Going to the Game Developer Conference (GDC)? Great. You will meet interesting people, drum up business and brand awarness, have fun, and learn a lot.
I wracked my brain thinking what value I could add to this topic. Read around and people will tell you that you’ll be overwhelmed and tired, that it’s big, and there will be a lot of big-name, small-name, and medium-name developers to meet. But not many tell you what to do about it.
So after reading this article, maybe take my suggestion and prepare for your trip before you leave. I promise it won’t take you that long.
Here are the main things this article covers:
There are actually great resources for conference-goers on the GDC site, as you might imagine, so I’ll reference them. I like their visualization of the whole conference because it gives you a bird’s-eye view of the event in Kanban form. Give your eyes time to adjust, though, it’s a little difficult to parse at first. There’s an overwhelming list of talks and events.
As I’ve been browsing through Reddit and the interwebs about GDC, I’ve noticed a few people asking about finding accommodations. If you’re from out of town and San Francisco is outside of your budget--heck, it’s outside of my budget--then I suggest searching in Oakland for a place to stay. There aren’t a lot of hotel options, but Airbnb or VRBO will open up more options than SF at about half to two-thirds the price. The key is to find a place within a 10-15 minutes walk from BART (the Bay Area’s subway equivalent). Then it’s just a 20 minute subway trip.
Whether you’re a game developer, representing a gaming publisher, a vendor, or the business-side, it can seem fairly daunting to approach a 26,000 attendee conference and get the most from it.
So here’s my frank advice. If the conference is too big, then make this conference smaller by preparing ahead of time. Prepare meetings ahead of time and meet with each person in a more casual setting. Use the GDC Conference Scheduler, and prepare your short-list of talks and events.
Preparation = Beach Hug Good
There’s never been such a glut since last Thanksgiving (and GDC). Think like a marketer and start segmenting this list of events
Use the GDC conference scheduler. Notice how long that list is. Take a deep breath and login, so you don’t lose your plan. If you try to be sneaky and add an event without logging in, it will prompt you once you try to add something.
Select your Pass Type in the right panel. This will limit the list to what is available to your pass. Then look at the Topic bar on the left-hand side. You can’t see all the talks, especially if you’re setting meetings up before the event, so prioritize the three most important topics to your interest.
As an example, I selected the GDC Conference and Summits Pass and I selected the topics: Design, Visual Arts, and GDC Narrative Summit. My list of events went from something that actually takes 2 minutes to just scroll through (forget about reading it) to a digestible short-list.
Some people think that setting up meetings is the most important part of the conference experience. But wouldn’t you just like to see what people are making, check out the technology, play some games, and scatter Flaming Hot Cheeto dust across the Moscone center floor like a perverse Hansel & Gretel with, perhaps, a less morbid fate?
Better hope this guy's drone doesn't pick up your Cheeto trail. You might get lost in the woods!
Alright, kidding aside, meetings are extremely important.
Imagine this: there’s a giant room filled with 25,999 other people and, say, 259.9 want to meet with the same person you want to meet. Will you get that meeting?
Yes! Because you reached out ahead of time to all the people with whom you want to meet 10 days to 2 weeks ago. Do this. Especially if you’re booking Work for Hire meetings or pitching a game or POC (credit goes to RabTom on Reddit for prompting me to think of this).
The fine folks organizing GDC have anticipated your needs with GDC Connect and a short video walkthrough. To be honest, I’ve never actually used it and I have not been able to log in despite paying for access (I am sure it's my fault). So I will provide an alternative plan below.
A good way to start--and the reason I put this section after “Conference, Summits, and Talks”--is to scan the speakers of the sessions you’ve scheduled. Chances are, if you want to hear these people speak, you may want to meet them. Reach out to them ahead of time on GDC Connet LinkedIn, or Twitter. LinkedIn and Twitter are two pretty casual and more or less accepted ways to reach people.
But, really, it is optional.
Be professional. Let them know you’re excited about their work. Give them your reason for meeting and allow them to answer. Follow up once or twice without spamming them. But, remember, no one wants to be the random target of a sales pitch, so do suggest meeting intelligently by finding the right people with whom you can build mutual interest.
Your prospective meet-ers will be more accommodating than you might think. If someone reached out to me with an interesting background and I didn’t have a conflict, for example, I don’t see why I would say no.
Since these meetings are crucial to your business and networking, I would suggest setting up 10 meetings before GDC and expect to set-up several more during the conference. Alright, fine. Set up 10 more during the conference!
You’ve just set a goal for 20 meetings and you’re going to be great. Go you.
These are fun, just as important as the conference itself, and a less intense, more casual way to meet people and network.
GDC plans about 3 “Mixers” each day, so these are good ways to meet other people. They are sponsored by specific companies, so you can target these mixers in the same way you did your talks and meetings. Attend the mixers sponsored by companies you like or that interest you.
Then there are the interactive spaces, which are usually a lot of fun. Check out the calendar here. A couple highlights are the Game Developers Choice Awards and the Independent Games Festival Awards and they’re held in connection Wednesday 6:30 - 8:30 PM. Others are the GDC Film Festival (in YBCA), GDC Play (go play games), and the REALLY NEAT alt.ctrl.GDC, where people build unconventional games that you can actually play at the event. I really recommend this last one.
There are a lot of mixers, parties and events after the conference itself. Some you have to pay and some are free. You can find a good list on Eventbrite here. There about 50 there. Go nuts!
Another option is to ask people you meet--mind you, you should think they’re nice--if they plan to attend any other mixers or after-hour events. If not, invite a few. But never ever be a creep.
“Whenever life gets you down Mrs. Brown
And things seem hard or tough
And people are stupid, obnoxious, or daft
And you feel you’ve had quite enough.”
- Eric Idle, “The Galaxy Song,” from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
Feeling overwhelmed? First, listen to Monty Python’s Galaxy Song by Eric Idle. Then seek refuge nearby. Here’s a short list of things you can actually do when you’re overwhelmed, or when you're just hanging out in SF during GDC.
Small public garden between 3rd and 4th and Mission and Howard. If the weather’s fine, stretch out on the grass for a nap and forget the crowd. Might still be crowded due to its proximity to the Moscone center. But it’s always worth a shot.
You’d be surprised how great a resource museums can be if you need to escape the crowd: (1) the admission price will generally provide an obstacle for people from the conference; (2) there’s a custom of respectable silence (cf. 30,000 people in a convention center); (3) great inspiration for gaming. Seriously, I really believe this is a good idea. Prove me right!
Unfortunately the Museum of African Diaspora (MOAD) will be closed until March 28th, but here’s the dish at the SF MOMA, YBCA, and the Opera House.
Cool bar, nice history. Good drinks. Local Edition. Please actually drink responsibly.
Hopefully this article gives you the resources you need to have a successful and fun GDC. Come find me or the other Birds at the SendBird table: VRDC Tabletop SST05, in West Hall level 2, hallway in front of Sponsored Session Room 2002. Would love to meet you.