GDC’s Meggan Scavio on Organizing Conferences for Game Developers

The Game Developers Conference has been bringing thousands of game developers together each year since its first conference in 1988. We recently had a chance to talk with Meggan Scavio, General Manager of GDC Events, about her job, the challenges in making game dev conferences more diverse, and how she got her start in gaming.

remeshed:  Can you give a bit of background on yourself for those that don’t yet know you?
Meggan Scavio: I’m originally from Omaha, Nebraska and moved to San Francisco in 1995. I went to college at the University of Nebraska at Omaha but never really knew what I wanted to do with my life other than get out of Nebraska. I have a fondness for PEZ dispensers, classic movies, and all things robot. I grew up as a punk kid and still kind of feel like one even now with all the grey hair I bleach blonde.

How did you come to work for The Game Developers Conference?
I actually started as a temp in this company. I had just moved to San Francisco and got a job through a temp agency doing admin work. I was eventually hired full-time on a super random tech event (High Density Interconnect) then moved on to other events, including GDC in 2000. GDC was my favorite.

I had grown up playing video games and I really felt at home. I worked hard and became the lead operations manager, running the event from a logistical side. After the conference manager left, they recruited me to the conference team and I soon worked my way up to General Manager. I really do know the event inside and out.

How are events for game developers different from other events?
I have experience organizing events in other tech industries, and game developers stand out in so many ways. Game developers are intelligent, creative and experimental. Our community focuses on art first. This is a group of people who want to create and that is such a rewarding sentiment. Not only do they want to create but they want to share with and learn from each other, like few other industries.

I think they’re also a very progressive lot. GDC attendees expect an open, welcoming environment for all. They sincerely celebrate each other’s wins and take so much joy in the work that they do. People say GDC is like a family reunion and that’s because it’s such a strong community.

What are some of the challenges that go along with this?
As I said, this is a brilliant group of people. Our biggest challenge is that they have incredibly high expectations. The conference session content needs to be at a particular level. Event messaging needs to be smart and clever, yet not too frequent.

Often, we’re walking the line between corporate event planners and community service providers.

A lot of people don’t probably don’t realize what goes into event planning. What’s something most people wouldn’t think of or consider part of that?
Event planning as a concept is great. The reality is a completely different beast.

Hotels in San Francisco actually paid for the convention center to exist and are under no obligation to negotiate prices. They can charge whatever they want.  You have to be aware of the many various Union regulations that, if broken, can cause a strike. Even something as small as plugging something into a wall socket can get you in trouble. Convention centers often have official vendors which means you can only order certain services like catering or internet from one company and there is no price negotiation. Throw tax and service charges on top of everything and suddenly you’re paying $40 for a box with a sandwich and a box of chips. I could go on!

How have you seen the diversity of your panels and speakers change or evolve over time?
My experience has been that over the last 3 years or so, everyone is paying attention. The expectation that there will be a diverse speaker lineup throughout our event is strong. Our speakers and our advisors all recognize the importance of full representation and enthusiastically work together toward it. I never receive pushback when requesting diversity on a panel or in a track. In fact, often they see it before I do.

What is the biggest challenge to making panels and speakers more diverse?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced in diversifying our speaker lineup is encouraging more diverse speakers to submit proposals. I think everyone feels the competition is too tough so they don’t even bother submitting. But we actually rely on submissions for most of our sessions and unless you submit, I may not know you’re out there.

What is the GDC doing to try and attract more diverse speakers and panelists?
It’s really important to make GDC genuinely accessible. Towards that goal, we now provide daycare services. When recruiting women to speak at GDC, the first reason I was given for not submitting proposals was that there was no onsite childcare and that was preventing women from participating. So we fixed that. We now have that service onsite.

We also realized our submission system was very intimidating. We are trying to ask for less information up front and placing less emphasis on bios, experience, and ‘games shipped’ to address the imposter syndrome from which many in underrepresented communities suffer.

This year, on the Sunday before GDC, we’re hosting an event titled “Amplifying New Voices.” Our goal is to help develop those voices and empower a new generation of speakers-and this is only the first step!

You work with the GDC Scholarship program. Can you explain what it is, and how a group/organization could apply?
This is one of my favorite programs. It all started with the game development community. There was a clear demand from our audience to create a more inclusive environment. We started by making a concerted attempt at a more diverse speaker lineup. I reached out directly to as many organizations as I could find that worked with underrepresented communities and asked them to submit session proposals to GDC.

The first step was to grow who was on stage. The next step was to grow who was in the audience. That’s when I decided to reach out to those same organizations and offer free passes. I didn’t want it to be “GDC gives out free passes.” I wanted it to be the communities awarding the passes themselves. With a focus on diversity, we launched this program last year and gave away over 300 passes. We’re well on mark to give away at least a hundred more this year.

Do you have any advice or tips for people trying to get into the industry?
For anyone wanting to get into the events business, I recommend starting with an established company. Events are incredibly expensive to produce and you’ll want to train under people who have done this a lot and do it well. There are plenty of companies that produce events as well as companies that act as vendors.

Any way to get a foot into the door helps. I’ve hired folks from hotels and convention centers who’ve proven to be well-organized and easy to work with. Being time-sensitive, it’s important to handle pressure well!

Tanya DePass is a lifelong Chicagoan who loves everything about gaming, #INeedDiverseGames spawn point, and wants to make it better and more inclusive for everyone. She’s the Founder and EIC of @OutofTokensCast, the Diversity Liaison for GaymerX and is part of the Chromatic Life Podcast.

Tanya DePass is a lifelong Chicagoan who loves everything about gaming, #INeedDiverseGames spawn point, and wants to make it better and more inclusive for everyone. She's the Founder and EIC of @OutofTokensCast, the Diversity Liaison for GaymerX and is part of the Chromatic Life Podcast.

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