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Speaking at GDC Shanghai 2013

In the video games industry, there are a plethora of conferences which occur around the world every year. Most of them are regional and of little consequence, except for one: the Game Developers Conference, or GDC. Running every year and attracting an enormous worldwide audience, GDC has been happening every spring in San Francisco since 1988 (the same year that Super Mario 3 was released – a really long time).

I’ve attended GDC in San Francisco twice on behalf of Tap4Fun and both times it has blown my mind. It’s a gathering point for the most inspiring game designers around the world – and it’s where I met industry luminaries like Sid Meier (Civilization series) and Luke Muscat (Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride). Last week, I was featured as a speaker at GDC Shanghai, the Asian counterpart to the big show in San Francisco.

Needless to say, this is the highest honor that’s been bestowed on me in my brief tenure in the gaming industry. Want to know how it went? Read on.

Receiving the Invitation

Several months ago a delegation of GDC representatives were touring Chengdu and stopped by our office. I gave them a tour, answered their questions, and we chatted about the regional game development landscape. The conversation went so well that the leader among the group said he’d like for me to speak at GDC in Shanghai. Of course, I was immediately interested, but it wasn’t quite that easy.

Days after the delegation left I was contacted by someone else within the organization who wanted to collect more details from me, to be reviewed by their advisory board. They wanted to know more about who I was and what I’d speak about. And not just a brief description: they wanted outlines, photographs, and slides from a presentation which I wasn’t sure that I’d even have the chance to present. But this is GDC, so I gladly jumped through all of the hoops.

Delivering the Pitch

The title of the lecture which I pitched was: Creating International Hits Within China, from China’s Top Grossing Mobile Developer.

The reason why this subject is of particular value to this particular audience is because 99% of Chinese game developers are restricted to their own market. When they compete in foreign markets, especially those in the West, they fall flat on their faces almost every time. In short, the reason is because of the cultural gap between China and the rest of the world – creative works originating from China don’t excite or interest international audiences, as a generalization. Tap4Fun, by contrast, collects a majority of its revenue from overseas.

After a week of deliberation, they accepted me as a speaker.

Crafting the Lecture

As many of my colleagues and friends know, I can speak on the subject of game development, or technology, almost indefinitely. I have no fear of public speaking and I’m used to being in front of large crowds after 10+ years of DJing. Here’s the catch: the lecture was 60 minutes in length.

When I think of being in the audience for an hour-long lecture, the first thing that comes to mind is boredom. In my experience, only the most exceptional speakers will be able to capture and maintain the attention of an audience for that length of time – think TED, as an example of exceptional lectures. I confirmed this at GDC in Shanghai by observing crowds: after the first 10 minutes, a majority of the audience would lose interest and start mindlessly poking at their smartphones. Everyone will use industry lingo like ARPU, DAU, and The Loop. Few will excite and leave a lasting impression.

So then, my ultimate goal for speaking at GDC: capture the attention of the audience, and hold it for 60 minutes. Fortunately, this is a skill that I’ve been developing for a decade as a DJ. If I could distill it into two words, they would be:

Embracing Unpredictability

Doing what people don’t expect. Making it relevant but most importantly, making it fun. If video games have taught me anything, it’s that joy is the ultimate delivery mechanism for new ideas.

To break the 60-minute segment into manageable chunks, I created five sections of approximately eight minutes each:

  1. The Tap4Fun Story & Our Dream
  2. Creating Game Concepts That Stick
  3. Crossing Borders: Localizing and Expanding
  4. How to Get Noticed Around the World: Marketing & Promotion
  5. Building a Worldwide Community of Players

Some highlights of the presentation:

  • Showing a video of Indiana Jones escaping the temple at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, being chased by a boulder as a metaphor for the current trap-laden mobile marketing landscape. Tips and tricks on how to avoid the arrows and collapsing floor.
  • A video of Professor Frink from The Simpsons as a metaphor for only investing in game concepts that you believe in 100%. In the clip, Professor Frink reads the printout of a machine designed to identify the secret ingredient in Moe’s famous drink, the “Flaming Moe” and says:“the secret ingredient is… love?! Who’s been screwing with the machine?”
  • Actual concepts which I’ve pitched successfully that turned into huge hits, like Spartan Wars, and concepts that I was in love with but went nowhere for various reasons.

In Summary

The presentation went fantastically. After the first five minutes I felt completely at ease, as if I were having a casual conversation with a single person and not an auditorium. In retrospect, I don’t think it could have gone better. Fortunately for me, a sizable portion of the audience seemed to know exactly who Professor Frink is. Thank God for that.

After I reached my conclusion, a small crowd appeared before me and lined up, each offering a business card. I left with a stack two inches tall and contacts within game-related organizations from Helsinki to New York City.

Thank you, GDC.

 

Published on September 26, 2013
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Weekend in Bangkok Photos

This year I was fortunate enough to spend my birthday weekend in beautiful Bangkok with my Mother. She had just concluded a 2-week sailing excursion in the Andaman Sea, while I flew down from Chongqing after taking the bullet train from Chengdu.

I had a great weekend and saw many beautiful things! And, of course, got many massages.

