Roundtable: Tips for Attending GDC 2018

[This is a transcript of our most recent roundtable event.]

[Transcriptor’s Note: I’ve edited the transcript of the audio for readability and flow purposes. It captures the spirit of the roundtable but not the letter of it.]

Livio: I was thinking of starting with a general introduction of what GDC is and why it’s important and all that.

Rory: That’s good. I like that. Go.

Livio: So… for people wondering. Why is GDC such a big deal? So GDC is the game developers conference. They host multiple throughout the year. But the one this month is the flagship, main conference. The other ones that they hold, I believe there’s GDC Europe, GDC China… they often do topical ones. They had GDC Play back when mobile was really big. Yeah.

But GDC, the main one, is in San Francisco in the US. It’s a really big conference. It’s definitely the biggest professional conference I’ve ever seen or been to. I don’t know how SIGGRAPHcompares. There might be bigger ones.

ETA: SIGGRAPH in 2017 had 16,500 attendees and GDC in 2017 had 26,000 attendees (down slightly)

Literally anyone who works in games goes to GDC. It’s not just programming or whatever. They have… you can just look at the dozens of tracks/sessions they host throughout the week. It feels like it’s hundreds, there’s so many.

You see your programming talks, your AI talks, your game design talks. They have narrative design and writing. They have entrepernuship and business and production/producers.

The list goes on.

Level design is a whole day! laughs

It’s also a great place for what they call the advocacy tracks. Which is the whole profession not necessarily a specific sub-profession. Can be non-profit work and stuff like that.

GDC is pretty expensive. They have a bunch of different passes.

Most expensive: $2000.

Least: $70.

The cheap one is the student pass. It’s only worth it if you already live in the area. It’s only on the last day, and the travel costs don’t make it worth it.

ETA: Also, it’s super crowded that day, so everything takes extra time and energy to do.

There’s a lot of options about how to go to GDC, how to attend GDC, how to afford it. It’s very important, when going to any conference, to have a clear understanding of what your goals are. Because it is an investment and it is pretty expensive. So having a clear goal will help you stay focused to make sure you’re actually spending your money wisely. And yeah.

Another question is why is GDC so important? A lot of people go there. People see it as a great way to network. It really is a great way to network. It really is a great way to network. But it also just feels like the main industry event of the year.

I know a lot gamers they look, I don’t know if this is still true, they look to E3 as the main thing of the year. No. E3 is a tradeshow. It’s mainly… it’s big for gamers and consumers and fans. But it’s not so… not as big in the mind of game developers as GDC is. GDC is for developers. It’s for the industry. So it’s just filled with people who are there and excited to talk about how to make games, how to make better games.

I think that going to GDC as a student is a great experience. Even if it’s with one of the cheaper passes. Just because for a lot of people it ends up being their first real physical exposure to the industry’s culture. It honestly does feel like there’s a big chasm between gamer culture and industry culture.

So… it does feel like it’s a little hard to connect with game industry culture. When you go to GDC you’re just immersed in it. It’s infectious. The first time I went to GDC I was so pumped up to work in the industry, and to work harder on my side projects.

Literally every year I go to GDC, by the end of the first day I’m always like, “I just want to go home right now and take the stuff I just learned and work on projects!” laughs

It’s really energizing.

Even now, GDC’s still really expensive. As it gets more expensive I feel like I can’t justify it as a business expense. If I was only going as a return on investment decision, I’d think maybe not. But I just love GDC so much that I’ll go anyways. That makes it worth the money for me. The fact that it’s such a good time. And it does feel like, I heard someone describe it as, I think it was Brenda Romero described GDC as “game developer Christmas”, the time you spend all year long looking forward to.

That’s my summary of what GDC is, why it’s so important, and why people care so much about it.


Ian, have you been to any GDCs or any industry events?

Ian: I have never been to GDC, but there are a few local conferences that I was able to go to near the scale of GDC.

Livio: Oh, neat, what were they called?

Ian: So the only one I’ve been to is GDEX, which is just “Game Developer Expo”. It’s held in Columbus, I believe. That’s one I’ve been to. But I’ve also heard about the Vector Conference, which is held at Eastern Kentucky University. And there’s another one I can’t recall off the top of my head.

Livio: That’s cool. It’s great to attend local stuff. It can really give you a head start on what it’s like to network at an industry event. Just get a feel for those types of events. There is a bunch of local conferences in Seattle every now and then. Right before PAX they have PAX Dev. There’s also Power of Play and I think one year they had a version of… they do the counter to Power of Play. It’s run by the same company. I forget what it’s called but it’s on the other side of the year. It might be more focused on VR and AR.

But those are, like, I know a lot students they have a lot of questions and confusion about networking. So local conferences are a good place to practice networking and build that muscle.

Rory: I’ve never been to a local conference.

Livio: Does Tucson not have any? Probably not.

Rory: Tucson? I’ve been to meetups in Tucson, and there are definitely people who would organize a conference. They may have announced it, but I just never went.

Livio: Have you been to cons?

Rory: Yeah, I’ve been to cons. Well, I’ve been to QuakeCon, but that’s a gaming con.

Livio: How would you describe the difference between a conference and a gaming con?

Rory: The conference… there’s… even if it’s not explicit, there’s more of a formality to it. It’s about the craft.

Livio: It’s for professionals.

Rory: Yeah. Whereas the con is about the games. It’s playing the games. Or getting excited for new games. Or trying new games. Whereas a conference is like, “This is what we’re trying to do with our games.” and “This is the tools we’re using for our game” and “This is how we think about games.” It’s analysis versus play. You’re thinking about play versus playing. Kind of.

Livio: The way I think of it is… a convention is almost like a festival. You’re there to celebrate games, the culture, the fandom. It’s really for the fandom. It’s like a party. And it’s also a way for creators to connect with their fans. Whereas GDC is for the industry. It’s for the professionals. For the people who are making it.

