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Mark's GDC Pre-Game Tips

Getting ready for GDC? Here are some thoughts about how to maximize your experience from a former advisory board member.

Hi I’m Mark! This will be my 20th Game Developers Conference. I’ve attended as a developer, a publisher, a platform holder, an exhibitor, a journalist, an independent consultant, an advisory board member, and even a government official! Over the years I’ve fine-tuned my approach to the conference. Let me share a few tips and tricks with you.

Are you on your way to GDC in San Francisco right now? What’s your game plan for the week? Wait – you don’t have one? Hang on. Your week will go much better with a little pre-conference planning.

#1 – Use the session list

Have you been to app.gdconf.com yet? Start there. Log in, click on Agenda, and burn through the list of talks, flipping the flag on anything interesting. VR talks? We got ‘em! Sponsored sessions on the latest tools and tech, like Amazon Lumberyard or Vulkan? Absolutely. Inspirational speeches from developers of the latest indie games? Heck yeah.

Now download the Game Developers Conference app for your mobile phone so you’ve got that schedule of talks in your back pocket. You might also print out the list. Just in case. You never really want to trust the networks at a big conference. They're probably fine. But you never know.

#2 – Prioritize based on GDC Vault

So now you have five interesting talks marked for the upcoming session slot. How to choose? Well, which one can you just watch later on GDC Vault? If it’s a talk by a single person with a slide deck, you might be able to maximize your GDC experience by noting to watch it later. Panels and roundtables are a different story.

If there’s a roundtable coming up on a topic you are passionate about, go into it with some specific questions and start a conversation. If it’s a panel, sit up front so you can get to the microphone quickly, or introduce yourself to the panel members afterward.

#3 – Be your most outgoing self

Once GDC is over, you’ll be left with pictures, memories, links, notes, business cards. . . all sorts of good things, and a megaton of new information that you’ve learned. But the thing that will last the longest is the connections you’ve made.

Over 26,000 people attended GDC last year, but we’re still basically a big huge family. We share one amazing common interest: games! I still keep in touch with people I met at my first GDC and they are now great old friends. We’re able to share tips and tricks, talk about our favorite games, and learn from each other’s efforts. Meet some new people at this year’s GDC. Walk up to them and say “Hi! What’s your favorite game?”

#4 – Vote with your feet

It seems like a long week, but there are really just a small number of sessions you can go to during the course of the conference. If you attend a session and find that you’re not interested in it, don’t just flip on your laptop – get out of there! If you think the session you’re jumping into may be a dog, sit close to the door so you can make a quick exit. It’s GDC, it’s okay! Go to the next session on your list. You'll have a lot of options.

#5 – See some things you normally wouldn’t

There are a ton of sessions and events at the show, and you could certainly spend the entire conference augering in on your specialty. But the more you know about the process of making games, the better off you’ll be in your daily life. Being able to communicate with other people about their specialties is a fundamental aspect of making games. So go check out a programming talk if you’re a designer, sit in on an audio roundtable if you’re an artist, or check out some new tools you haven’t heard of on the show floor! All of it will make you a better game developer.

While you’re at it, be sure to make time for sessions on topics that make the game industry a better place. Whether talking about gender diversity, game rating systems, workplace policy, or something else, by joining these conversations you can make a difference and help shape our game industry into something even better for the developers who follow you.

See you at the show!

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