Each year, game developers from around the world converge on an unsuspecting hotel in California for a week long festival of networking and creativity. The event - the Game Developer's Conference. Ask anyone in the industry about the GDC and they'll tell you it's a great way to meet people. The GDC hosts workshops, an exhibitor's expo, keynote lectures, and more, all dedicated to the passion of game development. Unfortunately, the show, like any other professional trade show, can be daunting and unfamiliar territory for someone not in the industry. Many independent game developers come to the GDC with incorrect assumptions or unrealistic expectations, and basically set themselves up for a let down. I'd like to share a few things I learned, so that hopefully you'll have a better idea of what to expect when you do decide to take the plunge and attend your first GDC. So, without further ado, I present to you the lessons.
- Spring for the goodies. Yes, the price of a GDC workshop pass is expensive, but believe me, for the serious indie, it's worth every penny. The best opportunities for meeting new people are in the workshops, and the cheap passes won't get you in (unless you use a lot of creativity). Think of it this way - you're already spending lots of money for airlines and hotels, so make it interesting, and give your GDC pass a little extra oomph as well. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing all the way. Also, along this line - book your hotel very early (I recommend at least 6 months in advance), or you'll feel the pain later. Every year hotels within a 5-10 mile radius sell out for the GDC (yes, it's THAT big). It may sound too expensive now, but that hotel room a block away from the conference will sound much less expensive after you've been on your feet for 12-14 hours. If you're purchasing plane tickets, the same advice applies - do it early. Also, book your plane tickets so that you arrive the day before the conference starts, that way, if you're the unsuspecting lead character in an airline horror story, you won't miss anything.
- Don't Be Shy. The GDC is one place where you absolutely CAN NOT afford to be shy. You've spent lots of money on a workshop pass so you can meet people - so get out there and meet them! Everyone at the GDC expects to be spoken to by total strangers. Don't disappoint them. I think every indie developer is humbled somewhat by their first GDC. Just browsing the booths during the booth crawl can be a humbling experience, but don't let this stop you from talking to people. If you're not that great at introductions, here's a few lines you can try out to get you started:
- "Excuse me... where'd you get that bag/hat/t-shirt/etc.?" This works especially well on the Expo floor. The flip side to this is to wear interesting clothing, or carry neat stuff.
- "When do we eat?"
- "Have you seen the ____ booth?"
- "What do you think of the conference so far?" "Better or worse than last year?"
- "So... what do you do?" It sounds silly, but this is actually a great way to make a contact. The people who run the booths in the Expo are flat-out dying for you to ask them this question, and most other people in the industry will respond with "I do _____ ... you?" Remember that the GDC is the one time when everyone expects to be asked this question.