Instead of professionals connecting with fans, it’s professionals connecting with other professionals. And all the other changes stem from that.

Rory: Yeah. Exactly. Even when you are a fan of another professional. You might interact with them. You aren’t going to interact them as a fan like at a convention. You’re going to interact with them as a budding new professional who’s like, “I really love your work, I want to pick your brain about it.”

Livio: Yeah. laughs There’s a lot of anxiety that people have at GDC when they run into their industry heroes, and they’re all, “How do I react? How do I treat them? How do I not be a total pain to them?” laughs

[Short pause]

Rory: Yes.

Livio: There was one year at GDC where we were eating breakfast when we realized we were sitting next to… who was it? He was the guy who that year got one of the lifetime industry awards. Did he make the Sims? I can’t believe I’m blanking on his name. I feel so disrepectful now.

ETA: The person who made the Sims is Will Wright, who got the first GDC lifetime achievement award in 2001. Wikipedia has a list

[Short pause]

There’s some good puns with his name I remember.

Rory: laughs Moving on.

Livo: So yeah, that’s the main difference. I know a lot of students tend to attend Comic-Con or some of the anime conventions. They might be wondering, “Is it the same?” Those are the main differences. I described a convention as a party in a sense that at the conference all the sessions or events have some obstensible business/professional purpose that you can gleam out of it. Whereas many of the events at a convention are purely for fun. Like. “Why are you doing this?” “Oh because it’s fun.” Whereas at GDC pretty much every session has this promise of, “This will help you be better at your carreer.”

Rory: And if it’s ever not for fun at a convention, it’s for marketing. Sometimes, marketing is the goal at GDC, but not nearly to the same extent. When I went the first time, I remember people being upset. The 3DS was a thing that was being shown off (it hadn’t been released yet), and Nintendo was kinda really marketing the 3DS at the event. I remember various people being like… “why are they… this isn’t a place where you market your product. You talk about it… somethings wrong.” It left a bad taste in people’s mouth.

Livio: GDC has strict guidelines for sessions. You’re not allowed to use time to promote your product or sell things unless you’re one of the designated sessions that is about selling things. Like, that’s their sponsored track. But there’s also the expo floor. If they wanted to market it they should’ve gotten a booth on the expo floor. We can go over the expo later, but before finishing this train of thought, I want to say how even though a convention feels like a party and GDC is a bit more professional. But GDC still feels like a big party. laughs You just have so much of the industry in the same town for an entire week.

There’s just a lot of… especially outside the conference… in basically the after-conference parties. A lot of people are there, “Let’s just have a good time! Let’s just catch up with people who we know live in other places we don’t get to see often.” And so, even though it’s not a party, it still feels like one. laughs

So, I mentioned the expo floor earlier. When you go to GDC, depending on the pass you have, the real meat of the conference is in the session and tracks. The stuff that’s on the schedule throughout the week. Those sessions can be stuff like talks, panels, workshops, and roundtables. This virtual roundtable event is modeled after the GDC roundtable where people literally sit around a giant table and talk about a topic. Those are the main session-types.

When you look up the passes, they do make a distinction between the main conference and the summits and tutorials. The gimmick behind the conference is that Monday and Tuesday of GDC week they have summits and tutorials. A summit is just a collection of talks bundled together organized by the same overarching organizers, and the speakers are pretty varied. An example of a summit is the AI Summit. There’s also a Narrative Summit, and an Education Summit. And so on. These summits are like… you have the option to just sit in the same summit room where all these summit talks are going to be held. Sometimes it’s two rooms if it’s big. The Independent Games Summit, IGF, that’s a pass. The Audio Summit. And I think the Indie Games summit is always two rooms now.

ETA: There doesn’t seem to be an audio summit on Monday/Tuesday. Seems Audio stuff is the standalone stuff Wednesday through Friday that Livio talks about more below. If you’re at GDC just for audio, though, there is an Audio Pass which I believe has tutorials during those first two days.

But the premise of that is that if you’re just there for one particular reason and you don’t really care about the other conference stuff. You can kind of get a nice tailor-made experience at GDC in those first two days with the Summits Pass.

The other part of those first two days are the tutorials and those are day-long workshops. Very famously, there’s the Game Design Workshop. It’s a great way for beginner game designers to just pick up some core fundamentals of the craft. I once attended the All-Day Narratives tutorialand writing workshop. That was pretty neat. I disagreed with a lot of the things the instructor was saying, but I still really appreciated learning from him. laughs Cause he did know a lot more than me. laughs

ETA: The GDC Vault has past versions of these events up for free. See 2013’s and 2014’s. Consider listening to one of them to see if you want to attend this year’s storytelling workshop.

So those are the summits and tutorials. The rest of the week, Wednesday/Thursday/Friday is the main conference. The conference picks up from there. The only people around on Monday and Tuesday are people with summits/tutorials passes or All-Access Passes. And Wednesday is the grab-bag of sessions where that morning maybe you’ll go to a talk about design, and then we’ll go to one about audio. You can really mix and match your stuff. YOu can do that during the first few days too, but the main conference days are jam-packed with all sorts of stuff. Stuff that stands alone. Stuff that isn’t part of a larger summit.

ETA: Click here for the full list of passes and their price. We’ll probably have another GDC roundtable at the latter half of this year to discuss the things to do early for GDC 2019. Look forward to it!

Wednesday is also the first day that the expo is open. The expo is open for the rest of GDC. The expo floor is literally like any expo you might’ve seen. Like PAX, the Penny Arcade Expo. That’s a prime example of what an expo is like. A ton of booths up. People are trying to sell their stuff. You see companies trying to sell software to other game developers. AutoDesk has a booth.Unity has a booth. UnrealEngine has a booth. Hardware manufacturers have a booth. You see motion-cap studios. And they’re all there selling their services to game developers.

