A GDC 2011 Postmortem

I just got back from my first Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, and if you didn’t get the opportunity to go, I definitely recommend it next year. I worked as a Conference Associate, and it was a wonderful experience that I would recommend to anyone in the industry already, indie developers, or even aspiring game developers. So now that it’s over, I thought I’d take a look back and comment on my experiences, and what I would do better next year.


Plan Ahead

I planned quite some time ahead for GDC, although all this planning didn’t quite pay off. A few things to remember when getting ready for GDC in San Francisco, as it is very different from GDC Online:

  • Bring warm clothes. Not only is it chilly (or cold, if you’re me) outside, but the convention center isn’t the warmest place either. Bring some comfy undershirts, longsleeves shirts, jackets, and possibly even a coat.
  • Don’t forget the essentials. You’ll be staying there anywhere from a few days to a full blown week, so don’t forget to pack everything you’re going to need.
  • Bring enough clothes for the trip. Be sure to bring plenty of clothes (especially if you’re a girl, as we have a tendency to be indecisive about what we wear), and make sure what you do bring is appropriate. Business casual is the most recommended style for GDC, as it is still a professional place.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. The conference is a week long event, and it involves lots of walking, so bring nice-looking, comfortable shoes to wear. If you’re female and bring heels, be prepared to walk around in them all day. It’s also likely that you won’t have a vehicle and won’t want to pay for a taxi every day, so be prepared for hurting feet.
  • Prepare for the rain. San Francisco is a rainy place in the Spring, so avoid getting poured on by bringing a raincoat and/or umbrella.
  • Don’t forget to check into your flight(s), both there and on the way back.
  • Research the public transportation before you go. Check out the bus schedule, routes, and prices. See if there are any subways, trains, or trolleys. San Francisco has the BART, which is a train that goes all over the place, including to and from the airport.
  • Look up places to eat beforehand. Food at the convention center can be pricey, so you may want to go out to lunch/dinner elsewhere. Check out local places nearby so you won’t have to walk forever.
  • Plan the time to sight-see, if you are going to. The conference will keep you busy throughout the week, so it’s likely that you won’t have time to see everything you wanted to around the city. Stay an extra day or two if you really want to see everything.
  • Check out your hotel before you get there. I had a bad hotel experience where the original hotel we booked was nothing like it claimed to be, and they overcharged us for everything. Don’t make that mistake, and look into the hotel yourself before booking. I’d recommend the Civic Center Holiday Inn, as it wasn’t that far of a walk and we didn’t run into any issues there. You may want to look for something closer though if you aren’t up for walking a lot.
  • Bring something to take notes with. If you’re attending sessions, bring something to take notes on, whether it’s a laptop or a good old-fashioned pen and paper. Not all of the sessions are recorded, so take your own notes to avoid forgetting anything cool or interesting you learned.
  • Bring a camera. You’re going to meet a lot of new friends and see lots of cool things, so bring a camera to capture some of the memories. Just don’t be a creeper with it, and remember that filming video during sessions isn’t allowed.
  • Don’t forget the business cards and/or resumes. I personally don’t bring resumes as I still have a year left to graduate, but if you’re going to GDC looking for a job, bring them. Business cards are standard for GDC, no matter what your job title may be, or even if you’re simply a student.

 

Conference Time

No matter how many days you’ll be attending GDC, take the time to plan out a schedule for everything you want to see. Remember that some sessions may fill up, so you may want to find extra sessions to go to in case that happens. Don’t expect to see everything that you want to, especially since you’ll want time to check out the Expo floor and many sessions are on at the same time. Here are some things to keep in mind, during both the sessions and the conference in general:

  • Be respectful. Silence or turn off your electronics, don’t text or make phone calls during sessions, don’t talk during sessions, don’t interrupt other people’s conversations, and just generally be polite and treat everyone with respect.
  • Be professional. You will be surrounded by possible future employers, so you definitely don’t want to come across as some
  • Remember that you’re there to learn. All of the sessions are very informative, so try to take away as much as you can from them. Take notes if you can.
  • Fill out the evaluation forms. These may seem annoying, but they really are important. CAs enter all the information from these into a database for the higher ups to look through so they can decide who to invite back next year, or not.
  • Network properly. Don’t just hand out your business card to anyone and everyone you meet; have an interesting conversation with them first, as this will not only help them remember who you are, but also give them a little insight on who you are.
  • Dress appropriately. This one should be fairly self-explanatory.
  • Tone the language down. While many professionals you meet might have mouths dirtier than a sailor’s, that doesn’t mean you need to go around dropping f-bombs all the time. Try to keep the curse words to a minimum.
  • Don’t lie. This is a big one, so remember it. It’s critical that you do not lie about anything about yourself, as you never know who you could be talking to or who will find out about your lie. This is especially important when it comes to what exactly you do; don’t claim to be something you’re not just to get into a party or whatever the case may be. Be honest with people and they will respect you, but lie to them, and the whole industry might find out.
  • Don’t try to get into something you can’t. Whether it’s a session, a party, or anything else, if you aren’t allowed in, stay out. Don’t go begging people to let you in, and certainly don’t try to sneak in.
  • Keep business cards on you. Make sure you have enough business cards on you at all times during the conference, since you never know who you’ll run into.

 

After GDC

When the conference is over, everyone goes back to the daily grind, but don’t forget to follow up with all the new contacts you’ve made. Wait about a week to let people get settled back in before e-mailing them, unless they told you to e-mail them sooner. When you do follow up, be sure to mention that you met them at GDC, and explain who you are and how you met. If you had an interesting conversation with them, it will make this part a lot easier. Be sure to thank the person for taking the time to meet and talk with you, as well. Try to be as specific and to the point as possible, as they likely have a lot of e-mails to go through. Following up with contacts from GDC is one of the easiest things to forget about, but don’t make that mistake! There’s no point in networking if you don’t keep in contact with them.


Those are just some tips I hope will help out for the next GDC, and check back soon for new posts about “What I Learned at GDC!” If you have anything else you’d like to add, just leave a comment below!

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