i feel like i set off a firecracker in the Internet boys’ bathroom with my story of how gosh-darned clever i was, lying and cheating my way to GDC rant victory. i posted the article Saturday night, and by early Sunday morning, i’d been featured on the front pages of Reddit, Hacker News, PCGamer, and Kotaku. Two days later, the story was on Gamasutra and Ars Technica.
There’s a flip side to everything you see at events like GDC. This year marked my sixth trip to the hallowed halls of gamedom. Over the years, i’ve seen mobile game development crawl up from the abyss to a privileged position as the only thing anyone ever talked about at the conference. i’ve witnessed the rapid rise and fall of kids’ virtual worlds, the decline of the casual downloadable market, the explosion of digital distribution, and the Godzilla-like devastation wrought by the likes of Zynga.
The people who take the mic at GDC are almost always the people with success stories to share. These are the people who draw the crowds and the numbers. But the success they tout in their sessions may not be all it’s cut out to be, and it may not even last until the following year’s conference.
Pair o’ Dice Lost
For example, one year i heard a guy speak about all the money he’d made on his game. i was impressed, and more than a little jealous. i thought “man, what i wouldn’t give to have all that money.” And then i envisioned all the things i’d do with it: giant robot races, playroom made of Nerf, Rolls Royce that plays “Dixie” when you honk the horn … and despite myself, before i even realized what was happening, i started vigorously rubbing my thighs. By the time i snapped out of it, i was being asked to leave the conference hall.
The next year, i learned that the very same guy who’d hit it so big with his game was on the financial ropes, and that his house was in foreclosure.
Ehm … perhaps we should have sold more virtual hats?
One year at the seldom-publicized conference portion of E3, i heard MYST designer Rand Miller talk about his plans for the upcoming MYST multiplayer game. The game launch was a famously massive flop.
i try to catch Raph Koster every time he speaks at GDC. Despite his brilliance, he’s no stranger to failure (Star Wars Galaxies, anyone?). Most recently, i saw him introduce his new venture, Areae/Metaplace. One (maybe two?) year(s) later, Metaplace had completely tanked, and Raph was on to something new.
Raph inappropriately mimes “tappin’ dat ass” during a stuffy corporate event.
Two Plastic Pennies to Rub Together
So the other side of me, the guy holding all the coins (albeit plastic ones), is that i don’t have many coins to hold, plastic or otherwise. i’ve been running my independent game studio, Untold Entertainment, for over three years, and have struggled to release a single game through all of the service work i’ve been trying (and often failing) to land.
So it was in that spirit that while i was at GDC this year, and i saw a nickel on the ground in front of me, i picked it up. It was just underneath the chair in the next row up , where i sat waiting for a session to begin. i glanced around furtively to see if anyone had dropped it, or had even noticed it, and then scooped it up inconspicuously and slid it into my pocket.
i did this in the midst of GDC, a conference for which the alumni pass set me back $1300. i was surrounded by very wealthy people (or so they seemed), some of the biggest movers and shakers in the game industry.
The next night, i went to a party hosted by Canada, my home and native land. While strolling around looking for someone new to meet who could help me figure out where i was going wrong in my bidness, i noticed a quarter on the ground. i figured “why stop now”, and stooped to pick it up. As i did, i kind of worried that the people sitting in a nearby restaurant booth had planted it there to see what kind of desperate sad-sack stopped to grab it. i half-expected the coin to be jerked out from between my fingers, tied to an invisible piece of thread, as my imagined tormenters laughed and pointed at me. And then the biggest one, the guy they called “Titan”, would dump his milkshake over my head and put his arm around Jenny Jenkins, who was wearing his high school sweater.
But nothing like that happened. i just grabbed the quarter, and into my pocket it went.
The Value of Bending Over
The tidbit of info that runs through my mind whenever i stoop to grab a penny or better comes from The Straight Dope, a weekly collection of ponderables by Cecil Adams featured in various North American newspapers. In his article Is it Worth it to Pick Up a Penny?, Cecil writes:
The Scientific Research Team here at Straight Dope HQ has proven that a proficient penny-picker upper can probably pick up a particular penny in five seconds. On an hourly basis this works out to $7.20 per hour. As of 9/1/97, minimum wage will be a mere $5.15 an hour.
The minimum wage in Ontario is now $10.25, but i think the point is still reasonable. It can’t hurt to grab an errant coin … unless it hurts your ego.
Third Time’s a Charmin
The day after i snatched the quarter at the party, my “teeth were floating”, so i walked into one of the GDC conference restrooms to “drain the tank” by “compressing my bladder and excreting urine from my urethra” (so to speak). There, on the top of the urinal, was a small, tidy stack of coins: a few pennies, and maybe a nickel and a dime. i thought fate was playing a cruel trick on me. i mean, i don’t believe in punitive Greek-style gods who watch mess with us for their own amusement, but come ON. What was this all about?
“Queen’s Kamikazes to Pearl Harbor three.” “You sank my battleship!”
As a stream of hot me flowed into the bowl, i stared at the little stack of coins. How … i mean, how low would i have to be to pick up those coins? They were probably dirty. Did the guy who left them there put them on the urinal before or after handling the goods? And … well, what did it matter, really? Money is filthy. We all know that. What harm … ?
But NO. No, no, no. Maybe i picked up a couple of lousy coins around the conference. Fine. But i was NOT going to snatch toilet money. i mean, it was toilet money. There’s a difference between picking up money that someone drops on the floor of a convention centre or restaurant, and taking money that some dude piled on top of a john because …
… because why, exactly? Why exactly was the money on the urinal, anyway? Did the last guy put it there because he was worried it would fall out when he dropped trou? Or did it FALL IN the urinal, and he fished it out, and thought it would be weird to throw money in the garbage so he just LEFT IT THERE?
Can’t decide … can’t decide BRAIN ANEURYSM!!
i stared at that little stack of change long and hard, friends. And then, as the last lingering drops splashed on the ceramic basin below, i knew i had a decision to make.
What i thought to myself was this: “when was the last time someone paid me seventeen cents for taking a pee?”
Then i grabbed the change from the top of the urinal and put it in my pocket.
i Don’t Actually Have All the Coins
What you see is not what you get. i appeared to many of the conference delegates, and to the people who read the article afterward, as a guy who really had it together, you know? A Robin Hood figure – a folk hero who had all the coins … when in fact, i have so few coins that i’m not above grabbing them off the ever-loving toilet.
This makes sense, though. It’s consistent with my personality. What is the Pimp My Portal series, if not a sad attempt to scrounge together $33 in pocket change every month to cover website hosting?
Or maybe it was the madness of GDC that made me do it? When it comes down to it, maybe i was simply attending a conference about video games, collecting coins?