The expo is really useful for people who run companies and if they’re considering using a product for their studio and they can talk to people from those companies. It’s also a great way to learn about products that are out there. A lot of students get the expo pass. My first year at GDC I got the expo pass. Which unfortunately doesn’t give you access to any of the sessions which are core meat of the conference. But I still appreciated it at least as my first pass, because it does expose you to the world or culture of game development. I got really energized with that expo pass.

But I’ll probably never get it again. laughs

Once you have it once, you know what you’re missing out on and you never want it again.

Wednesday/Thursday/Friday has a career pavilion open which is usually adjacent to the expo. It’s a bunch of booths, but the main purpose of that area is to get hired. They’re all staffed with recruiters instead of salesmen or entrepreneurs. And next to the career stuff is usually the IGF pavilion where you can play demos of all the independent games festival nominees. And also talk to them. That’s actually a great way to network. Playing other people’s games who are up for awards and just talk to them. Ask them about their careers and all that. That’s something I definitely did when I was a student. I was even carrying around a notebook back then and carrying notes. I probably looked really nerdy. laughs

ETA: The expo floor plan notes where the career pavilion is. There’s also a Gamasutra article of note, Pre-GDC: Career Pavilion Hints & Tips For Success. Be another example of getting a job via GDC!

That’s the full conference. Friday is student day. It’s the same main conference, but in addition to all the standard sessions there’s also a new track of career sessions. And they tend to be aimed at students. Sometimes they’re cool. In past years it would get overfilled like crazy. Last year they seemed to be on top of the overflow problem. That was good.

Yeah, and so that’s how the standard GDC week looks. So, knowing that it can be easier to plan which passes you may want in the future, and how to prepare for it later.

[short pause]

That was a long spiel.

I want to talk about networking. Which is one of the main reasons people go to GDC. Also, carreer hunting and job hunting. First of all… so I actually posted a question on Twitter a while ago, like a few weeks ago, where I was like, “Has anyone actually gotten hired at GDC” because I feel like that… something tells me that that doesn’t happen. I haven’t seen it happen. I don’t know anyone who actually… I used to think I didn’t know anyone who found a job at GDC directly.

What tends to happen, what I’ve heard about the most is you network at GDC, you get to know someone. You stay in touch through twitter or gmail, and when the time comes that they know about an opportunity they might tell you about it and that connection is a good in. But I haven’t actually… like, I’ve spent a long time at the career pavilion before and I never felt like it was productive. And there are long lines often for those booths. So in previous GDCs, in recent GDCs, I’ve actually avoided the career pavilion. Even though now I’m a freelancer. You’d think that would help. I just find networking directly with people is the best way to do that. I know people network in line and stuff, but networking with other job seekers may or may not be helpful. At least depending on how short term of a need you have for a job.

But I actually got a few responses to that twitter question that I posted. I heard people say, “Yeah I got work at GDC” and “Me too!” Again, they were not through the career pavilion. They were stuff like going to a party, talking to somebody. Connecting over something. I know Chris DeLeon, he does a lot of games education stuff, he often looks for connections nowadays for, “Hey, do you want to give a talk at my online games school thing?” And that turns into a thing that turns into another thing that maybe turns into a job for somebody. He also networks a lot with the CAs, the conference associates, and he was able to connect one of them to a job.

ETA: Check our #roundtables channel on our discord to see some of the DM reponses that Livio got here.

I think he himself was doing the hiring. laughs

And his first industry job, I think he said, was also from GDC. I don’t think he said the context of it, though. I’ll just look it up. I don’t remember what the story was, but I think again it was just networking. He met a guy who later turned into a job offer. But then there’s a real question of, “What exactly does networking look like? How do you network? What do you say to people? What is this?”

Do you just hand them your business card and they hand you a job? Is that how this works? And… not really. It’s actually really awkward when you meet a person and they seem like they really want a job. Because most people really aren’t recruiters, and they’re also not on the hunt to find someone to hire. Most people are just random developers who have been hired. And so….

That’s just something to be mindful of when you’re talking to people. Try not to come off as too much of a job seeker. If you are looking, definitely let people know, but don’t have that be your… main character, I guess. Don’t come off as, “Oh, the only interesting thing about this person is that he’s looking for work.”

ETA: At this point Livio starts hunting down his tweet and the responses to that tweet.

Rory: So, Ian, have tried to get funding for GDC through your club at NKU?

Ian: Unfortuantely, we don’t have a strong game dev track right now. They’re sorta working on it right now, and I’m also trying to sorta devlop the gaming routes on campus. But right now we don’t have a lot interest and activity in it.

Rory: I see. I just know that at the University of Arizona, they don’t really have a good game development track academically, but the game development club has grown to the point where it could ask for funding. They weren’t even that big when they first asked for funding, I feel like, and got funding for passes. But I know the politics and beuarcracy is different at every university I’m sure.

Ian: No, we used to have some stuff with SIGGRAPH, but I don’t know much about that, and a lot of the people who were a part of that have left.

Rory: What’s SIGGRAPH?

Livio: It’s the ACM SIG.

Rory: Ooh.

Livio: It’s a graphics conference.

Rory: Ah.

Livio: The graphics SIG. Graph SIG special interest group. All that. Yeah. It’s where all the coolest… whenever there’s a cool video about awesome research being done in computer graphics and animation, it’s usually from SIGGRAPH. Or for SIGGRAPH.

Rory: I see. So is there a proper recognition process for clubs at NKU, and is the club you’re trying to grow recognized as a club?

Ian: There is a formal recognition, but the gaming club is sort of a mix of a group of things. So… it’s not just for gaming. You have your animators, your programmers. You have writers, and film makers. That are part of the main club. There are a few clubs that branch off of that. There is no club specifically for gaming yet.

Rory: I see. I’m curious, because getting funding from the school to go to GDC is awesome and I wanted to see the specifics of your situation.

Livio: So, networking tips. I want to really stress the importance of having business cards.

