I am writing this from a trans-Pacific flight back to Shanghai after an intense week in San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference 2011. It’s the only game conference that I have attended 3 years in a row, and I think it’s the best game conference out there. Not only because of the sessions, but especially because everybody in the industry is there, from start-ups to giants like Disney and from game programmers to CEOs and VCs. I like the atmosphere where you can do a lot of business during daytime followed by networking and drinking at one of the many after-work parties – work hard, play hard.
This year I mainly did a lot of media interviews for Spil Games about our transition from casual game websites to the biggest social game platform in the world, targeted at girls, teens and families. Spil has grown tremendously over the past year, with total traffic now at 130 million unique visitors/month and a revenue growth of 60% in 2010. And this is just the beginning: where last year Spil Games got about 10% of its revenues from end-user monetization (e.g. people paying for virtual goods) and 90% from advertising, this year it is already about 30% virtual items (even though advertising keeps on growing fast as well).
I also talked to journalists and analysts about Spil’s mobile strategy, where we focus on browser-based (HTML5) games that can be played for free on every smartphone. All of our sites are now available in a mobile version, just type a site on your smartphone (for example agame.com, gamesgames.com or GirlsGoGames.com) and you can start playing free games right away without an app store and without downloading. And it works on every smartphone, so not only on Android but also on the iPhone.
I enjoyed doing the interviews, although doing them a few days in a row gets a bit tiring as well. Interestingly not one talk was the same, some people were well prepared and asked insightful questions, others less so. I also realized that during the first interviews I had to really think how to formulate things, but at the end of the week it sort of went automatic.
And that was probably good, because I managed to build up a huge sleep deficit during the week. Partly because of the jet lag: when I wake up in the middle of the night I have the bad habit of checking my email, meaning that I normally don’t go back to sleep anymore (either Holland or China is always working when I wake up). And of course partly because of late night dinners with VCs and going to some of the GDC parties that never start before 10 or or 11 PM.
Thursday afternoon I was so tired that when I came back to my hotel room a bit early (around 4:30 pm) to work on mails before dinner I could hardly type on my laptop anymore. So I decided to give in and just sleep for 30 minutes before going out for a walk and a coffee to clear my head. That helped, because during dinner I was totally fit again and even went to the Playboy party until 1 AM. Not sure how healthy it is, but luckily I don’t do this every week.
But the lack of sleep is worth it, I love this kind of busy weeks. The only real down side is that I am very far behind on my emails once again. I feel bad about that, I normally try to answer important mails within 24 hours, but there are a couple of them that have been waiting 4 or 5 days to be answered. Hopefully I will wake up very early on Monday morning so I can get a couple of hours of work done before the kids wake up and have to go to school.
Of course I also managed to get some free time, but not as much as I hoped and mainly before GDC started. The weekend before GDC was great. I arrived on Friday in the Bay area already, so I could meet with a couple of VC friends in Palo Alto and Menlo Park to discuss some ideas. On the plane over from China I hadn’t slept at all (I was flying economy in the back of an old B747 that was completely full…), but still managed to stay awake the whole day.
I went for a run right after I arrived in my hotel in Palo Alto, that’s for me always the best way to fight jet lag. That combined with tons of coffee of course. At night I even had a nice dinner before falling into a deep sleep around 11 PM. Saturday morning I got up very early, worked on emails and went for an early morning walk in a freezing cold Palo Alto (TV was talking about the possible first snow since 1976, but I didn’t see a snow flake). I love the Bay area, especially Palo Alto, and like I mentioned on this blog before it’s not unlikely that one day I will live here.
During breakfast I actually checked a local real estate paper and found my dream house: a 17-acre house with pool, vineyard and stables in the hills above Cupertino with a view all over Silicon Valley. Too bad I am not in the market, this is exactly the kind of house I would love to have one day (especially at this price, USD 2.4 million seems not very expensive considering the large piece of land and the location, but I am no expert yet).
Once it got a bit warmer (around 10:30 AM) I checked out of the hotel and drove to San Francisco along highway 1, making a stop at the beach in Half Moon Bay. I love the Pacific beach there, although it’s normally quite cold and windy at this time of year. I got to my hotel around 1 PM, quickly checked my mails and then crashed for an hour on my hotel bed. To wake up I went for a long walk along Market Street to Embarcadero and walked all along the Bay to Pier 39, taking pictures during the leisurely stroll. After an early dinner with a nice bottle of Californian Cabernet Sauvignon in a wine bar in North Beach I decided to call it a day and went back to my hotel to catch up on sleep.
I didn’t sleep a lot during the night, but felt pretty good the next morning. I had a late breakfast at a French style cafe close to Union Square and then spent most of the afternoon relaxing in the sun, reading a book and the New York Times. At night I had dinner and drinks with some of the Geeks on a Plane participants. We had tapas and had a lot of fun. I met a lot of new people including some that I had been following on Twitter for quite some time already. I learned a lot about some new companies, and also finally got a Square device for my Android (their co-founder turned out to be sitting next to me at dinner). We ended the night at a cool cocktail bar just off Union Square (a former speakeasy), where I left the group a bit earlier than planned because of a business phone call from China. No big deal, at least I was in bed on time.
Interestingly my wife informed me on the weekend that she would also come to visit me in San Francisco, and she indeed showed up on Tuesday – with 2 empty suitcases. She had a lot more free time than I did and managed to fill them up completely in 4 days at all the shops around Union Square! I didn’t have a lot of time for her, but at least I managed to take her for lunch or dinner sometimes, and she probably got to see more of San Francisco than I had over the past years. She now also understands a bit better why I like the Bay area so much, the quality of life is very high here (climate, life style) plus there is a huge entrepreneurial vibe. She normally complains that when I come back from a trip to SF I am often in a gloomy mood for a day or 2 until I am adjusted to life in Shanghai again…
It was a busy but very good week and I actually look forward to being back in China in a couple of hours. I miss my kids a lot and there is a lot happening at among others UnitedStyles and Spil Games Asia. Better too busy than not having much to do!
San Francisco was my home 4 years, and my office was on Union Square. It was pleasant to live and work there. Shanghai offers me more opportunities now.