You will be overwhelmed
There are thousands of things to do at GDC. There are talks (if you’re lucky enough to have a conference pass), the expo show floor, parties at night, sitting in the park with developers, meals with others, trying to keep up with what people are doing via Twitter, and more. And most of the time these events overlap so that you have to pick between doing one of five things.
Slow down. You can only do one thing at a time. And if you’re too busy thinking about all the things you aren’t doing, you won’t enjoy the one thing you are doing. You’re probably not missing out on anything that important. We’re game developers. Chances are you just missed a bunch of people sitting around talking about games. Probably with some awkwardness.
You will be awkward
If it is your first time at GDC you will not know as many people as others. Many people have been attending GDC for more five or more years. I’ve written about joining a community before, and the same rule applies – if you are new to a community recognize that the most important thing you can do is simply be there. It will take time before people know you.
Not everyone will immediately gel with everyone else. There will be a lot of people bouncing off each other. For every fantastic conversation you’ll have five awkward conversations.
You will feel left out
A lot of GDC consists of people breaking out into small groups, and you will inevitably feel left out. Sitting in a group of 50 people is no fun compared to a group of six people. Trying to get dinner with 50 people is even less fun. You can’t be part of every group. It’s not because people don’t like you, it’s because big groups are a pain in the butt.
Enjoy the company of the people you’re with
It can be tempting to try to talk to more established developers that you admire. And you should do that – that’s part of the fun and excitement of GDC. However, don’t forget to enjoy spending time with other people you just met. Try as hard as you can not to judge people based on their experience and past projects. Realize that you wouldn’t want people doing the same to you. Everyone is at GDC because they find games interesting. All attendees have projects, hopes, and dreams. Ask people about them – you’ll be surprised how much easier it makes getting to know people.
Take it slow
Realize how long you’re staying at GDC and scale your energy accordingly. For a lot of people GDC is close to a week-long affair. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Pay attention to your body and how you’re feeling. Chances are you will feel wiped out sooner or later. Don’t be afraid to take time to nap. Being exhausted and miserable for a day is worse than taking a nap and being fully present for half a day.
Realize that GDC is a temporary high
Chances are good that GDC will infect you with an unsustainable high. You’ll feel incredibly energized and inspired to work. Your brain will think you’ve made it – this is it – your new life of being energized and unstoppable.
However, after a week, maybe less, that high will inevitably wear off. You’ll go from meeting lots of people and feeling that every moment is exciting and productive to working on your game again. And working on games means the path forward is uncertain, many tasks are a slog, and you’re never being sure if you’re working on the right thing. A lot of people call this the post-GDC depression. I think the crash is unavoidable, but you can lessen its impact by being aware of its inevitability.
A lot of this advice makes GDC seem like a bummer. It wasn’t for me, and I hope it won’t be for you. But it is an exhausting and overwhelming week. You will feel incredible highs and incredible lows. You will feel both accomplished and a member of the community, and you will feel like a nobody and an outsider – often within the span of hours. Do your best to be kind to everyone you meet, and try your hardest to be as welcoming as possible. I can’t wait to see all of you there!