Every year when I go to GDC I meet students who don’t have business cards. It is infuriating. I honestly feel like… the idea of a business card does sound cliche and old-fashioned, but literally at a conference, you meet somebody and they’re like, “Let me give you my card.” That is literally the main way people keep in touch with each other. If you’re proactive maybe you can follow them on twitter immediately, but still. Business cards are like the main way that people stay in touch. Usually when you come out of GDC you’re gonig to have a bunch of business cards to sift to. Maybe you wait a week or so after the conference, but then you sift through all the cards, and you respond to everyone. Say, “Thanks for meeting you.” Include some detail on how you met them so they remember who you are.

I’ve often responded to people…

ETA: Rory links a post about making business cards on the Discord

Oh great, I love the link that Rory just posted. It’s from 2005 but from what I remember it’s still pretty good.

Rory: Oh, yeah. I read it like 4 or 5 months ago and it’s really good. I agree with it. The person who wrote it tried multiple strategies.

Livio: It’s by Darius Kazemi. Is the person who wrote it. Darius Kazemi.

Rory: He even made a game out of business cards on one of his business cards. He realized that the game was very memorable, but he was not, so it was a failed experiment, even though it was really cool and people liked it a lot. He learned that wearing the outfit that he has an illustration of himself on his card, and he realized that helped a lot. Because now they remember seeing him from his business card via the very memorable clothing choice. Making it so people associate you with your business card.

[short pause]


Livio: When you’re in the moment, and you meet somebody, usually someone has to initiate the conversation. Usually the best ways to do that are first, depending on the context that you’re in, maybe you’re in line for something and you just start talking to people next to you. Maybe you’re about to be in a talk or you’re in a talk and you’re just waiting for a talk to start. You can just say hi to the people around you. They don’t have to be in the same row as you, you can say hi to the people behind you. People know they’re in a conference and they expect to network. It’s not very rude.

You can try your best to detect when someone just doesn’t want to be distrubed. They’ll have their headphones on. They’ll sit in a corner trying to get away from people to recharge. It is a pretty hecktic conference and it’s pretty exhausting. Especially during the last few days.

If you’ve been there all week you’re just tired. People do want alone time and just need to recharge. So try to be mindful of that. But in general, be proactive. No one is really going to initiate a conversation with you, unless they’re very eager to network as well. In that case, always welcome that. Always welcome conversation. For the most part, especially if someone is quote-unquote “important”, I guess. If there are people who have worked on popular games or something like that, they will feel like they don’t have to network anymore. And so they won’t initiate as many conversations.

Which makes it all the more important for you to be that person. Say, “Hi! Hello! How are you doing? What do you work on?” Just like these standard questions about… usually asking people about themselves is a good way to get people talking. Also if you have some stuff that you can mention… usually you’ll develop a quick summary of who you are. Like, “I’m a student at so-and-so” or “I’m a programmer” or “I’m a thing.” Even if you don’t work in the industry… yet, you can just say, “I’m a so-and-so person. I’m a game designer. I’m a writer.” Something like that. Not list a company name.

You just get more comfortable through practice, really. Like saying hi to people and introducing yourself. And feel free to experiment, too. Like, we said, people have a hard time remembering you, so feel free to experiment with different ways of introducing yourself. Different ways of initiating conversation. If you get stuck in a script, and you feel things aren’t working so well, feel free to flip the script every now and then and try a new way. It’s also really relaxing when you find other students at the conference, and you can relate to them, the struggle of finding work. laughsYou can really let your guard down a bit. laughs

Those were my main networking tips. I remember two years ago I went to a bar hangout that the people from the Narrative Summit were hanging out on. I went with some of the University of Arizona students, and Jeremy, at the time the president of the UA Game Dev Club, and he was talking to some person that made this game that he loved. He was really thrilled to be talking to them, and I saw him having this conversation with this developer, and I jumped into the conversation, “Hi! Nice to meet you. Bla-bla-blah.” and we talk a bit more. Then I immediately say, “I have to leave, but here’s my business card.”

He responded, “Thank you, here’s mine.”

Jeremy was like, “WHAT? You just push your card on people?”

And I’m like, “Yeah, what’s the big deal?”

Jeremy was looking for a polite way to ask for the card or offer his own card. And I’m all, “No, just give him the card. He’ll take it. Don’t worry.”

Rory: It’s basically Japanese business logic. You introduce yourself with your business card. It’s fine.

Livio: Oh, that’s an interesting approach, yeah. I usually leave the card for the end of the conversation. “I’m about to leave, and I may not ever see you again, so here’s my card.”

Rory: I would love business cards as a thing more than name-tags, because…

Livio: You can take them with you.

Rory: Yes, and it’s a lot easier to look at a business card than look at the person with the name-tag who may be moving around and stuff.

Ian: I normally give business cards when I start talking to someone, because generally it gives someone a brief look at what you do. Mine would, for example, say that I’m an animator. And if I know that they’re a programmer, I can be like, “Oh, do you program in Unity or what do you use? What are you doing with your knowledge? What are the tools you use? What are you interested in working in?”

Livio: Yeah, and name-tags can be pretty awkward sometimes, because again they’re moving around. Also, for a woman it often means you’re staring at their chest, and that’s just awkward. So at GDC, or whatever conference, people actually forget to look at each other’s name-tags. You’ll introduce yourself, and say, “Hi! I’m so-and-so”, and “What did you say your name was?” and instead of looking at your tag they’ll just ask you.

Because people just forget. You fall into the groove of making eye-contact, and you’re like, “Oh right, we have names attached to our bodies.” laughs

I will often reach for my conference pass and bring it up to eye-level and show people. “Hi, my name is Livio”, and usually I use that to clarify what my name is if they didn’t hear it properly at first. With someone with a name like mine, seeing the spelling seems to help people a lot. But otherwise, starting the conversation with your business card… that’s pretty great. I’m not used to that, so I’m not sure if I’ll pick up that habit. If somebody did that to me, I’d appreciate it.

