My first six years living in Mumbai working for a nutritional foods company was nearing it’s end in 2011. With nothing tying me down to come back to the US, I moved to Bangalore. As a native of America’s Silicon Valley, it fascinated me to see what the center of India’s famed IT industry was all about. Four years later, I have been blessed with countless friends and an ever growing sense of indebtedness.
My urge to reciprocate has found an outlet in my charity fund named after a friend who’s family had migrated from India in 1995 to North Carolina. Priyesh and I shared a love for the video game industry and we always saw each other at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco each year. Priyesh passed away due to cancer in 2016 at the age of 27.
In Priyesh’s honor, 2016 was my first year to successfully raise enough funds to have one game developer from India attend GDC, the most important conference worldwide for video game developers. The benefits attending GDC for a person who wants to succeed in such a multidisciplinary industry is enormous, not to mention the other benefits that come with a 10 year business visa (mine certainly changed MY world!).
Our objective is to provide an all expenses paid trip to San Francisco for GDC, which amounts to $3000. This includes airfare, hotel and a conference pass. While we openly consider all applications, generally we look for candidates who have either published a game of their own or have been part of a larger team which has. This is because we want a person who has acclimated to a certain level of industry knowledge and experience so that they can make the most of their opportunities at GDC. We have begun collecting funds for 2018 at the GoFundMe page here.
Blake Merriam is founder of Game Designers Network India and executive producer of India’s first official FailCon event, which attracted hundreds of founders and startup investors from around the world.
Featured below is an account from the winning gamer for the Priyesh Dixit GDC Scholarship, Huzaifa Arab:
My GDC Experience
To game developers across the globe, the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) is THE event of the gaming industry. Most gaming professionals get only a few opportunities to attend the GDC in their careers. Let me tell you how it happened for me.
I had a certain image of the GDC for a long time. Since I was a kid, I would follow news about the GDC. Having seen and heard about it online for so many years made it like a dream to want to be a part of it someday. And I am sure I am not the only one with this dream.
Of course, there are hurdles along the way, with the top one being that it’s expensive. From an average Indian’s point of view, $1000 is a lot of money. It’s easily a month or two’s worth of salary for most Indian game devs. Secondly, it’s in the US. In addition to the travel, the cost of stay coupled with the cost of the GDC pass itself makes it very expensive – justifiably so. Also, for a lot of people, US visas are hard to get. It is a possibility that you end up buying tickets and making arrangements for the GDC only to have your visa rejected.
This is where the Priyesh Dixit GDC Scholarship presented itself to me. When I learned about the opportunity, I jumped at it. For a guy who had almost given up on being able to attend GDC’17, this scholarship would improve my chances of going and lower my costs. The process was straight forward: I had to write an application and had to be honest about why I think I deserved the opportunity. Blake Merriam, the organizer of the scholarship, called and took an interview. He was impressed by the fact that I wanted to go to the GDC to expand my professional network and get opportunities for everything from hiring to collaboration to publishing to investment.
After Blake confirmed that he wanted to sponsor my GDC pass, I calculated my expenses – the rest of the expenses were now not a problem.
Everything after that was so unexpectedly smooth – especially the visa processing – as the scholarship invitation was a strong point to build my case for travel to the US.
A month later, on February 24th, I landed in SF – a few days early to make sure I was settled in and was not too jetlagged to make the most of the conference. I couldn’t wait for the conference to begin – I had already started networking with local game developers by visiting unofficial Pre-GDC meetups.
It was finally February 27th. The first day was just overwhelming – I knew it was big but I didn’t expect it to be so big and so exciting. I took some time to explore the place. I could see game developers and other industry professionals from every nationality and ethnicity. I saw some people wearing formal suits while others cosplayed their favorite game characters, all equally welcoming and friendly to each other. It took me half a day to scan the whole event which was spread across multiple buildings. When I got tired, I sat down to charge my phone and struck up a conversation with a programmer sitting beside me. Upon conversing with him, I realized how similar we were – right from our choice of games to what we think of the current industry trends to our favorite technologies to work with. He even had 2 cats similar to my own and each of us were married to women who loved cats. In addition, his attire and even his appearance were rather similar to my own! All it took was a 15-minute conversation with a random stranger at the conference to discover that he was practically my doppelganger. And over the course of the conference, I would go on to meet a lot of interesting people. Meeting so many people similar to you despite of their background was something that I enjoyed the most. It made me realize that we are pretty much the same with the same kind of issues and life experiences and we’re somehow connected across geographical barriers.
I also got to meet industry figures like Tim Schafer, someone with whom I always wanted to have a discussion. I also met other interesting people including the CEO of a company which is doing work that is similar to what we are doing. It was great to interact and exchange ideas with him even though we are technically each other’s competitors.
And all of this happened in just one day. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the expo days rolled in and the turnout was easily 3-4 times that of the first 2 days. At the expo, I established connections with key people at big companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon for potential partnerships and knowledge sharing. I also won a lot of tech goodies and discovered companies doing things I never knew existed. The 3 days of the expo went by so fast. I would come back to my room everyday exhausted yet ready for another day at the conference. I would also take time out to meet other developers at some of the many GDC-after parties hosted independently at local cafes and bars. These are great places to get to know people at an informal and personal level. I made a lot of meaningful connections at such events as well.
Good times do come to an end and it was soon the 3rd of March – the last day was only till 3 PM. I almost felt emotional when I was coming out of the venue on the last day of the GDC. I had a few more days in SF as buffer to be able to schedule any meetings that sprouted as a result of GDC and to also see the amazing city of San Francisco.
When I was waiting for my return flight to take off, I spent some time thinking of the overwhelming experiences that I went through the entire week at GDC. I am sure that I want to return to the GDC next year. And now that I have experienced GDC and truly know what it is about, I know that the investment in the event is worth its weight in gold. In fact, my co-founder and I have already decided to set aside a fund for GDC and have more people – perhaps my entire team – pay a visit to this amazing event next year.
I feel a lot of gratitude towards Blake Merriam, who has been instrumental in guiding me not just with giving me a GDC pass but also with finding my way around SF and introducing me to some interesting people (including adding us in a WhatsApp group and organizing meetups with fellow devs from across the world.)
I want to thank the contributors of the Priyesh Dixit scholarship – especially the close friends and family of Priyesh (including Priyesh’s brother, who unfortunately wasn’t at the conference this year). I want him to know that the scholarship has been invaluable in helping a developer from India gain global exposure. This trip was made possible due to their generosity.
I hope this scholarship continues to help more deserving developers attend the conference in years to come.
Huzafia Arab is co-founder of Hypernova Interactive and creator of the hit game, War Tanks, which is available on Google Play and the App Store.