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The Little Guy's Guide To GDC

In this post, I give some tips for different types small developers on making the most of this week's GDC from off site, on the show floor, or as a volunteer.

Christopher Totten, Blogger

March 24, 2013

10 Min Read

This is a repost from my blog, DevFromBelow, where I talk about game dev for the little guy. 



For many, this coming week is going to be a busy one. Not only are there a number of significant religious holidays, but for us game developers it is also time for GDC, the Game Developer's Conference. If you are coming into game development from being a fan, this may be an event you've heard of, but not paid much attention to in your yearly wait for E3 - not many things are revealed or announced at GDC. Indeed, the panels that often get the most coverage are post-mortems of popular games or the occasional soundbite from a famous designer. However, one soon learns that, for developers, GDC is possibly the most important event of the year.

So how should you engage in the GDC bacchanalia? What if you're not there? What if you are there for the first time? What if you're one of the lucky few who got a volunteer position? This post will explore some tactics you can use to get the most out of GDC 2013. 


GDC for those at home

Let's face it: GDC is expensive, and airfare isn't getting any cheaper. Many developers cannot make it, and that's okay. There are options for you to still get the most out of GDC. 

Live on Gamasutra

I've previously extolled the virtues of Gamasutra as a communication hub for small developers. While many sites - IGN, Kotaku, Polygon, and the like - you will want developer-focused coverage of the event. Gama's staff are there to get as much information as they can from as many talks as they can attend. If you do not already have it set up as such, Gama should be one of your homepages for GDC week. Try to check in every few hours or so to see what new stories have been posted. 

If you have a blog on the site, this may be a good time to post, as there will surely be a lot of foot traffic from folks like you who could not attend in person. You can both send and receive a surprising amount of information using this website during GDC. 

In Vault we trust

Fun fact: GDC's organizers film every talk...IT'S TRUE! These videos are posted on a wondiferous website called the GDC Vault. The downside of this site is that a subscription to the member content is $495 a year. For those who cannot afford the fee, there is a plethora of free content available dating as far back as GDC 1996. If you are on the fence about the price of the site, remember that it covers over 15 years of GDC events - San Francisco, China, Europe, and Online - for that fee. Not a bad deal...


Chris Crawford's Dragon Speech - not in the vault but still wonderful. 


Apply for updates on the GDC website

If you cannot make the conference yourself, it is possible to still get information directly from the event. GDC itself has a newsletter you can subscribe to, detailing upcoming events and other information. These e-mails also contain interviews with developers and other information for you to extend your GDC experience throughout the year. You can even learn about opportunities to have your GDC tickets for next year paid for by being part of the CA program (scroll down for CA info.)


Attending GDC for n00bs

So you've made it to the big show in San Francisco - congratulations! Now what do you do? Depending on your badge type, you have access to a certain selection of events ranging from full access and summit passes to student admission to the career fair. So how do you get the most out of your first GDC? Here are a few guidelines to follow. 

Remember why you are there

Nintendo and other big publishers have booths in the GDC Expo hall for people to check out their new products. While it can be tempting to hang around in these areas trying the new games, remember why you are attending GDC and not PAX, E3, or other events: to meet and network with other developers. While it is great to check out new games, also take some time to meet and mingle with those around you or look at new the new dev tools on display. These interactions are much more important than trying new games. 



Another application of this tip is how you react to other developers. For many, meeting their heroes for the first time elicits a few fanboy reactions. This is normal. However, it is important to remember that GDC is a place for developers to meet one another on a more even playing field than other events, so don't be intimidated by exchanging information with others. Maybe you've made a few games. Maybe they did well. Maybe they didn't.

Maybe you didn't realize that everyone had experiences like this. 

Once you realize that you're a person with a cool, creative job there to meet other people with cool, creative jobs, the intimidation factor lessens somewhat. 

Business cards are your primary weapon...

Hopefully, you came packing about 1000 business cards, because you are going to use them. Okay, 1000 may be an overstatement, but it doesn't hurt to have between 300 and 500 business cards on hand for GDC. My first year, I was at the end of an order and had only 25 left in my box. I was done by Tuesday (I made it to Tuesday because I was being conservative.) Give business cards to everyone you meet. Give business cards to those you realize are in San Francisco for GDC while you are not at GDC itself. Give business cards to people from GDC that you meet while you are being randomly selected by airport security for a search (totally didn't happen to me.) 