Rory: I don’t think it’d ever be an issue with anyone. I just know… I took two years of Japanese, that’s why I bring it up, and having a business card on you is a thing that various working people do. And that’s just a way to introduce yourself. Instead of just bowing, you bow and exchange business cards. I always thought that was really cool and useful. But there was also a time in my life where I really… I collected people’s business cards. So, I’m like… YESSSS. I will take all of your business cards. I still have a huge stack of people’s business cards–

Livio: Me too.

Rory: –in a box. Some of them from people on an airplane. “Oh, hi, I’m Rory. Do you have a business card?” laughs I’m a 13-year-old.

Livio: I just posted a Twitter thread. I found people posting GDC tips. There’s a whole category of super practical tips. Stuff like, “Always carry water around with you everywhere.” I can’t imagine going to GDC without a water bottle. I also carry backup food like granola bars or something, because sometimes you’ll get caught up in something during lunch time and you’ll actually miss your lunch. Or you’ll have friends who missed their lunch. Which happened to me. laughs And you’ll want to give them some food so they don’t starve.

Water and food. Always have it on you. People usually go around the conference with a backpack, at least. Also, a place to carry around backup business cards.

You’re going to be doing a lot of walking and standing. Definitely wear comfortable shoes. I honestly think GDC is an endurance test. Like, it’s an endurance in so many ways. It’s physically taxing to be going to all these sessions all the time. All day for an entire week. Then you often after the conference stay up late going to events and parties and stuff. It’s just physically tiring. So be prepared for that, and do whatever you need to do to prepare.

Another really exhausting part of it is the networking. Especially if you’re an introvert like me. I was super introverted, especially during highschool. It was through this trying to get better at career stuff that I built up the stamina to basically network a lot. Now, as a freelancer, networking is my bread and butter. I meet most of my clients through networking. I treat it as an endurance test. I think that perspective is very helpful.

Ian: Do you know where the best places to take a rest are at GDC? If I’m feeling tired from walking around or talking with too many people, is there a place where I can get out of the way reliably?

Livio: In the San Francisco Moscone Center, the conference is broken up into multiple buildings. There’s the west hall, and then there’s the north and south hall. In the west hall, it’s almost like there’s a bunch of hallways with rooms. In the front of those hallways on each floor there’s a bunch of nice tables where you can just go and sit at a table and do nothing. I once had a friend–Rory, you know Cindy–I once found her asleep at one of those tables. Just sitting in a chair with her head on the table sleeping. I was like, “Cindy your missing out on GDC!” It was Thursday of the week and she was just exhausted.

In the bottom floor of the West Hall there’s usually a bunch of bean bags and stuff. Literally designed for people who want to rest and chill out. The north and south halls, the expo halls are really big and if you go to the borders of the hall… the expo halls are really just giant rooms. So if you go up against the walls along the edge of the room, there’s usually some chairs, and very often in the back there are a few food/cafe things where you can sit down. Those are pretty helpful.

I’ve done that before. I’ve gone all the way to the back of the expo just because I’m like, “Man I’m tired and I need to sit. And I need to not talk to anybody or look at anybody for a while.” But otherwise, even the whole place is pretty crowded. If just being around a lot of people stresses you out, it can be… you kinda have to go hunting for quieter areas in the hall.

Usually there’s what I always refer to, in the back of the career pavilion, like every year it feels like the career pavilion is smaller and smaller. Though I think that’s just an opitical illusion or something. I don’t think it’s backed up by facts. laughs There’s always a bunch of empty space near the career pavilion. So, there’s always a whole section that I always, “Oh, that’s the reject section of the hall.” The hall that didn’t get filled up. It’s pretty desolate there. So if you’re looking for places where not a lot of people are, you can probably go there.

Rory: Also, if I remember correctly, the buildings themselves are nearish a park. And SF is just lovely throughout the year. I believe me on my first trip, I didn’t know about any of these places. My strat was leaving the building and walking around, because that worked pretty well.

Livio: There’s also two malls nearby. The mall to the Metreon is one mall and the other one is a Westfield mall. They tend to not be as crowded as a conference. Also, the park is great, but during lunch time it gets full with people from GDC. Something to be mindful of. Just walking around, just a block away from GDC is a lot quieter, already. As long as you’re away from the game industry people.

Rory: Also, I guess, that park during lunch-time… I don’t know… have you tried networking in that area?

Livio: I have been invited to have lunch with people there. So that’s the main way that I network during lunchtime. Usually, during lunch I need a time for myself to go out, as well. I tend to not network while eating. But you can definitely try, and I’m sure waiting in those lines… those are some long lines for lunch. It’s probably a good way to network, too.

Okay, I think we can go to another topic.

I wanted to talk about funding for GDC. Like, how do people afford GDC? First of all, a lot of people go to GDC because their company pays them to go. Like, the passes are expensive, but many companies will determine that it’s worth it to have at least some of their people go. So they’ll go.

Another common way that people go, like I just saved up literally all year up I would save for GDC. laughs Even when I was a student, I think I spent two years saving up for it. So I didn’t go one year, and then I went another year when I could afford it. And I always tell people “start saving now”, especially if they’re a freshman, and then go when you’re a junior or a senior. It’s still helpful to go if you’re a freshman or underclassman or something. But if you can only afford one trip to GDC, you might want to be more strategic about when during your academic career to go.

It’s too late for this year, but for next year, I’ve just built up an internal list of tips to go to GDC and save money. THe first is definitely apply for the conference associate program, a CA position. You’re literally volunteering for a customer service job. CAs work the conference. Whenever you go to a session, someone scans your badge, and those people are CAs. They applied to work the conference as a volunteer, and they get in that way. When you do that, I think applications always open after the IGF stuff closes. So, after the Independent Games Festival deadlines, which are around halloween. When you’re a CA, not only do you work the conference, you also network with a ton of other CAs. Their community building stuff is really spot-on.

