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.