...but you have secondary weapons as well

Alright Business Card Ninja, you're loaded to the gills. Now what?

How about a pen?

There are many things you can do with business cards to make them more effective and even have them help you facilitate visits to your website (which I will cover in a future post.) However, one of the biggest things you can add to your business card exchanging experience is bringing a pen. Why? Because this allows you to write down facts about how you met people on the backs of their business cards. At the end of GDC, you are bound to have hundreds of cards. While you will remember a few people, there are bound to be some Monday or Tuesday interactions that escape your memory. No one likes getting a "It was great meeting you, we should keep in touch" form e-mail (though you'll send out a million in your career), so try to write notes about each meeting to make post-GDC correspondance more effective. 

Eat, sleep, take care of yourself

Remember when I called GDC a bacchanalia earlier in the post? Well, there are also parties in the evenings during GDC put on by a variety of companies - true story! While it's tempting to go get your crunk on with your favorite game developers, remember that GDC lasts a whole week, and that each day is full of activities. Party lightly, pace yourself, and make sure you're standing the next day: you want to look not-hung-over if you are there to network or even job search. 

Lost? Don't worry...

The Moscone Center, the conference center where GDC is held, is HUGE: it has 2 buildings and can be a huge trek to get across. If you find yourself lost, turn to the friendly Conference Associates (CAs) for help. CAs are volunteers who spend their GDC directing people where they need to be, checking badges, and many other vital functions. They are there to make your GDC experience better so don't be afraid to turn to them when you need help. 

How do you know a CA when you see one? They are usually wearing a specially-colored version of the GDC shirt. They are also one of the first people you see when you walk into the doors of the conference, as they are handing out maps and other handy things. 

Speaking of CAs...


Attending GDC as a CA

Being a CA is a great way for small developers, students, and anyone who wants to to attend GDC. Typically, applications for CA positions open a few months before GDC. Applicants need to submit information about themselves and an essay on why they would like to be a CA. If you know previous CAs, you can also get recommendations from them. 

If you were selected, first of all: CONGRATULATIONS! Second of all, see you in a few hours. 

Attending as a CA has its own set of guidelines that you have and will see in the CA training materials. However, there are also some other steps you can take to maximize your GDC volunteer experience. 

Comfortable shoes

CA's walk around more than most of the other people at GDC. Attendees typically go from session to session and get to do a lot of sitting. You, however, will do a lot of walking from building to building and job to job. As such, a pair of comfortable shoes are your best friends. I prefer a pair of running shoes, as they are made for long distances. By the end of the week, you will have no doubt put some mileage on them. 


"Look Jenny...I'm all ready for GDC..."


While you may be a sandal or flip flop type of person, or may even just be psyched by the warm San Francisco weather (I know I am), practical shoes are a must as a CA. You'll be the last one standing on Friday. 

All that stuff about taking care of yourself

CAs come from all corners of the country to volunteer, meaning lots of great opportunities to network and find people to help with projects. However, they also brought their crazy mutant germs with them that are different from your crazy mutant germs. Taking care of yourself is of the utmost importance in this situation, as you'll be spending lots of time around a lot of people. You'll also be wearing your body out by constant activity. While you'll probably lose some weight in the process (looking good CAs!) you'll probably also wear yourself down a lot. Vitamin C sources like orange juice and Emergen-C are vital for the week of GDC, so put aside the Monster for now and take care of yourself. 

The same applies for partying. First, follow the rules governing CA behavior outside of GDC - seriously. Secondly, John Q. Attendee can sleep off a bad hangover - YOU CAN'T. You have morning meetings to attend so you better look sharp. If you're running slowly because of your previous night out, you'll also do a much worse job helping attendees find their way around the conference, and that's no fun for anybody. 

Abundant networking opportunities

Now to the good stuff. As a CA, you have an instant "in" with many at the conference. Not only is the CA program itself a hotbed of people to meet, but you'll be interacting with many of the attendees. While you should not take too long with networking interactions on the job, a quick exchange of business cards is often part of any GDC interaction. 

Likewise, the CA program is often a haven for small developers looking to get into interesting projects. If you have one, you should try to see if anyone's interested in helping. Likewise, if you're looking for a project, there are sure to be people with one they'd like help with. 

That should cover most situations you'll encounter at/helping with/watching GDC. Following some of these tips, you're sure to have a great conference, learn a lot, and make lots of new contacts along the way. 

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