Rory, didn’t Dylan… didn’t he talk about the burrito bar or taco bar or something.

Rory: There’s always discussions about the delicious free food they give out. Also, another nice thing about being a conference associate is, one, you get to say which events you want to go to so you get to not be a CA during that time. Also, walking around in your CA outfit, people are all like, “Oh, hey, you’re awesome.” There’s a clear signal that this person wants to work in the games industry.

Livio: Yeah, and I think there are a bunch of indies who are already working in the industry who get CA positions. So many CAs are usually people who just can’t afford to go to GDC and just apply for the program. And that can be a mix of students and indies. If you network with a lot of CAs you potential network with people who are in the industry as well.

When you’re not working, and usually you have your schedule of this talk, and manning this thing. You’re calendar throughout the day is not completely full, and when you have off hours, you can just do whatever you want. You have the equivalent of an all-access pass during that time. So you’re able to attend whatever talk or session you want. And when you’re working a session, you basically are forced to go to a talk, and you may have not been interested in the talk before, you may come out thinking, “That was a really interesting talk, I’m glad I got it.”

That’s one way people go to GDC “for free”, quote-unquote. It’s a volunteer position, you get the equivalent of an all-access pass when you’re free, for free, but you have to pay for your travel expenses. Unfortunately. And you have to be legally allowed to work in the United States, as well. Either you need to have a visa, be a citizen, or resident. So that’s another caveat.

The other way to go to GDC, to help pay for it, is with scholarships.

The IGDA Foundation, which is the charitable arm of the IGDA, famously has their scholar program. If you’re a member of the IGDA (you pay for your membership), you can apply for the scholarship. They have a certain number of people they can fund every year, and the IGDA Scholar Program… it… I do not have first-hand knowledge about this program, but it looks awesome. It looks like an amazing networking opportunity. They really help all the IGDA scholars have a great time at GDC. It reminds me of how the CA Program tries to make sure you have a great time at GDC. You meet a lot of people. I’ve met scholars before who… they were just so excited to be there. laughs

It’s a great thing.

There are other third-party scholarships as well. Like, just general organizations might offer GDC scholarships. Diversity orgs. Some student orgs. I belive there’s a list on the GDC website or there used to be.

Games for Change… do they have a scholarship? There’s an org called I Need Diverse Games. I think they definitely have scholarships.

Be knowledgeable about these scholarships, and next year you can keep your eye on them when they start advertizing and… yeah. I think Girls Make Games also have a scholarship. I’m not sure.

Those are the main options.

The last-ditch effort if you really want to try everything, you could make a game that’s awesome enough and submit it to the Independant Games Festival, and if you get nominated, you basically get an All-Access Pass. They have a student-section of the IGF.

So every Wednesday night on the GDC week… Wednesday night is always the awards ceremony. And that’s when they have the Game Developer’s Choice Awards and the Independant Games Festival Awards.

If you’re awesome enough to get nominated, not only will you get an awesome reward and press recognition and all that, but you’ll also get an all-access pass. I’m not sure how many you get.

There was one year as a student, where I was working on a student project for the IGF. “I need that pass, I need to get nominated for the GDC pass!” But–

ETA: The GDC Scholarship list gets posted to the discord at this time. Click here to see the list

Oh, cool, you found the scholarships page. That’s great.

But yeah, people often talk about how they work their careers trying to get featured by the IGF, and so it’s definitely a longshot. But you can still try it.

ETA: Livio did a whole post-mortem about this game project. Read it here

Another thing you can do is to actually propose a session to the conference. If you’re at the point in your career where you feel you can give a talk or host a session, just submit one. I believe session applications tend to be around the fall of the year. GDC is in the spring, applications in the fall.

Rory: You get an all-access pass if you speak at GDC?

Livio: Yes, you get a speaker pass, which is the same as an all-access pass. And personally there’s a lot of talk in the industry about how GDC is trying to encourage people to stop proposing so many panels because panels… they give a speaker pass to everyone on the panel. But it’s also like panels feel a little cheap. The panelists usually don’t have to prepare as much, it feels like, whereas a talk feels more rigorous, like “Someone prepared this.”

And they feel like it increases the quality of the conference to have more prepared content. I’ve noticed, though, that the panels have gotten more legit. They’re not just chatty panels, they are… everyone on a panel prepares something. I personally think as a result the quality of their panels have gotten way better. If… usually people have to be encouraged to attempt to speak at GDC. That’s something that everyone talks about. No one ever really feels like they’re qualified enough to speak at a conference until their coworkers are encouraging them and telling them that they are qualified.

Most people don’t give their first talk at GDC. Sometimes they do, but usually people will start small. They’ll start at like a local conference. If you’re a student you can give talks at your local academic chapter. That’s just… as far as last-ditch attempts to go to GDC on a budget… proposing a talk is one of them. laughs

The last possible option is to go to GDC but not actually have a pass. A lot of people do that. They go to SF, they’ll be in town during that week, but they won’t actually have a pass to attend any panels or sessions at GDC. I’ve seen people do that. I know some people who are doing that this year. It helps if they already have connections in the industry to meet up with.

Oh, yeah, Rory! You’re doing that. Kinda.

Rory: Yeah, I mean. My work has an SF office, and they like us to regularly go there, so I’m going to be in SF for the week of GDC. And when I’m not at work I’ll probably try and do something that’s part of the GDC tangent, like a party or… I don’t know. I never did the extra stuff the one time I went to GDC, because I was still really coming out of my shell. I’m also an introvert.

Livio: Yep.

Rory: I’ve had a lot of practice since then, so I’ll probably be a little bit better.

