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“Should I go to GDC?”

December 4, 2007

“Should I go to GDC?” is the second most popular question I’m asked by people hoping to get into the game industry.

My answer? Absolutely. Yes. Go. For those of you who don’t know what GDC is, it’s the Game Developers Conference, the one place a year we all meet. There are smaller conferences all over the world, but this is the mecca, the granddaddy of them all.

There are other questions, too:

Q: Which one should I go to?
A: Any level is good – some GDC is better than no GDC, but to get the most bang for the buck, I’d recommend the Main Conference pass.

Q: But it costs nearly $1K. Is it worth it?
A: Yes. There’s a couple ways of looking at it. Think of it as a whole college course smashed into three days. That’s sort of what it is. Some solid game dev programs cost $2500 per course or more for about 50 classroom hours. That boils down to about $50 per hour. If you make it to six sessions a day for three days at GDC, that boils down to $55 per hour. It’s quite comparable. However, your lecturers present on state-of-the-art stuff that’s affecting the industry today and tomorrow. Also, GDC doesn’t start when the program starts or end when the program ends. The networking happens at night and in the morning over coffee. Another way of looking at it is this: It’s your single biggest chance ever to talk with the 100+ companies in the expo. If you’re looking for a job, sugar, this is the place to look.

Q: Where should I stay?
A: Try to stay with another student. Network. Figure out your possibilities. Be sure to stay with someone who’s there to enjoy the conference and not just conference parties.

Q: Conference parties?
A: Yes, there are certainly conference parties. Many of the best are invite only, though.

Q: What should I do before I go?
A: Get lots of good business cards printed (at least 250, and don’t self-print), familiarize yourself with the speakers and key people you know will be attending. Read Darius Kazemi’s article on networking. He’s a one-time student turned industry developer turned company founder. He has a lot of wisdom to offer.

Q: If I can only afford to go one year, which year should I go?
A: If you’re a student, the year you graduate. If you’re not a student, go as soon as you’re able to.

Q: Anything else?
A: Yes, I’ve seen people sacrifice a great deal to get to GDC only to go out and get trashed, miss half of the day and make an ass out of themselves in front of X and Y industry person. Hang on to yourself for three days. It’ll be worth it. Also, avoid being a long-talker or the one-more-question guy. The long talker is oblivious to the massive boredom on the dev’s face (or the discomfort if there are other people waiting to talk to him or her) and just keeps talking right along. The one-more-question guy says, “Hey, can I ask you a question?”, and then locks the dev in for for about 20 minutes.

It bears repeating: don’t forget your business cards, and make sure to read Darius Kazemi’s article on networking.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Patrick Dugan permalink
    December 5, 2007 12:28 am

    Its generally nice to go without paying for a pass. Three ways to do this, the CA program, a press pass (just need to get a few articles published to qualify, great way to network) and a speakers pass (kind of a crapshoot).

  2. December 5, 2007 12:50 am

    Hi Patrick,

    Absolutely. Thanks for mentioning those possibilities.

    For those interested, the link to scholarships is: http://www.igda.org/scholarships/

    It closes Friday, Dec 7.

    The link to volunteers is:
    http://gdconf.com/volunteers/index.htm

  3. December 5, 2007 3:03 am

    Of note is that the press pass is going to be *much* harder to get this year than usual.

  4. aortiz permalink
    December 5, 2007 3:16 pm

    I’m applying for the scholarship, of course, but if I can’t get it there’s honestly no way I can go. I don’t get any more trips. Apparently I used each when I was 15 and 18. My family has a weird system.

    However, I’ll do my best. I’d like to think I can write decently and I can express myself, so we’ll see how everything turns out.

  5. December 5, 2007 12:35 pm

    I’d like to emphasize that the conference associate program is an excellent means of getting into GDC. Not only do you get plenty of opportunities to rub elbows with the luminaries, but you’ll get a great chance to network with the next generation of game designers as well.

    It also comes with a Giga pass and only requires about 16 hours of your week. Calculate your hourly compensation there and you’ll be one of the highest paid industry folks there. *kniw*

  6. December 5, 2007 3:07 pm

    I’ll also point out that, with a year’s worth of advance warning and planning, paying your own way is achievable for a typical college student with a work-study job.

    Say you get $8/hour and work 10 hours per week, year-round (50 weeks). That’s $4,000.

    If GDC means that much to you, you can do this on your own. (And you may get help in unexpected places; last year, one of my students paid his own way for airfare, hotel and a standard three-day pass, and his family paid to upgrade to giga after seeing his determination.)

  7. Olick permalink
    December 7, 2007 3:19 pm

    The CA program looks really promising, and puts the rather far-off idea of going to the GDC much closer. Transportation and food and rooms isn’t cheap, but its cheapER than that + 1000 dollars.

    Hearing about that makes me honestly believe I can go in the near future. I wonder what criteria is used to choose the volunteers…

  8. Gag Halfrunt permalink
    January 6, 2008 6:25 am

    Re: the press pass idea.

    Perhaps Brenda can opine: would it potentially be viewed as freeloading to take advantage of the workshops and lectures with a press pass.

    In other words, if I happen to be a qualified member of the press, but am not actually covering the event but rather coming as an attendee, would this be viewed poorly (in terms of networking and the extent I’d be allowed to participate in hands-on sessions)?

    I know I would feel a bit freeloady, but how would an average attendee view it?

    Thanks

  9. January 6, 2008 11:24 am

    @gag – Though I look at everyone’s badge, I have never felt one way or another regarding someone’s participation in workshops and the like. If anything, a member of the press becoming more educated about games and game design is a good thing. You’re there to cover it, and it seems participating is the best way to do that. Also, diversity in the skills of people in the workshops always works to my benefit in one way or another.

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