWare’s latest release.
- 3:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. – Is Your Game Cross-Platform Ready? – Everyone is buzzing around enabling cross platform features for their games. Making a Cross-Platform game is not for the faint of heart, so here are 9 things you need to know, before you make the big jump. Featuring Raymond Arifianto (VP of Tech, AccelByte).
- 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. – Forgiveness Mechanics: Reading Minds for Responsive Gameplay – What is a responsive game? It seems intuitive to think that a responsive game is one that does exactly what the player says, when the player says to do it. But if that’s all your game does, your players will accuse your game of having clunky controls. What’s that about? In this talk, Seth Coster of Butterscotch Shenanigans lifts the veil around Forgiveness Mechanics; game systems that allow the player to be off in their inputs, but still get the results they want. Seth will discuss the variety of forgiveness mechanics used in Levelhead and other Butterscotch Shenanigans games, and how you can incorporate these forgiveness mechanics into your own games so your players win more, have a better time, and keep coming back.
- 4:30 p.m. – Experimental AI Lightning Talk: Hyper Realistic Artificial Voices for Games – This session offers rapid-fire presentations of new AI applications in games, with speakers from indie, academic, and industry backgrounds. It’ll look at projects that use new technical solutions, offer new tools to developers, or use existing techniques in new ways. Topics include machine-learning emotional voice generation; AI-assisted creative tools; cutting edge student-industry collaborations; NPC scheduling to support the complex narrative possibility space of Elsinore; and the technical considerations behind AI Dungeon 2. Featuring Zeena Qureshi (Co-Founder & CEO, Sonantic).
- 9:00 a.m. to 9:50 a.m. – What to Write So People Buy: Selling Your Game Without Feeling Sleazy – You know how to write hours of character dialog, hundreds of pages of lore and world-building, but are coming up blank when it is time to write about your game on your Steam page. Why is it that everything you write comes off sounding like something a used car salesman would say? It is OK and totally understandable. In this talk, Chris Zukowski (Founder, Return To Adventure Mountain) will teach you the basics of Copywriting in a way that doesn’t feel sleazy.
- 9:50 a.m. – Failure Workshop: FutureGrind: How To Make A Six-Month Game In Only 4.5 Years – Failure often teaches you so much more than success. This annual session of rare honesty and transparency is dedicated to developers willing to open up about failures in their work, giving space for you to celebrate and learn from both the ups and the downs of independent game development. In this segment of the Workshop, Owen Goss (Co-Founder, Milkbag Games) will look back on the development of FutureGrind and ask: “How did a six-month project take four and a half years to make?”
- 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. – Stress-Free Game Development: Powering Up Your Studio With DevOps – Game development is hard. People crunch all the time, we launch games with tons of bugs, and it can even be nerve-wracking just to deploy updates! But does it really have to be like that? NO! In this talk, Seth Coster of Butterscotch Shenanigans walks through how his team learned to use DevOps to get more done while working less. In the past, they had trouble adding team members and maintaining their titles, and solved most problems through sheer force of will. But by employing the philosophies of DevOps, they were able to deploy weekly content patches in Early Access, expand their team, add nearly a dozen languages to their game, and line up six simultaneous launch platforms. By using the lessons outlined in this talk, you, too, can begin to transform your studio into a low-stress, high-output, clockwork machine!
- 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. – Baked in Accessibility: How Features Were Approached in Borderlands 3 – This postmortem will review how accessibility features were embedded into the design of Borderlands 3 from an early stage. Speaking about features like subtitles and closed captions, loot beams, and sound effects, this talk will review some of what worked well. It will also speak to what didn’t make the cut, telling the stories behind some of the unsuccessful features. By reviewing these features and approaches, this talk will provide examples of specific pathways that devs can use to make their games more accessible (and more enjoyable) for everyone by working within their existing teams and structure to make accessibility a given instead of a burden. Featuring Andrew Bair (Lead UI Programmer, Gearbox Software).
- 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. – Matchmaking for Engagement: Lessons from Halo 5 – What should matchmaking worry most about? Latency? Skill? Streaks? Wait time? There are several commonly held best practices on how to matchmake for engagement across the industry, some of which contradict each other, but little to no data-driven evidence to support them. The following will show how to effectively test matchmaking approaches and show real examples and data from a popular first-person shooter. The results show that not all practices are actually important, while others are critical. Featuring Josh Menke (Lead Engagement Designer, 343 Industries).
- 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. – Forget CPI: Dynamic Mobile Marketing – Cost per install (CPI) has traditionally been one of the most important metrics for mobile user acquisition. However, the industry is changing and if you are still focused on your CPI then you are already behind. In this talk we will discuss how the industry is changing the way we bid on users. We will cover why CPI is no longer as important and instead, what metrics we should be focusing on. Furthermore, we will discuss how we measure success. Finally, we will talk about how these new trends are impacting the marketplace and the challenges they present for performance-based marketing. Featuring Heather Gainer (Marketing Manager User Acquisition, Kongregate).