Livio: You should’ve been there the year that I went with… one of the years that the game dev club was there. That’s the year that Jordan was looking for work. He was a senior at the time. We had this epic adventure with him, trying to get hired that year. We tried everything. Jordan went to so many parties that he was not interested in at all. Like, we’re all kinda introverts. And he’s like… telling stories about how he got into the Nike party. Which had the world’s longest line ever. I was like, “I’m not trying to get into that line. I’m going to spend the whole night in that line.” He actually managed to… he waited in line patiently and he got in. When he was in there he was talking about how he… in order to network with people, he started dancing. He was like, “I’m not a dancer, I don’t know anything about dancing, but I’m dancing!”

And he was really, really dancing. Trying crazy moves. Getting sweaty. He said at one point his personal business cards fell out of his conference badge, and they were all over the floor. He was hoping, “Maybe that’ll turn into something. Maybe someone noticed all my cards on the floor. They’ll think, ‘Who was this guy? Maybe he was the guy doing the crazy dances.'” I don’t think it worked though. He didn’t get a job that year. He’s now working as a programmer somewhere these days.

The whole party scene is definitely… it feels like a game of GDC. Like, how do you find out about parties? How do you get into the parties once you find out? That year, we were not prepared, we didn’t find any parties beforehand. We were just looking up whatever we could. We ended up… we noticed some bars advertizing GDC parties, and then we arrived at their place. But it wasn’t a party, it was a bar doing a promotion because they know this thing is in town. And so everyone there was like people like us, people who were desperate looking to network. Looking for work. It was all right.

One of the main ways that I find out about parties, is there’s a very popular Facebook group, The Fellowship of GDC Parties. I’ll find a link. Got it. It’s all about people playing that game: finding parties, getting into parties. Networking and all that.

Nowadays, sometimes people just send me invites to parties. I just happen to be on some company’s mailing list, and that company’s hosting a party, and they want to promote their party and their company, and I just find out about that. Like, the Unity party… Unity now has a… their party is definitely full. The Unity party every year is usually really big. Last year, I was there, and it was exhausting to be in there. No breathing room.

Rory: Wait, are these parties like student events… in that there’s free food?

Livio: They often have free food, but I wouldn’t… I don’t know…. Many parties don’t have free food. You should plan to have dinner before going to a party. I remember last year, not only was the Unity party crazy… crazy jam-packed. They had food trucks nearby and those food-trucks were running out of food. They’d put out food, free food, for everybody to eat. Unity was paying for the food, so you didn’t have to order, but everytime you ordered some food, it would just vanish. A bunch of people, just starving, including myself, would hangout in front of the food trucks. I was like, “We should have eaten dinner before coming here.” laughs

So I don’t count on parties at all for food. Especially if you miss lunch, don’t count on parties for food.

I also always make it a habit to eat breakfast for the conference. Just because, again, you don’t want to starve. I know not everyone eats breakfast. Not everyone believes in breakfast. But I can’t handle being hungry during something that I… I already told you that I see GDC as an endurance week. So I make sure to eat every meal.

So, I should make a channel on the Discord, just to share events and parties. I’ve been meaning to do that. I keep forgetting.

Rory: Do it right now! I’ll do it right now.

Livio: Yeah, do it for me.

Rory: Okay… how do I do this? Creating channel. Text channel. #gdc-2018

Livio: Speaking of other events. Every morning. Every GDC morning, there is a group of people who meetup in the morning to run. To workout. They usually meetup on that big avenue. I forget what it’s called. The one that’s like the main street. They just run from there to the lake. I mean, to the bay. And back. I did that for a few days last year, and I think it was only two days. I really liked it, but especially when you get to the later half of the week. It’s just like, I don’t know, GDC is already an endurance week. I don’t need to add a workout to my endurance week.

ETA: Livio’s talking about the Morning Detox Marathon: A GDC morning running club for everyone

I have an indie friend who did this every day.

Rory: I really like this idea. I’m totally–I think I’m down. Because I’ve been running to and from work, and I’ll be spending a week in SF, and I don’t know what I’m going to do because… the plan will be different.

Livio: Ooooh. I will definitely forward the details to you. But first I gotta find it again.

Rory: I’m going to ask you about it in #gdc-2018 chat.

Livio: I’ll have to reach out to one of my indie friends who… I get the impression that he did it everyday last year. I’m going to ask him, “Hey, is there any info that I can pass along to people?”

There’s also weekend events. The Sunday before GDC, the Saturday after GDC, some people might have dinners. I know the Saturday after GDC I’m planning on attending the IGDA Latinos in Games SIG brunch. I never stay the Saturday after GDC, I always get my flight back home on the Friday night. This will be my first time actually staying that late. I guess I’ll see what it’s like.

Ian: What are the IGDA events like at GDC? What do they have planned during the week? I know they have a few things they do.

Livio: I’m getting that for you right now. There’s a whole page with it. One that I need to be promoting more. On that page is every day of the week and what’s on that day of the week.

Rory: Okay, so we’re in the last 5 minutes of this.

Livio: Yes.

Rory: And we can keep going, but I actually will stop. I’ll keep recording, but I’ll stop, because I have things to do. There was a question that was asked in the Discord #roundtables text channel

“Things you wish you’d known before attending GDC the first time, things you didn’t expect that were, and things you expected that weren’t!”

Livio: Rory, you have some answers to that!

Rory: I think I do…. So, we’ve mentioned this already, but it’s good to say this again: the student day… you say they’re better organized on the student day… it’s crowded. It’s super, super crowded. If you can’t handle lots of people, and it’s hard for you the first four days you’re at GDC, the student day… just don’t go. I couldn’t handle it. I left. Too many people. It drained me immediately. I could barely walk around. I was definitely not expecting it. I’m glad I didn’t go just for the student day. I went Wednesday-Friday. I couldn’t go the whole week, because I didn’t get a Dean’s Exemption.

Basically, if you want to miss a week of school, get a Dean’s Exemption. That’s something I wish I knew you could do. So that you can make up for the lost school work and they won’t fail missed tests that week. You can actually make that work.

Things that I expected that weren’t? I didn’t really have an idea of what to expect from GDC going in. I’m not entirely sure what else. The main thing for me was just how busy it was on that Friday.

