It’s GDC season and it shows. Social networks are filled with comments about the conference. We see local developers, by which I mean Argentinian ones, telling us that “going to GDC should be the dream of anyone interested in videogame development.” Or telling us how GDC was the place where they kick-started to their carrers. But, what happens if you’re short on money and can’t afford it? What happens if you got a pass but can’t afford the plane tickets to get there? Or if they won’t give you a visa? What happens if you are the minority the gamedev scene and for that reason you’ll be paying a lot of money to have a bad time? Is it advisable to tell everyone that going to the industry most expensive event should be their main goal?
There’s something similar going on with Steam. We know that publishing on Steam is expensive, that if we try to sell our game there the platform will retain 30% of our sales. But it should sell well in the first place, which is tricky because the curator system is awful. If you still want to publish on Steam after all, you’ll have to handle issues with toxic communities and review bombing. We know that Steam problems have solutions because itch.io deals successfully with the “there’s too many good games and we need to help people find them” and “I don’t want to deal with toxic people when I share my game” since its conception. If Steam doesn’t solve its problems is because it’s not interested. Then, why do we recommend, and sometimes demand, devs to publish on Steam?
Yes, there’s indeed people that made a name for themselves by going to GDC or that got a job thanks to having published a game on Steam. There’s also people that didn’t do any of those things and have a job. just the same The career of those persons that neither went to GDC nor published on Steam is not suffering because they didn’t spent tons of money following the advise of some sector of the industry. Those people exist and I know them. There’s also people that went to GDC or published on Steam and all they got to show for it was a lighter wallet.
It’s perfectly fine if your actual dream is to attend GDC or to publish on Steam or on a certain console. It’s ok to attend GDC if you have the resources, or got a scholarship, or you know what you are getting into. But don’t feel pressured to attend the most expensive game conference there is just because people with more experience told you it was the real deal.
Maybe we should stop selling as a one-size-fits-all solution something that can only be helpful to people with lots of money and the means to spend it. We can’t aim for a more diverse industry while recommending solutions that are only valid for people with resources as if they were universal. Specially if those solutions give us intangible rewards. For instance, people recommend GDC for networking, but not for getting publishers or promote your game. That means that, when they advise you to attend GDC they are asking of you to spend 2000USD on a pass, plus the worth of a plane ticket to San Francisco, plus whatever accommodations cost, just for networking.
There’s also the issue of sending devs from third world countries from an industry that’s going through a good period for addressing ethical questions about working on videogames to a place that doesn’t pay their speakers, doesn’t give diversity issues the same weight as the rest of their talks, hosts anti-union panels and talks that pretend the ethical regulations of abusive practices are censorship.
I understand that people recommend giant events and giant platforms with an equally large public because there’s legitimacy in numbers, but it’s irresponsible to ask people to drive into bankruptcy to scrape off a litlle bit of legitimacy. It may be better for developers and consummers to support more sustainable events and platforms.
There are events that are more budget friendly and inclusive than GDC, as well as there are platforms that are fairer and more democratic than Steam. For instance, Oklhos (Coffee Powered Machine, 2016) got a publishing deal with Devolver by attending BIG Festival. Several people make videogames in a sustainable maner with the help of itch.io and patreon.
It’s important that we assume our identity as developers from third world countries and we strengthen bonds with people who shares our circumstances. We know that first world countries export their solutions to underdeveloped countries once they start to fail. So let’s start working on solutions of our own. It’s going to work better than adapting the failed solutions of a third party that also grows money on trees.
Note from the author: we are working on a calendar for videogame events that focuses on affordability, diversity and being different. We intend to keep it updated constantly and add events from all of Latin America, so if you know of any you can contact us through our form, on Twitter, with smoke signals, whatever floats your boat. As soon as we have a link, we are going to put it here and share it on our social networks.
Update (3/14/2018): We corrected with sales, where it originally said profit.