- 2:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. – Integrating Sound Healing Methodologies Into Your Workflow – Why does audio reach us on a visceral level in some games, but in others it does not? This talk explores that question through the lens of sound healing. Sound healing uses music, sound and vibration to inspire changes in a person’s mind and body. It is a hot topic these days, and wellness is a rapidly expanding category for games and apps. This presentation demonstrates several time-honored sound healing principles and shows how they can be applied to the creative, business, and personal goals of a sound artist or composer. This talk provides tools to incorporate the powerful principles of Intention, Vibration, Binaural Beats, Cymatics, Entrainment, and Elemental Properties into an audio production workflow. These demonstrations provide a glimpse into a vast and underutilized treasure trove of knowledge that is opening up new creative and business opportunities in the game industry. Featuring Matt Levine (Uncle Vector’s Audio Lab LLC).
- 3:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. – From 0-1000: A Test Driven Approach to Tools Development – The talk describes Playground Games’ journey from zero to 1000 automated tools tests during the development of Forza Horizon 4 expansion packs. It focuses on how and why they created a testing culture, what they learned from the experience and how they plan to continue cultivating and improving their investment. The talk demonstrates how teams can improve their tool stability and developer confidence and still deliver new features by adding automated tests. Featuring David Paris (Senior Engineer, Playground Games).
- 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. – Overcoming Creative Block on Super Crush KO – After dealing with a year-long burnout, Gabby DaRienzo (Senior Artist, Drinkbox Studios) was able to find resources and tools to help her overcome her creative block and start feeling inspired productive, and confident in making game art again. This resulted in her art directing the beautiful, colorful, anime-inspired game Super Crush KO. In this talk, Gabby will talk about where this block came from, how it affected her work on Super Crush KO, share what tools and practices worked for her in overcoming her burnout, and provide advice for other game developers who may deal with creative block in the future.
- 4:30 p.m. – When Film, Games, and Theatre Collide – Indies take the stage to share what’s on their minds in this ever-popular conclusion to the summit! Individual topics range as widely as the individuals themselves, but these microtalks are sure to provoke, educate, and inspire. Featuring Sarah Scialli (Game Director & Mocap Engineer, Tinted Stardust & DreamWorks).
- 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. – Bringing Replays to World of Tanks: Mercenaries – Game replays are becoming increasingly important for e-sports, learning, and social sharing, by driving player engagement outside the core game loop. Introducing a replay system into a existing game has many of its own unique challenges, as we discovered when bringing a server-side replay system to the already live console title, World of Tanks: Mercenaries. We will provide an overview of the infrastructure required to implement server-side gameplay recording and playback, including the architectural solutions to client-side problems when existing game engine assumptions about the flow of time and space are no longer true. Whilst the examples are specific to World of Tanks: Mercenaries, the concepts themselves are applicable to any game engine. Featuring Andrew Glover (Lead Software Engineer, Wargaming Sydney).
- 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. – Developing and Running Neural Audio in Constrained Environments – Speech recognition, manipulation, and synthesis are opening up new types of experiences in games; but the deep neural networks that achieve state-of-the-art performance at these tasks are difficult to develop and use efficiently.The first part of this talk explores challenges and solutions for developing neural speech systems that meet gaming-centric requirements, and do so through the lens of an early-stage startup. Strategies for effective iteration with small team sizes are discussed, along with efficient use of limited compute resources. The second part of the talk covers methods for running audio neural networks on a device, specifically focusing on real-time audio manipulation and synthesis. Included are lessons-learned about aspects of audio neural networks for both traditional audio practitioners (e.g. choice of sample rates, buffer sizes, memory allocations) and traditional machine learning practitioners (e.g. suitability of deployment frameworks, model distillation). Featuring Carter Huffman (Co-Founder & CTO, Modulate.ai), Brendan Kelly (Research Engineer, Modulate.ai).
- 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. – Mental Health State of the Industry: Past, Present & Future – With the release of Take This’ mental health state of the industry white paper, and a growing tide of talk about labor conditions in the industry, the effects of current norms in the game industry are more apparent. This talk will discuss the cultural assumptions and norms that have pervaded the industry over the last several decades, how those impact mental health in expected and unexpected ways, and how future research and operational and cultural changes can result in improved work experiences for all those who make games for a living. At its simplest, mental health advocacy only works when we consistently and sensitively normalize the experience of mental health challenges and contextualize them within the spaces where we live, work, and play. Featuring Eve Crevoshay (Executive Director, Take This).
