The Magic of GDC – A Tale of 3 Stories

Story #1 – Mac & Cheese

A few years ago, I walked by a booth at the Expo and it netted me close to $30K.

I was just strolling around the GDC-Expo floor when two girls said to me – “You look like a game developer”. Yep, I sure do. Shorts, T-Shirt with a funny slogan on it and a bit overweight (definitely old-school looking (but no beard)). “I am”, I said (Thank You Neil Diamond), and they asked “What do you do?” I told them I created games for the Casual PC Download Market and they said – “You need to talk to us.”

They asked if I had considered porting it to Mac. I told them that the source code had some spots in it still that dealt with Mac but getting it to work again and testing it was cost prohibitive. They said that they could port my games and that they didn’t need source code. They could port to Mac with just the executable. (I didn’t know about Macs making the switch to Intel Chips, so I thought this was definitely voo-doo of some kind). Anyway, I left my card and didn’t think much of it.

Two weeks after GDC, I got an email from a VP at Code Weavers that basically said – “I’ve been playing Clutter IV every day for an hour for a week and a half on a Mac, and I love your game”. Yep, it’s magic, without my doing anything but providing the PC Version of the game, they got me running on Macs. I knew this would be about a 10% bump in my sales on Big Fish Games. They wanted a continuing licensing deal on a month to month basis, but I told them that wouldn’t work because of the long tail and that most of my sales would be within the first few months. We quickly agreed on a one-time conversion fee per game and never looked back.

In a nutshell, for each game I gave them (7 now), it would cost me $1000 and the Mac sales would be about $5000 on Big Fish, for a net profit of $4000+ per game. And all I had to do was provide the PC runnable directory as I released each game. Do the math – that’s approximately $30K profit for walking by a booth at GDC. That’s Magic.

Story #2 – The Rest of The Story

A couple of GDC’s later, I’m walking after lunch with a friend of mine that I used to work with.

He stops to talk to someone he knows sitting outside a restaurant. I’m left talking to the guy sitting with his friend. After chatting a little, he mentions that he used to work at Wild Tangent. I mention that it took me a couple of years to get my games on Wild Tangent and tell him about a VP there that sent me an email that basically said – “Joe, although we admire your tenacity, we’re very close to never wanting to hear from you ever again.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it.) The guy looks up at me and says – “I was that guy.” I thought he might be yanking my chain a bit (but I later verified that he was telling the truth).

He then recounted the story of how persistent I was, and how he finally vetoed the people underneath him and let me on Wild Tangent (totally contradicting the email he sent me).  My favorite line that he recounted was this: after they complained to him about the 5th time of me writing them, he asked them, “Well, what does he say in his emails?” – They answered, “Oh, he gives us his stats/numbers from Big Fish whenever he releases a new game there, and how they do better each time.” He then asked them: “So, how are his numbers?” (And this is my favorite line/part.) And they said: “His numbers are actually pretty good.”, so he said: “Then why aren’t we just letting his games on the site?”, and they just stared blankly and changed their minds, and put me on Wild Tangent.

As a footnote, the first game that Wild Tangent let on their site was Clutter V: Welcome to Clutterville and it stayed on their front page for about 6 months. (And all my games perform well there.)

Morale of that story. People who say “Never Hear No” are right. Persistence is key. 

Story #3 – Highs, Lows, Stupidity and GDC Magic – 2018

On Wednesday at around 4:45 PM, I stupidly set my laptop bag down while getting food and sat down with a friend to eat dinner in a food court. At 5:05-ish, I finished my meal, reached down for my bag, and realized that I didn’t have it. Retraced my steps, panicked, and eventually realized I was an idiot. It was gone.

After doing a couple of other things, I bought a new computer at the Microsoft Store, reset all my financial passwords, checked my accounts, called my wife to confess what an idiot I was, and had a crappy nights sleep. (And the lost and found had already closed at 6-ish so I would have to wait for the next day to report it to GDC (I had already given security at the mall-food-court and a policeman my card in case something turned up there)). (My only hope was that someone from the GDC had picked it up figuring it was most likely a GDC person who had left it.)

The next morning I attended a breakfast round-table hosted by Dean Takahashi from Venture Beat. Dean is one of the best known game journalists and I couldn’t believe he actually invited me to the breakfast (from just asking on Facebook). The breakfast was about emerging markets and I originally thought that meant things like VR and AR and/or new platforms. What it actually meant was exactly what I came to GDC for this year: China, South America, India, etc…  Although I was low man on this totem pole, I was incredibly happy and grateful to just be in the room with these people. I don’t know what will come of it, but I have contact information for some of the biggest distributor/players in these markets. My current version of Clutter is being written in Unity and has no story/text, so that it can go everywhere around the world as well on every platform (not just PC/Macs). 

So, I then run over to GDC to try to find the main office with the lost & found. I enter Moscone South, and there, standing by himself was none other than Rami Ismail, one of the most famous (and recognizable) game developers in the world. He was very gracious as this 60 year old fan-boy approached him, said hello, told him he was awesome, shoved my business card at him, and congratulated him on his recent award. And yeah, definitely shook his hand for a little of that Rami/GDC magic to rub-off-on-me. 

Ok, I then made it to the main office. A lady with a phone is there, and I ask her if this is where the lost and found is, she says: “Yes it is”. As I ask her if a laptop has been turned in, she starts smiling. She’s very happy I’ve showed up, because yes, indeed, someone found a laptop. A little back-and-forth describing it in enough detail that she’s convinced it’s mine, so she tells me that a guy named Adam stopped in at 9:30 with a detailed description of it. Adam, kept the laptop in his hotel, and we connected a little after 11-ish and we walked to his hotel, where I retrieved my laptop.

I compensated him a little bit for his good deed and he joined myself and a couple of friends that evening at Morton’s to complete my day.  And the Microsoft Store let me return the computer I had bought the night before.

I don’t know how you’d calculate the odds of me getting my laptop back but I’d say it was close to 0%.

Once again though, the GDC magic came through.

So how was your GDC?

 

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