This year at GDC I realized something that I had been observing for years. Most game developers treat total and near strangers at GDC with an incredible kindness.
OK, so I have to write the disclaimer paragraph. There are exceptions to this rule. If I ever wound up in charge of a life boat at sea, I'd be calling out to most of the people I meet at GDC to swim over and share the boat. But there are a few people over the years I have met at GDC that I would leave to fend for themselves among the sharks or icebergs as the case may be. Thankfully, they are rare.
But if you take your average (and not-so-average) GDC attendee when they are not in the middle of trying to get something done you find that they will share their time, contacts, and advice with anyone who walks up to them or sits down next to them.
I have been attending GDC for nearly twenty years and something like this happens to me every year. For 2009 it was a simple invite to a party from someone I had met earlier in the evening. I walked up and said hello again and a few minutes later the two of us are walking past security to an invite-only party. I saw somebody I knew, chatted a bit, got connected to someone I did not know but needed to do business with and within a few minutes there was the exchange of business cards.
I am always pleased when it happens to me, but it was more fun making it happen to people this year. A gaggle of students from Brown College in still-frozen Minneapolis wound up with us after the Women in Gaming event.
"So, ah, what next?" "Well, if you don't know what to do, you check out the View at the top of the Marriott. You ever been up there?" "No." "The drinks are pricey, but there's usually somebody up there and the the view is stunning." In this case it was downright stunning. We found some people we knew and settled in, spending our time telling the students how to maximize their GDC experience.
They already knew about half of what we had to say, so they were nicely-clued as newbies go. I did warn them that if they met up with me again and I was middle of something not to take it as a personal affront if I did not just hang out and shoot the breeze. They were cool with that and one of them happened to make the AI Programmers Dinner later in the week.
The AI Gang rose to the occasion this year. Victoria Smith won the Eric Dybsand memorial scholrship to GDC this year from the IGDA Foundation. All of us who were in any way part of that made it a point to introduce Victoria to everybody and make sure that her GDC was as full as we could make it. Surviving GDC is the art of drinking from a firehose.
This is typical GDC. In my experience, this is not typical of other gatherings of programmers outside of the games industry.