- 12:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. – Empathizing with Steam: How People Shop for Your Game – What makes a person wishlist your game on Steam? Why don’t they buy it? Chris Zukowski (Game Designer & Marketing Consultant, Return To Adventure Mountain LLC) spent months watching people browse Steam and he is going to share the results of his research with you.
- 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. – Scaling to 10 Concurrent Users: Online Infrastructure as an Indie – After years building online games that serve 100 million players, Dru tells the story of how the technology that originally backed his (much smaller) university project evolved into a sprawling online platform through the game’s five-year development cycle and subsequent launch. In doing so, Dru tries to illuminate which of the AAA concepts he applied scaled down and which were illusions of grandeur. His talk dives into inescapable decisions like dedicated servers vs peer to peer, microservices versus monolith, and when to use the cloud, among others. Featuring Andrew Erridge (Software Engineer & Cofounder, Gamebreaking Studios).
- 2:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. – Crafting A Tiny Open World: A Short Hike Postmortem – Adam Robinson-Yu (Developer, Independent) talks about how he decided to put a major project on the back burner in favor of a new prototype, which ultimately became A Short Hike. A Short Hike is a small game in both in scope and scale, and the initial release came together within a four-month deadline. Adam will discuss the design choices and development strategies that helped him meet his goals for the project and craft a compelling open-world game within those limitations, including visual style, level design, and writing. He’ll also touch on the release and the topic of setting expectations for the players to help guide their approach to the game even before they begin to play.
- 2:30 p.m. – Indie Soapbox: UI Design is Fun! – Indies take the stage to share what’s on their minds in this ever-popular conclusion to the summit! Individual topics range as widely as the individuals themselves, but these microtalks are sure to provoke, educate, and inspire. Featuring Nathalie Lawhead (Independent Game Designer, Alienmelon).
- 3:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. – Don’t Ship a Product, Ship Value: Start Your Minimum Viable Product With a Solution – A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is your strategic approach to launching new products. How can your MVP be successful? Using case studies from Kongregate, Kartridge, Kongpanions, and Adventure Capitalist, this talk dissects the steps you and your team can take to give your game or software MVP the best chance at success. Featuring Janessa Olson (Product Manager, Data & Tools, Kongregate).
- 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. – Day of the Devs: GDC Edition Direct – For eight years, Double Fine + iam8bit have been raising a “child” together. From infant to toddler to middle-age (we’re talking dev years here!), Day of the Devs has matured into a well-mannered, anthropomorphized, non-gender-specific gathering of the greatest indie games, devs and players the universe has ever known. Our original dream was to nurture the thriving independent developer scene, providing a showcase that had “chill festival vibes”. The 2020 edition of Day of the Devs at GDC is your gateway to discovering upcoming indie darlings, beamed straight onto your device of choice via the official GDC stream. We’re calling it Day of the Devs: GDC Edition Direct. Tune in for lots of visual beauty, charming design, poignant voices, and just plain cool games. We promise you’ll discover something rad.
- 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. – Independent Games Festival & Game Developers Choice Awards – Streaming in virtual form with your host Trent Kusters (Armello), the Independent Games Festival, which honors the most influential, innovative and acclaimed projects in independent game development, returns for its 22nd annual awards ceremony. Immediately following the IGF is the 20th annual Game Developers Choice Awards, the leading peer-based video game event celebrating the industry’s top games and developers, hosted this year by Kim Swift (Portal).
- 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. – Machine Learning for Optimal Matchmaking – Matchmaking has changed little since it was first automated. The general approach is to look for an ideal match across one or more preferred metrics, and then expand the ideal until a match is found. Issues with this approach make it difficult to trade-off the importance of each metric, hard to customize to specific player populations including geographic ones, and expanding forces players to wait longer than necessary. This session will present TrueMatch, a new matchmaking approach that allows developers to more intuitively express the value of each metric, and then uses machine learning to automatically optimize over the desired metrics in real-time. The results give better matches in less time and are customized to each player’s characteristics and each region’s real-time concurrency as it changes over time. Featuring Josh Menke (Lead Engagement Designer, 343 Industries).
- 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. – Skill Progression, Visual Attention, and Efficiently Getting Good at Esports – While repeatedly playing competitive games will make you better at it, there are many ways to make gaming skills develop more efficiently. These ways come from understanding how skills are developed, such as mechanical and cognitive skills. A central and often overlooked aspect concerns awareness and attention, to see what is happening and what to do. Using a novel approach to trainers and metrics, by being aware how and where to look at the game, helps players maximize their performance. Dr. Anders Frank (Game Experience Researcher, Tobii) and Thomas Papa explain in their talk how to consider skill development and how product offerings can be created to both esports pros and a large audience thirsty of stepping up their game. Drawing from examples from theorists, research, studies and ongoing MOBA esports training development they will share their vision to make players game more efficient.
