A n00b’s guide to GDC, after the actual event

For a decade, I’ve been reading about GDC as if it was fantasy SciFi: awesome stuff, happening somewhere, in a universe that simply does not exist for me. GDC is so big, so fundamental for the video games industry, that I never imagined someone as small and insignificant as me would ever get there.

I just got back from San Francisco yesterday.

_DSC4553_2048x
A San Francisco view from up top, we raided Johan Torensson, Joel Nyström and Petter Henriksson’s room just for the view, then Sebi wouldn’t go out of the elevator to capture the most awesome San Francisco panoramic I have ever seen.

It still feels like fantasy SciFi. I dreamed it… its actually quite a surreal feeling, excellently complemented by the return jet lag I am experiencing for the very first time, as well. I was overwhelmed completely, which is something everyone warned me about.  The thing is, I am overwhelmed by the most unexpected stuff, and pleasantly surprised to find out that my head had a completely false picture of GDC, San Francisco and the US in general.

So here’s my guide to GDC, surely a useful thing now that the event has ended =)

Understanding WHY are you going to GDC is crucial.

_DSC5127_2048x
This is day 2 at GDC16, sometimes at 8:45 AM. So these folks in the pic are just the early exhibitors, and Sebi captured a hard working Lara going to do the job she loves tremendously <3

You can go to GDC for three things: to learn, to network or to exhibit. Some naive souls like the Lara I was some weeks ago might thing you can do all three of those, or at least two of them, without a problem. That is wrong. So wrong I can’t even begin to describe it. Because, you see, GDC will overwhelm you in any of these three topics. So think well and hard what is it you want to GDC for, and prepare for that.

If you want to learn, the schedule needs to be studied thoroughly beforehand. There are several talks and panels happening at any given timeslot, and the GDC venue is not exactly a small one, so you need to account for walking from location to location. Furthermore, you’ll be walking in the halls of gods, overwhelmed by gamedev friends that are inevitable to bump into as you switch rooms. Plan for that, because, trust me, you’ll welcome that friendly face, and you will need that hug so badly! Finally, the GDC rooms have a limited attendance, so you have to be there early if you want to catch a spot. The only other talk* I could run to was so popular, that I ended up amongst the first 5 people who were no longer accepted in.

_DSC5734_2048x
Armin Ibrisagic talking about the PR and Marketing lessons learned via the Goat Sim story – I did not attend this talk, Sebi did, and he said it was awesome!

If you want to network, did I mention that the halls and corridors and surrounding spaces all around the GDC are the places where all possible and imaginable gods of gamedev walk? That’s where you need to be, and you also need to be ready for it, cause obviously, you can’t just network out of the blue. This works best if you go with a friend, but watch for friendly faces as they pass by and invite for a break with a smile, not an interruption (I sux at this, I learned the hard way so don’t do like me, it feels awful).

A small but my personal favourite tip is Yerba Buena, the wonderful park near Moscone where all the indiedevs meet. I love them too much to continue this paragraph, else I risk turning this into an utter crazy fan girl – but I Love you, folks, you know who you are <3

_DSC5824_2048x
The Yerba Buena gardens, where every indie meets at GDC! Sebi captured the serene, friendly atmosphere perfectly, and lucky not the constantly awed fan girl who has had her best GDC moments right here in this garden <3

And yes of course you can network at the GDC parties, the impossibly high number of parties that happen that week. But figuring out where, when and with whom to go at a GDC party is an art in itself, one you shall not master at your first GDC. Plus! People at parties are usually drunk. Sure its nice to make connections in such a context, but my experience taught me those are not the connections that last. You or them might forget or be too embarrassed to remember. So go to parties if you already have a big bunch of people you want to hang out with, that is awesome!  But don’t go to parties to meet new people**, especially those that hold extra value for you in this industry.

Actually, I hate the word network, its so business-y and selfish. Don’t network at GDC – go make friends instead. Absolutely everyone you cross by there has something tremendously important to teach you about gamedev. Open your heart and listed. You will become rich that way, trust me, and you’ll gauge in these intellectual riches for years to come.

If you want to exhibit, in any way, shape or form, you’ll have your hands full. There is no such thing as downtime at GDC. I think you’d have crowds of visitors even if you’d man a plain white booth with nothing in it. And there is nothing worse to have people coming to visit an unattended booth. So if you exhibit, the only breaks you’ll be allowed are bathroom breaks***, and I very much recommend pre planning for those as well.

_DSC5171_2048x
In case this pic looks like it has too few people, know that it was taken by Sebi before the show started, and there were already queues for many of the booths!

But! Everyone visits the exhibition. Everyone! You might not know it but your game might be played by a lead designer at Obsidian, the lead composer at Blizzard, the games scout at Paradox, or the editor at god knows what big games press. So your hard work is not staying at the booth per se, but managing to be an awesome host to everyone, throughout the crazy day. Don’t underestimate anyone and remember this: the people you really want to know, the super important ones, they don’t have any reason to show it off, they already did that through their work.

Of course, I am an optimist and there are plenty visitors with shadier intentions. The harmless ones are swag hunters, then comes the business folk who sell stuff no one wants to buy, then even worse.  But the worse that can happen is that you are not remembered, so make an effort to combat that option! Man your booth with this philosophy:

Love Many! Trust Few! Hurt No One!

 

Obviously this is just my First GDC post. I’ve seen shtako, done stuff that needs telling, like for example the very crown, the jewel of the entire GDC, which is this one:

_DSC5689_2048x

I know you might not know who this is, boy am I happy his badge does not show. But we’be been friends for almost a decade, and this year we finally met, and he is every bit as wonderful and more, and we plan to takeover the world and you folks don’t stand a chance <3. Thank you, Magnus, for capturing the very moment when the gamedev world domination has begun 🙂

 

* That talk was Blezinski’s, and I heard rumours that it was not as good as expected. That just made it hurt a little less.

** I know many will disagree with this advice. I welcome that! Its just that I think long lasting, fruitful relationships are born in soberness, and I don’t think I am any less cool for thinking that 😛  

*** Lunch is bought before the show starts and eaten at the booth

**** Of course all pics are courtesy of Sebastian Bularca, who is such an awesome person (and therefore as a photographer) that I married him <3