A walkthrough to 2020's Game Developers Conference.
GDC tips for audio, art, indie-dev, biz-dev, and more!
Regardless of your discipline, you should read everyone's advice to get the most out of this resource.
Passes are from $249 - $2399 when purchased before March 15. Most passes are $100 more when purchased on-site during the conference (March 16-20).
You’ll need your Photo ID to pick up your badge/pass.
GDC is being held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California March 16-20, 2020. Address: 747 Howard St, San Francisco, CA 94103
You need to be 18+ to attend the conference & no infants in strollers are allowed.
Replacing the badge under any circumstance (even if it was complimentary) is at the full current on-site price so take care of it.
You can find many past sessions for free on the GDC YouTube channel.
GDC records most sessions and (even though some aren’t free to watch) can be watched on the GDC Vault. A 12-month membership is $550 per person.
There a lot of things you can bring to make your time at the conference much better. Some are actually required such as your photo ID to get your pass. These are some of the best things to bring to GDC.
Communication: Having a professional email address and domain name (if you have a website) is important to present yourself with seriousness. It’s also critical to have this applied to your social media accounts too.
While you may have an account on most social media, the most important for networking events like GDC is likely LinkedIn. Having an account on this platform is going to enable you to show your professional side and build a network of connections with people in the industry.
Presentation: Bringing business cards with you to the conference is going to make it a lot easier to exchange contact information and save you from having to constantly write down or tell people how to get in touch.
If you don't know much about business cards, you might like this article about tips on business cards.
Now, having a cardholder to house these will keep them from getting crumpled, bent, or damaged. Not to mention, it’s more professional than pulling them out of a pocket.
Basically, make it easy for people to write notes on the card to remember you and make sure it’s simple and to the point. Keep your name dominant on the card and keep it short when describing what you do.
Another piece of paper that’s handy to bring with you is your resume. Some companies will have their own booths on the expo floor at GDC and having a resume on you can be helpful if they’re hiring.
Although your business card is more suitable for most cases, bringing resumes are great if someone asks for one or if you're in the career theatre.
If you're new to this, you might want to learn how to apply to a job in Game Development.
Due to the extremely busy nature of the conference, people (you included) may run out of business cards eventually. Carrying a small notebook and a pen is going to be a life-saver in this case. Not to mention, they're great for taking notes during talks and other sessions.
Last but not least, loading up your demo/portfolio reels onto a tablet (and/or your phone) can make it easier to demonstrate your capabilities and previous work to others.
Another good thing to be mindful of is having a source of Vitamin C. It can be easy to get sick, especially if you’re traveling. Try not to skip meals either, this is a marathon of a conference.
There is a lot of advice you can follow to get the most out of GDC. The conference is a pretty big investment with its price on the high end of things. This general advice for GDC should keep you on the right track. There are more specific sections below for tips and advice for fields in game development such as audio and business/marketing.
Because of the price tag, having a clear goal and a solid plan will help you stay focused on making the most out of the event. Understanding how you’re truly spending your money will keep you aligned with the value of attending the conference. And it’s not just a business expense, have fun and enjoy.
If you feel overwhelmed by all of the events and don’t have time for everything you wanted to do, skipping the talks in favor of other sessions might be practical as they are recorded for the GDC Vault. Although most talks are recorded, workshops and roundtables are not so prioritizing on those can be better if you purchase access to the GDC Vault.
Arranging for a place to stay during the event is best done earlier than later. To save on some money, you can share a room with someone going to the conference too.
Parties sell out fast so RSVP before the conference and some are even before GDC begins. Aside from asking around for a list of GDC parties, there’s more on parties below.
Volunteering at GDC as a conference associate (CA) is great if you want to save money when going to the event. Not only do you get the equivalent of an all-access pass for free but you get to meet a bunch of other people doing the same thing. Even though you need to pay for your travel expenses, it can be worth it.
For many, the conference starts before you even enter the building. As early as the airport, you might be able to find some people heading to the same event as you. Another great place to meet people is the inevitable lines that you’ll encounter when going to a popular talk, food/drink spot, party, etc.
