It is again that time of the year where game designers, developers, artists and anyone and everyone from gaming industry all over the world tries to make it to San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference (GDC) to celebrate their common love for ‘Games’. Known as pilgrim place for the developers, GDC has been an annual affair since 1988 and from being a small group of 25 people meeting in a living room in San Jose, it has now grown a scale where last year it hit the record attendance with more than 26,000 people turning up for the conference. Like every year, this year too it’s spread over five days of sessions, workshops, tutorials and roundtable discussions by industry leaders around game development with a special two day conference held for virtual reality (VR) termed as VRDC (Virtual Reality Developers Conference). Developers from India too are headed to this Mecca and a few of them are going to thank Game Designers Network, a scholarship program started this year for the Indian indie developers by Blake Merriam who has been volunteering at GDC since 1992. As part of the scholarship program, the selected few get an All Access pass to GDC but the developers still have to take responsibility for their travel and stay. AnimationXpress spoke to Blake about how this initiative was started and how does he intend to take it forward. “The scholarship program has been running for quite a few years now in different parts of the world. Since I have been a part of GDC since a long time I thought, let me ask organisers if I could get a few passes for the Indian developers as a part of their scholarship program. They happily agreed to give 25 passes and we started the scholarship program for India from this year.” Blake adds, “My main intention to start this program was for the Indie developers and not for the established ones who are bosses of large studios and are capable of funding for their own tickets. We did encounter misconduct during registration and some big studio head registered from a different name and got his ticket too but we cancelled his ticket the moment we got to know about it. There were few others who got their tickets but could not make it because of the extra expense that came with it. ” The response Blake says was overwhelming but they had difficulty in selecting the entries and short listing the 25 developers. “There were so many entries, and we had to sort things out. But we have selected some of the bright talents from the country and decided to award them scholarships this year.” Firebolt Entertainment, director, Tarun Hinduja is one such veteran who has been travelling to GDC since the last two years and this year he’s one of the scholarship ticket holder travelling through Game Designers Network. Talking about his previous experience, he says, “The previous experiences have been really good learning experiences. The first time is always overwhelming as there’s a lot to navigate around. Being at the GDC, you get the global exposure and a first-hand experience as to what the industry has been doing and where it’s headed.” Praising Blake’s effort and Game Designers Network initiative, Tarun acknowledges, “An initiative like this is great to have and I think it’s a great help in developing the gaming industry in India. Being able to give the indie studios a chance at getting global exposure would help Indian studios make better games which can later can compete with the global market. Blake has been really instrumental in creating the Game Designers Network and it was his idea and efforts that made it possible for the Indie studios to be able to receive a pass to attend the GDC. There are some great ideas on how to grow this initiative and take it to the next level. I’m excited to see how it goes in the future.” All in a Days Play, co-founder, Abhinav Sarangi is another indie studio head who’s headed to GDC through Game Designers Network and this being his first time is excited about the premier gaming conference. “This is my first time at GDC. My primary aim is to meet fellow game developers and learn from their experience of developing and releasing games. I have meetings lined up with developers who make games in the same genres as we do in All in a Days Play. I am also showing our games to fellow game developers to get feedback. Apart from game developers, I have meetings lined up with prospective publishers to work together on our games and a few meetings with platform holders like Google and partners like ad networks.” Talking about the current trend in the VR space and the introduction he mentions, “I am particularly looking forward to the VR track this year. We are starting to explore the VR space at All in a Days Play, so it will be really helpful to learn a little more.” Echoing Tarun’s thoughts, Abhinav only has words of praise for Game Designers Network initiative, “I am really impressed by the sheer volume of work done by Blake and the Game Designers Network to put this program together. I am thankful to Blake, Game Designers Network and GDC for having a program to support indie developers in India. A lot of indie developers, including me, are coming to the GDC for the first time because of this program. And GDC, being the premier game developer conference, is sure to be a big learning experience for all of us.” Blake continues, “I want to continue this scholarship for a long time and help Indian developers get the international exposure at GDC. Also, what we want to do from next year is to have a few workshops for the shortlisted people who are visiting for the GDC for the first time on how to get more out of GDC. What happens is that people tend to get carried away when they attend GDC for the first time and don’t make enough of the opportunity given. We want them comeback with knowledge and contacts which take them forward.” Who better to validate this point than Zabuza Labs, CEO and founder, Manas Gajare who has been to two GDCs last year, one in San Francisco and the other in Germany. This year, he is not only attending San Francisco GDC but will also be speaking at a session on the importance of networking at such events. He elaborates, “The people I am speaking with at this year’s session, I barely knew them until last year. Attending such events and constantly keeping in touch with them has helped me as an industry professional. Connect with the right people and they will provide you with feedback for your games; learn about the world trends and even collaborate on projects.” So what are the key things to keep in mind when attending events like these or what is the pre-preparation one has to do, “First and the utmost important thing is to have a clear agenda as to what are you going to do at the event. If you are attending sessions, what sessions are you sitting for and where are they going to be held. Second is that you carry a lot of business cards along with you and exchange at least 100 cards every day.” Other such small directives will be shared by him and his fellow speakers at the session. He is also excited about the introduction of special VR conference and will try to get in as last year due to the long queue he couldn’t and will also be showcasing his company’s latest game John and the Cursed Dungeon at GDC which hit the Steam Greenlight recently. Apart from Tarun and Abhinav, Ankush Madad from Dropout Games, Zainuddin Fahad from Ogrehead Studio, Eldhose Mathew from Csharks Games and Shailesh Prabhu from Yellow Monkey Studios are some of the names who are attending GDC through Game Designers Network. Such scholarship will not only give the Indian game developers the global exposure to acquire the right knowledge to grow in the industry that is fast pacing up in the Indian market but will also give them an opportunity to showcase their games to industry experts from all across the world and get feedback as to what needs to be done or what is going correct for them. We wish the Indian contingent all the best and hope they come back wiser.