Beginners’ Survival Guide to GDC

Going to Game Developers Conference 2015? Your first time there? Here’s how to make the most of your time there, without losing your mind or permanently damaging your liver.

Nordic Game Bits snuck into a meeting held at IO Interactive, where Interactive Denmark, together with the game developers IO Interactive and Full Control, had set up an impromptu bootcamp to share all of their knowledge and advice about how to get the most out of what is arguably the largest single event for game developers worldwide.

The first speaker of the day was GDC veteran Thomas Lund, CEO of Copenhagen-based developer Full Control, who are probably best known for their work on the Games Workshop-owned Space Hulk-license, and their recent reboot of the Jagged Alliance IP. With him, he had brought a long list of general tips for any newcomer planning to go to GDC this year.


Getting there:

Find out why you are going to GDC
.. and please choose just one thing. Are you there to attend sessions, to find investors, find publishers, or talk to the press? Make a prioritization and stick to it, or you will lose some important opportunities.

You’re not there to have fun with your mates
And neither to party, flirt, or get drunk. You’re there to work, not to hang out (unless that’s your stated intention – see above)

Try and find a direct route
If you’re flying in from Europe, you should try and avoid connecting flights – especially in the US, since getting through immigration can take up to 3 hours, which can make you miss your connection flight. Also – try to sleep in the plane.

You will get massive jetlag
So try to arrive Friday or Saturday – not Sunday. Buy Melatonon-pills …. aaand maybe alcohol. Sometimes  they work pretty awesome together. Try and get into the daily rhythm right away.


Staying there:

Where to book a hotel?
Try to stay around downtown or near the Moscone Centre, because you are going to be going back and forth from your hotel. Either that, or go for something ultra-cheap.

Network at the hotels
There is a lot of lobbying going on in the lobbies (surprisingly ;)). Just sit down and have a beer in the lobby or hotel bar, look like you belong there, and you’ll almost automatically end up meeting someone worth talking to.

San Francisco is noisy!
Remember earplugs.

Bring cash
And remember to tip 10 – 15 %. It’s VERY rude to not tip. Consider bringing more than one credit card so that you won’t max out your credit maximum with only one card and end up unable to use it.

Remember to bring a power converter


At the Conference:


  • Don’t book any meetings before 10AM. Especially true for Monday.
  • Book the most important meetings in the middel of the day and the middle of the week. This is where both you and your meeting partner will be at their peak. Kinks will have been worked out, you are confident about your pitches, but you’re not too tired yet.
  • Print out your meeting calendar. You can’t be certain that you’ll have internet connection all the time.
  • Don’t waste people’s time, and don’t let others waste yours. Be courteous but direct. If they don’t fit into your primary objective for your GDC-visit it’s “thanks, but no thanks”.
  • Be on time, remember to take transportation into account – also walking. Moscone Centre is a big place.
  • Book your meetings now. YOU ARE ALREADY LATE. At least 3-4 weeks before. If you have an agency working for you, put them to work, filling out your appointment calendar for GDC.
    And do book them. You won’t just bump into the people you need on the exhibition floor.
  • When setting up meetings, sometimes just calling people will work. There are some front desk employees who’ll just transfer you when you ask to talk with one of the people high in the hierarchy. It’s a much better chance than phone and text message will give you.
  • Remember to leave yourself time for lunch and a break in the middle of the day.

Business cards
Bring proper business cards. They represent you, when you’re not there. So pay a bit more to get a good quality product. A nice tip is to include a white back or a white area, where you can scribble down notes.

Bring good shoes
It’s a must. You’re gonna walk a lot.

Don’t smell!!
Bring extra deoderant, tic-tacs and chewing gum. There’s 1000 of people, and it’s gonna get hot.

Remember to bring water
And remember to drink it!

Use your iPad for internet
It can be a good idea to buy a 1-month SIM card from AT&T for your iPad. This is also an excellent way of securing an internet connection, as the wireless network in the Moscone Centre is not always completely reliable.

Travel light
Try to carry as little as possible. Have everything on your iPad, if you can.

Have a short and a long pitch ready
One around 20 seconds for the elevator and other people you meet by chance, and one at 15-20 mins with some video and screenshots. You must be ready to pitch your game at seconds notice, if the opportunity arises.

Parties are not about getting (too) drunk
You can book parties in advance too, so do that. And remember that they are networking events, not excuses to get totally wasted. When people get too drunk, go home, get some sleep, and you’ll be functional again tomorrow. Remember – your objective should be to land you business card in the pocket of the people you want to get in touch with, not getting free booze (and considering the price of flight and accommodation, it really isn’t free)
– Oh, and you want to go to the Nordic Party. It’s usually great.


After the Conference:

Follow up materials should be digital
It fine to have follow-up materials. Additional details, game design documents, budgets, etc. But have it in digital format. Nobody want’s to lug around heaps of paper

Don’t go on vacation right after
The time right after GDC is almost as important as the conference itself. This is where you follow up on all the leads that you got in San Francisco.


In general:

Be the peacock!!
Stand out and be memorable. You want people to remember you, even after 60 pitches. Use company t-shirts, handouts, weird stuff.

Talk to people you don’t know – take chances
Standing in a corner will do you nothing. It might be hard, and weird, and uncomfortable for you, but you have got to get out there if you want to sell your game.

Prepare icebreakers, and always wear your badge
If you’ve already prepared something to say, doing the above might not be so hard.

Jesper K. Kristiansen

Multi-passionate game developer and journalist. Has been writing about the Danish games industry for more than ten years, and creating audio design for both Danish and International games for almost as long.

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