SlickEdit has exhibited at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) for the past several years. Despite the many benefits of social media, there’s no real substitute for being able to meet your current and future customers in person. So each year we shuffle off to San Francisco to show the flag for three days. It’s a great opportunity for us to show off our latest features and introduce our products to those who are new to software development. And we also enjoy the quick “thanks for a great tool” visits from current customers. The most satisfying thing to a software tools company is knowing that your customers are using your products to make really cool stuff. And the Game Developers Conference is packed to the rafters with really cool stuff.
But if all we accomplished was in-person advertising, we probably wouldn’t invest the time, money, and effort required to set up a 10’x10′ booth for three days on the other side of the country. What really makes exhibiting worthwhile is the ability to keep our fingers on the pulse of the industry. We find out firsthand what languages, tools, and platforms are trending. And we can gauge what types of features and functionality prospective customers are looking for, and what they like (and don’t like) about the current tools they’re using.
Some observations from this year’s show…
Mobile gaming platforms have exploded in the past few years, and the tools to support creating games for those devices are riding a wave of popularity. Unity had a very large presence this year, and they generated a considerable amount of excitement at the show. Fortunately for us, the built-in source code editing tools for Unity, while free, leave quite a bit to be desired. (I will not name said editor out of respect to the feature-challenged.) It’s no exaggeration to say that 1/4 of the folks that wanted to demo SlickEdit were looking for a decent code editor for their Unity projects.
Teach your children well
Many of the attendees at the show are university students, taking courses in software development and in some cases game development specific curricula. Note that these are not your typical four-year college Comp-Sci majors, taking courses in compilers and data structures. Rather, these students are mostly in two-year degree or career oriented certificate programs. A few years ago it seemed that the vast majority of these two-year students were learning Java, and primarily using free tools like Eclipse. This year I was pleasantly surprised to find that students are not being fed a diet of 100% Java, but are also being exposed to C/C++, delving into scripting and utility languages like Python, Perl, and Bash, and are being introduced to version control systems as part of their coursework. I’m hoping some of these real-work-world skills are finding their way back into the four-year programs.
Why aren’t you people using version control?
One of our features that really resonates with SlickEdit first-timers is our Backup History, which keeps an incremental versioning history of your source files each time you save. We like to think of this facility as a safety net between version control check-ins. When demoing this feature I usually ask what version control system folks are using, and I am met with far too many blanks stares. For every chin-high steady-of-voice declaration of “I use Subversion”, or “We use Perforce at the office, and I use Git at home”, there are an equal number of sheepish shoulder shrugs, admitting that nothing is in place. Well, good luck to you…
Flash is alive and well
Despite Apple’s decision to banish Flash from iPhones and iPads, plenty of Flash-based games are being written. And that means plenty of developers need to edit and navigate ActionScript source. When we first added proper ActionScript support to SlickEdit a few years ago (again, due to demand we witnessed at GDC), we assumed that demand and usage would taper off and die in a couple years. That assumption was wrong.
The art of trade show swag is suffering
The past few years we’ve been bringing USB flash drives to the show, with all the installers for our products pre-loaded. But our “fun” giveaway hasn’t changed for the past 5 years. It’s what I refer to as the “bouncy spider”, or “octopus yo-yo”. It looks like a multi-colored sea anemone suspended from a bungee cord, and you bounce it up and down. It has no useful function (besides attracting folks to our booth), but it’s always the hit of the show amongst the giveaway goodie cognoscenti. Usually someone else at the show has an equally cool giveaway. But not this year. The monotony of an endless sea of t-shirts, notebooks, knit caps, logo-ed plastic bags, and ballpoint pens was disheartening.
Overall we had a great, successful trip and will definitely be venturing back to San Francisco at the end of March 2013 for the next GDC! What was your experience at GDC this year? Leave a comment below to share!