For those of you who don’t know, the GDA, Game Dev Atlantic, is an annual conference for game devs, students and aspiring game industry employees, held in Halifax, Nova Scotia (yes that’s in Canada). It was my second year attending, last year being the inaugural launch, and it was awesome.
GDA this year was only a single day event, consisting of afternoon and evening, as it happens the day before Hal-Con-which is a huge gaming (technically”sci-fi and fantasy and gaming) convention in Halifax that regularly sells out months before the event. In order to get the most out of those of us traveling to the event, they started mid-afternoon and ran until late evening, so those who were planning on attending both could make it, unlike last year, where it ran as one of the events in Hal-Con.
The change definitely has done it good, as they nearly doubled their attendance, and increased the number of panels available, and I seriously appreciated being able to just chill with industry folks instead of being boiled alive in an overcrowded noisy convention center stuffed to the gills. Not that it wasn’t crowded, but it was nowhere near as swampy-con stank, which is definitely a thing, and being able to breathe non-stank air was much appreciated.
I met amazing folks from a variety of studios, seriously, there are a ton of studios in Halifax and the surrounding regions, mostly indies, but including other satellite studios for large names like Ubisoft, EA, and most recently, Bethseda via their recent purchase of Alpha Dog. I felt like I was walking into one of the better-kept secret locations of the gaming industry. Everyone knows about Vancouver and Montreal, but Halifax has been largely under the radar, which, so far as I can tell, is part intentional and part cultural.
No high rush, crush and crunch folks here, no suits and daggers and buzz words, except where they were used derisively. No, the folks in the industry here seem almost like a different animal entirely. They were genuine, open and nice-not Canadian nice, not devs-talking-to-press nice, but just nice. They talked with me openly about themselves and their competitors, though when they did, they spoke about them as allies, not as enemies, which was a refreshing and encouraging things to see finally emerging in the industry, as recent business research and studies have shown that the competitive nature of industries often does more harm than good.
Allying with your fellow industry professionals is just good business, and when you’re all working on vastly different types of projects, what need is there really, for nasty comments and snide remarks? Seriously, these people host game jams together and have formed the ISNS-Interactive Society of Nova Scotia-specifically to help grow the gaming industry in the area as a group effort. If for no other reason, seeing this in action and application was worth the price of admission for anyone interested in the industry and its workings. If I was working on a ludology (study of games and their social implications) thesis, this would have been the place to be. Hell, I’d recommend it as an exploration for the game industry on how to run a positive culture.
So, what did I see? Stuff! Everywhere! I walked in to see one VR participant narrating his journey as he stumbled around to the audience as humorously as he could, trying out the demo of Dagger Woods by MOAD.
I was greeted and waved at by a number of people who I don’t know, who weren’t devs and I never even got the names of. There were tables for new indies showing off tech demos, like Soviet Cyborgs and Wicked Witches (yes that’s the name of their game) complete with their concept illustrator sketching away, and groups like the Neil Squire Society, which specializes in accessibility, and was showing off a mouthpiece that would allow quadriplegics to play common games using nothing but their mouth and breath.
Yes, I snagged a bunch of swag, but forget to pick up a GDA hoodie before the event ended, in my defense, I was suuuper tired and doing my best to hold it together, despite the free Redbulls they ended up passing around. I did, however, get a bunch of stickers, business cards, a couple of t-shirts, and a bunch of other stuff. Lucky me, I had a lot of space in my luggage to store it all and bring it back in.
Not only was there swag, and great studio personnel, as well as the panels (of which I only got to attend two-because I was zipping around like a blue-haired social butterfly), but the event was catered, with amazing food. No sandwiches and water here, no this was a full-service steam tables and dessert trays event…and yes, all of it was delicious.
In the evening, Alpha Dog hosted a mixer which was also a combo of a congratulations party for their recently being acquired by Bethseda. Again, free food (which I really should have checked before I took a bite-personal note: the white sauce does not mean not spicy), and a free drink for everyone.
So…great people, free food, free energy drinks, free drinks at the after-party and excellent panels and swag. Seriously, if you can manage to get there, mark it on your calendar, it is absolutely worth the price of admission, and if you’re coming from far away, I might even suggest sticking around to take a look at Halcon, though if that’s your plans, you better make sure to get your passes at least two months in advance, because tickets go fast.