Livio: My main expectation was just how hard it was to find work at GDC as a student. A lot of companies are hiring… the games industry has a lot of turnover. For really experienced jobs, they have a lot of postings. “Oh, we’re looking for someone with this many years programming in this engine.” But as a student, it’s not like people are clamouring for hiring students. Only the biggest companies tend to have real student, like, academic hiring arms. Like, Microsoft has a very good student-hiring thing, and they’ll usually be at GDC.

Blizzard, I don’t know much about, but they seem to hire a bunch of students. And I’m always surprised, “Oh, this person I know got hired at Blizzard.” They were never on my radar as a student. Which is… I just assumed they were like every other big company that didn’t have student positions or entry-level positions.

I remember Wesley Kerr, he mentioned that many GDC talks may well be over your head. You may go to a session, but you quickly realize that, “Oh, I’m a programmer, I should know what they’re talking about.” But then you realize these are industry professionals talking with their peers. You may not be ramped up on everything they’re talking about. I love the AI sessions, but I don’t have any idea what they’re talking about, because I haven’t even bothered with standard industry AI stuff yet. And so don’t feel too bad if things go over your head. It’s a big field, people spend careers mastering these things.

Definitely use that as an opportunity though to figure out what you want to learn. Like if everyone in the AI panels are talking about decision trees, that’s probably an easy thing to google. “How to implement a decision tree.”

I don’t have any other first-time GDC tips. Other than the ones I’ve mentioned earlier.

Rory: Yeah. I personally went just for Wendesday through Friday, which is why it didn’t occur to me that the expo wasn’t there Monday and Tuesday. I considered those days worth it. If you can’t get away with the whole week, I’d totally recommend the Wednesday through Friday. It was a worthwhile experience. I don’t know how ingrained it is that you don’t have to dress up. At the time, I wasn’t sure. You don’t have to dress up, don’t feel the need to dress up if you don’t like dressing up.

Livio: Just dress however you need to feel comfortable. Most people I know don’t, but some people do. But that’s because that’s how they like to be. If you feel like you dress up and no one is… no one is dressed up. If you just feel better looking your best, then that’s a good strategy.

Definitely be conscious of how you dress, though, and your hygiene. You don’t want to look like a slob in the conference. And you definitely want to shower every night, because like I said it’s an endurance. The whole week… it’s very easy to get sweaty even if it’s cold outside. A lot of people actually carry around deorderant in their backpacks just so they don’t smell. And that’s basic, basic stuff. Maybe even something for your breath if you know your breath is prone to stink.

Rory: Also, something I wasn’t exactly expecting. There’s tons of playable things. Livio mentioned IGF things that are nominated for awards, but there’s, like–

Livio: There’s GDC Play.

Rory: Also if they’re showing off technology, they’re likely showing it off with a game. It might be an upcoming AAA game, or an indie game. I remember the time I went, there were tower defense games on the iPads, and various 3D games, because 3D was all the rage with 3D TVs setup.

Livio: Now, it’s VR. Last year’s VR demos were really long lines.

Rory: There was Portal 2, but using Playstation motion control, because everyone was trying to copy the Wii’s success. I remember playing Nidhogg, because that was being shown off.

Livio: Nidhogg won.

Rory. Yeah, Nidhogg won! And they came on stage and accepted their award in costume. In blue and red jumpsuits. laughs It was awesome.

Anyways, there’s plenty of fun things to do is that’s one of your ways to recharge, you can just like, “Okay, I’m going to treat this a bit like a convention instead of a conference, and go wait in line to play a game. And see all this cool stuff.” Turn your analytic brain off, which is why a lot of people are also in line for, like, “I want to see how this game works and what it’s doing.” Yeah.

Livio: Yeah, and it’s also potentially a good way to connect with the developers of that game especially if they are the ones demoing. For many of the things on the expo floor, if they’re showing off techonolgy, you won’t be speaking to the developers, you’ll be speaking to a platform team, or even just like booth people. For the other stuff, like the GDC Play, the IGF Pavilion, andalt.ctrl.GDC…. alt.ctrl.GDC is like their alternative, hardware-experimentation thing. Which is really cool. I know someone, Terrance, who got into it this year.

Again. He got into it last year, too. We did an AMA with him. So, if you go there, and you see him there, you can say hi and tell him that, “Hey, thanks for doing an AMA with the Student SIG”, and he’ll be so thrilled that you told him that. Just like, telling people that… connecting the dots. He’ll be thrilled.

So, that’s pretty much it. Are there any other topics? I think we hit all the topics I wanted to hit this roundtable.

One last protip for the road: people generally say that if your goal is to network, the roundtable sessions at GDC are the best thing. Because unlike talks and sessions, both the roundtables and the tutorials (the workshops), both of those involve audience participation. The audience interacts with each other and do stuff as part of the session. And so those are great ways to get to know people that you’re sitting with, and just network. Yeah.

Rory: All right, I think that ends this roundtable. I think that was really good. It also gives me ideas for… maybe we should encourage people to have impromtu roundtables. Maybe I could setup some means of recording that easily.

Livio: Or just more… maybe like a weekly voice chat. Just hanging out.

Rory: Yeah. I was just thinking, we’re an international organization. It’s just hard to pick a time to have these. If people could just…. Here’s our general roundtable topic. Let’s have multiple times where people can join for a roundtable when they’re available and talk. I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about that ever since… whenever we have a poll, if numerous people answer the poll… it’s just such different times.

Livio: Yeah. So the solution could be to just have more of them.

Rory: And they could be more of the same topic.

Livio: They could be shorter. More, but shorter.

Rory: More, but shorter, and then we could merge them together. But that would be more editing work, so…. I gotta actually edit. Tiny edits, not even hard edits. And post this roundtable and the last one to the YouTube channel. I’ll make sure I do that.

(ETA: Audio was way too screwed up for this recording, so just a transcript for now)