GDC 2015 Report: Farah Khalaf
23 November 2015

Guest post by Farah Khalaf, Auckland University of Technology student and NZGDA Board Member.

This year I had the privilege of attending GDC 2015 as an IGDAF Intel scholar. I remember standing in the middle of a train station, almost bursting into tears when I read the email. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the program, Intel recently created an initiative to increase diversity in the tech and games industry, pledging 300 million dollars to the cause.

I am quite fortunate to have attended my first GDC as a scholar. Having the extra support and mentorship made the experience less overwhelming. Every morning and afternoon, we had scheduled Q + A sessions with industry insiders ranging across many game development disciplines, from localisation to game art. Many of the guest speakers were so excited for us and it was empowering knowing that these people I hadn’t met before were excited for our futures and ready to share all their knowledge with us.

Meeting the Game Developers

My favourite part about the whole experience was meeting new people and the energy that surrounded the conference. I never really imagined being under the same roof as this many game developers. Coming from little old New Zealand, we have a fairly small amount of game developers in comparison to bigger countries. It was like one huge family of people who all love and have a passion for one thing: video games. I got to meet some of my favourite game developers, such as Rami Ismail and the guys from UsTwo, and got some pretty good advice to take back home. I’m very lucky to have this much exposure and support from developers this early in my career.

Meeting the Scholars

Before flying off to San Francisco, I got to know the other Intel scholars through Facebook. On the day I went to pick up my GDC badge, I was greeted with hugs and laughter from a large group of girls, and I felt like I had just been reunited with my clan. It was so good to finally match faces to names, and although I was only meeting the girls for the first time, I felt like I had known them forever. Saying goodbye to these amazing people was the hardest part about this experience, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again in the future.

The Awards Show

My most memorable GDC event would have to be the Independent Games Festival Awards and Game Developers’ Choice Awards night. I got really great VIP seats, and was pretty much in awe of what was happening around me the entire time. I wish I had played most of the games that were up for nomination! My list of game- to-play is ridiculously long now.

What I Learnt About Myself

Throughout this entire trip, I learnt so many new things about myself and felt like a slightly different and more mature person when I came back to New Zealand. Actually, this was my first trip out of the country in almost 13 years. There were moments at the end of my trip when I was completely alone, and yes, it did frighten me a little being alone in San Francisco. However, I’m very grateful for everything I experienced and wouldn’t change anything.

One of the most memorable moments about San Francisco would have to be wondering the streets at night with my game dev friends in search of GDC events and parties. On one of the nights we walked around for almost an hour looking for the Unity party before deciding to head back to our hotels. Oh, and I should mention the pedestrian crossing lights are white. That’s something I won’t get used to. At next year’s GDC, I look forward to not being underage! I hardly attended any of the parties I had initially planned to go to because of the US age restriction.

Future Plans

Having attended GDC as a student who is only in their second year of their university degree, I have a better understanding of my future goals. Also, I would like to focus on such as making games and submitting them to events and award shows.

Advice to Students

My main advice to students attending GDC for the first time is be prepared and have a clear plan before you go. It is an overwhelming event for first timers, and knowing what you’re going to be doing to every day is the best thing you can do to make sure you get the potential out of each day in terms of speaker sessions, networking events, parties and gatherings. Also, don’t be afraid to approach people whose work you admire or even turn around and say hello to the person sitting next to you! Everyone is super friendly at GDC, and probably feeling the same as you when it comes to meeting new game devs.

To conclude, I would like to say a big thank you to IGDA and Intel for selecting me to be a scholar in their program. You have changed my life tremendously and have helped me kick-start my game dev career in so many ways. Thank you to all the amazing people I met on my GDC journey. You have become my life-long friends and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for us. See you all at next year’s GDC 2016! ­­­­­­­

If you’d like help to get to GDC 2016 in San Francisco, 14-16 March 2016, apply for a NZGDA Scholarship.