Buddha Heads

Bangkok Alley

Bangkok Alley

Bangkok Church

Bangkok Church

Bangkok Prayer

Bangkok Skyline

Wat Pho

Wat Pho Buddha

Bangkok Temple Wall

Bangkok Taxis

In the Hotel Rembrandt

Published on December 7, 2012
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Beijing & Qingdao Weekend Photos

I just returned from a weekend of flights every day – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Fortunately I’m back in Chengdu and sleeping in my own bed tonight! Here are some photos from the weekend:

Chengdu New Airport Terminal

Chengdu’s new airport terminal. As you can see, it is gigantic. All of this is new.

Chengdu New Airport Terminal

Beijing Hallway

This hotel in downtown Beijing literally wraps around a stadium. My room was about a 5 minute walk from the main elevator!

Qingdao Hotel

Qingdao Speak EZ

Qingdao Dancers

Qingdao Performers

Qingdao Club DJ

Beijing SOHO

A futuristic shopping mall in Beijing

Published on September 9, 2012

One Night in Beijing

On Friday afternoon I flew to Beijing to give a presentation at a mobile developers conference at the Shangrila hotel about iOS (iPhone and iPad) app monetization. Why’d I speak there? Our company, Tap4Fun, is officially the highest grossing iOS developer in all of China so far this year. Because of this, a lot of attention is on our development process and business model. We’re conducting interviews on a nearly daily basis (today CCTV was in our office filming). Exciting times.

Here are some photos from my day in Beijing:

Feet in Taxi

Waited in line for 30+ minutes to get a taxi at Beijing International, the biggest airport in the world

Shangrila Hotel Beijing

Beijing Shangrila

The first thing I noticed inside the lobby of the Beijing Shangrila

Jing.fm

Meeting with the designer of Jing.fm, a streaming music service that takes Pandora to the next level

Lecture Hall Namecard

Sitting at the front of the lecture hall

Lecture Hall in Beijing

The conference featured three lecture halls roughly of equal size, hosting thousands of attendees

Speaking in Beijing

Speaking on stage at the conference, Saturday July 7th

Beijing Airport

Walking through Beijing International Airport and the line to catch a taxi

Published on July 9, 2012
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Bring Your Own Big Wheel 2012

On Easter Sunday instead of painting eggs with my family, I flew down the curviest road in San Francisco on a miniature tricycle. I’ve been having a lot of fun recently, or else I’d say this was the most fun I’ve had in a really long time. San Francisco is a blast. Watch the video above to get an idea for what this annual event – titled Bring Your Own Big Wheel – is like.

Published on April 11, 2012

Just Arrived in Kunming

Hello, Spring City! Disco Death is tonight.
Kunming

Published on September 17, 2010

Return to the Spring City

Over the weekend, Jovian and I brought Disco Death to Kunming for the first time. It wasn’t without its complications (as we expected the first event at a new venue to be), but we had a good time and came back smiling. The eve

We stupidly waited until the last minute to book our plane tickets and ended up paying dearly for it. We paid almost what it costs to fly to Bangkok from Chengdu, and as expected, we weren’t able to recoup such a significant expense. We took the train back, which took 20 hours, but even that was a pretty good time playing Scrabble and watching the landscape whiz by.

In between going to Kunming and coming back, we had what felt like a 3 day vacation in tropical China. Kunming feels completely different from Chengdu, and it had been six months since I’d been there so it was great to return. We went to ??? and ran into many old friends – Nick, Shonny, and others. Oh, and we witnessed the final night of the Speakeasy Bar. For anyone who doesn’t know, that was the most notorious party venue in Kunming for years and years. I still can’t believe that it closed  – that’s what’ll happen though when the landlord raises your rent from 5,000 yuan a month to 25,000. As expected, the last party was crazy.

The show that we performed on Friday was seriously marginalized by it being Speakeasy’s final weekend. Put simply, we were two outsiders competing with a large group of locals (3 bands and four DJ’s) at an infamous bar on it’s closing weekend. Also, their party was free, and ours wasn’t. Still, it didn’t completely bomb which is good. The event was at Uprock, which is certainly in the running for Kunming’s top party venue since Speakeasy is finished. The problem, however, is with the child-like owner who invites us to his club on Saturday but gets so drunk he has to be carried out before we even arrive. Putting my money and time on the line and doing business with someone like that always makes me nervous. My job now is to minimize his ability to compromise my goals in his own venue – even though in the end, what’s good for me is good for him as well. We’ll see how that goes.

One of the highlights of the trip, though? Boating around ?? (Green Lake) in Kunming. Honestly, this photo doesn’t even do it justice:

Green Lake Kunming

Published on April 26, 2010

Gettin' Busy

Recently business has started to pick up – after months of working on music production and developing guitar skills at home finally I’m getting calls. Right now I’m in Wuxi, in Jiangsu province very near Shanghai, and the day after tomorrow I return to Chengdu to do two shows (including the Hemp House 4 Year Birthday party which I’m looking forward to) and then off to Qingdao to play a 3-day music festival. Qingdao is one of the places that I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to visit for four years. Once I complete that goal the only significant city I haven’t been to in all of China will be Haerbin.

Here’s to completing your goals, no matter how long it takes.

Published on September 4, 2009