- 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. – Making Your Game Influencer Ready: A Marketing Wishlist for Developers – Influencer Marketing is evolving and becoming more professional. Content creators are becoming celebrities, filling stadiums and wielding the power to help games explode in popularity. More than ever, learning how to best work with them is on your interest and is becoming more and more complex. As a game marketeer you may want to integrate content creators as part of your game strategy, but you’re not exactly sure what will make the most impact, and when you do, maybe the development of the game is so far ahead that you find it hard to build the tools you need. This talk will teach you new and existing methods of making your game content-creator-ready. Drawing from his experience managing world-class content creators, David Ortiz Lapaz (Communications Director, ICO Partners) will share the tools marketing teams need to establish long-lasting bridges with content creators. He will also discuss the best ways of making sure they are ready in time to make the most impact.
- 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. – How to Run Your Own Career Fair on a Tiny Budget – Whether you’re a prospective employee or a company seeking new hires, organizing a career fair is more within reach than you might assume. Being an organizer has the added benefits of a great reason to contact and meet recruiters and leads at many local studios, and for prospective employees to learn who you are. Our local IGDA chapter in LA built on notes from IGDA Seattle about their career fair, adding multiple innovations that improved the overall experience without adding substantially to the cost. We’ll walk you through our process, strategies, and outcomes, sharing every form used and examples from our communications, so that you’ll be better equipped to plan and execute on a career fair of your own. It can be massively beneficial for your local studios, developers, and you as one of the organizers. Questions welcome, we’d love to hear about your experiences with career fairs! Featuring Chris DeLeon (Independent Educator & Game Developer, Gamkedo LLC), Dru Erridge (Software Engineer & Cofounder, Gamebreaking Studios), David Mullich (Adjunct Professor, ArtCenter College of Design), Tiffany Otto (Director of Partnership & Sponsorship, IndieCade).
- 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. – Making a Healthy Social Impact in Commercial Games – This talk is intended to examine social impact initiatives in commercial/mainstream games, which can enable a large number of players to work together toward global solutions. We will share measurable results on business impact, supportive feedback from players, and learnings from several companies and games, such as Subway Surfers. Topics include character diversity, greenifying environments, inspiring the community, and best practices for incorporating such initiatives in a game as well as in the studio. We will also discuss hidden factors to consider, especially when balancing the brand and community against potentially didactic content. Overall, this talk should inspire you and your community, workplace, etc. to leave a positive footprint. Featuring Jennifer Estaris (Game Director, Sybo Games).
- 2:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. – Forza Monthly: Live Streaming a Franchise – In order to expand upon communications with the Forza racing franchise community, the team developed a monthly-hosted live stream that features topics such as the latest Forza news, monthly game updates, and talks with development team members about their latest projects.Turn 10 Studios Media Producer Shay Goldenberg discusses the challenges & learnings of the production process, evolution of the show and how it has transformed the way the Forza franchise communicates.
- 3:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. – Aesthetic Driven Development: Choosing Your Art Before Making a Game – In October 2018, Coldwild Games team has started posting self-made pixel art images on twitter. On July 30, 2019, they have released their most popular game so far, Merchant of the Skies. Learn how the team used the power of twitter to do the market research and design the game around the style that audiences liked before they even saw the actual gameplay. This session will show the art selection procedure and teach how one can repeat something like this by finding the right style and then organically growing the fanbase / wishlists through social media posts. Featuring Vladimir Slav (Owner & Director, Coldwild Games).
- 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. – Reading the Rules of Baba Is You – Arvi Teikari, developer of the puzzle game Baba Is You, describes how the game’s unique sentence-based rule system was implemented and what kind of iterations and obstacles it went through over the development of the game. The talk concentrates on the technical aspects of turning physical items in the game world into sentences understood by the game logic, as well as building a data structure that supports this kind of functionality. The talk will also touch the topic of the realities of developing a complex puzzle game using a non-programming-based game-creation tool and the lua scripting language.
- 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. – Beyond Games as a Service with Live Ops – The rise of games as a service has changed the video games industry and brought about massive growth, but what comes next? Come learn how LiveOps is shaping the next big step in games and how game teams of all types can use this powerful approach to game development to better engage their communities. Featuring Crystin Cox (Director of Live Operations, Microsoft).
- 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. – Kill the Hero, Save the (Narrative) World – Hannah Nicklin, lead writer and narrative designer on Mutazione, discusses the key techniques, challenges and potential of writing for ensemble casts compared to ‘heroes’ tales’. Drawing on inspiration from the world of long-running TV shows rather than film, and unpicking real-life examples from the process of writing Mutazione, Hannah will set out how killing the hero form of storytelling not only produces better narrative worlds in games but also allows to us to tell better, more relatable, truer stories about how we live together in the world.