Oh, and apparently, the lobby bar of The W Hotel is a popular place to hang out if you don’t have a party to go to. On the other hand, some bars might advertise having a GDC party simply for the sake of the conference being in town and might not really be a "GDC Party".
There is a Facebook group called The Fellowship of Game Developer Parties where you can find out about where the good ones are. Before heading out to a party, plan to have dinner before going. Many parties don’t have free food. Protip: go with a buddy, you can get around safer and split the cost of a taxi/rideshare.
If you want to get more out of GDC, there is a game jam that you can attend on your way to it. This 52-hour game jam is on a train, traveling from Chicago to San Francisco. Tickets are from $200 - $750. Learn more about Train Jam if you want to have some fun meeting people and making games together before the conference.
Once at GDC, there is a 3-mile morning running club called the Morning Detox Marathon. This is for anyone who wants to get some exercise every morning (7:30 am).
The Game Developers Conference (or GDC) can be very intimidating, especially if you’re new to it. I should know; as a struggling composer I once held the door to Moscone West open for Reggie Fils-Aimé and somehow managed to refrain from asking him about his time at Pizza Hut, or if he came up with the idea for the Bigfoot Pizza because he knows where bigfoot is, or perhaps, is bigfoot himself.
Anyway, whether you’re new to the industry or new to the conference, GDC can be nerve-wracking. Game audio folks are not immune to this. In fact, because music and sound effects are often, sadly, an afterthought in many dev cycles–and because audio people are far too frequently the weird orbiting satellites of a dev team, isolated and left out of the loop–GDC can feel even more daunting to us sound-oriented types.
Last March will mark my 10th year at GDC, and in that time, I’ve made about every dumb mistake you can make at a major industry conference.
If you want to get the most out of the conference, you can’t just show up. Lots of people do that, and that’s fine, but if you really want to have an edge, make sure all your ducks are in a row beforehand. Then put your ducks away, weirdo, and make sure you’re ready for the show.
By far, the main reason we all go to GDC is to meet people. But how do you do that? Who do you talk to, and where? The blanket answer is “everyone” and “everywhere,” but let’s refine that a bit
Best Buds: When I was first starting out, I walked around PAX shakily thrusting my business card into people's’ hands and handing out hastily printed demos of my work. I did it not because I liked it (I couldn’t stand it), but because I thought that’s how networking was done. And maybe in some industries, it is, but I wouldn’t know, because it turns out in games, the way to network is to make friends.
People want to work with people they like. Would you rather hire someone with an incredible portfolio who’s emailed you a hundred times but whom you’ve never met, or that awesome person you met at the Xbox lounge who you grabbed cupcakes with after? Because your potential clients will pick the cupcake bud almost every time.
Absolutely hand out cards, point people toward your music or sounds if the opportunity seems natural, but mostly? Just hang out, and be your cool self. Stay casual, stay relaxed, or fake it (my strategy) until it feels real.
Yerba Buena Gardens: I know it sounds like a Final Fantasy side dungeon, but the park area on top of Moscone East is a goldmine for hangouts. People are all over the place, enjoying ice cream, chatting casually, and breathing in air with the least amount of fecal particulates in the whole neighborhood.
Last year, I literally spent the first three days of the show here, without ever setting foot inside the convention center. The nearby food court makes it really easy to turn meetings into lunch.
Career pavilions (FMOD, Sony, Xbox, Expo Hall Career Theater, etc.): These are valuable, but in my opinion, not for meeting people. It can certainly happen, but everyone is so focused on finding work prospects or asking questions of the experts and presenters on hand, that you’ll have a tough time making new friends here.
Still, if you’re looking for some career advice or have questions about a particular company’s work culture, they’re definitely worth checking out!
Lounges: These are great, considering people often come here to wind down and get away from the bustle of the show floor. Just use your best judgement; if someone is on their phone or zoning out, give them their space, but if they seem approachable, feel free to give it a shot. It can be a great, quiet venue to have a conversation.
Expo Hall: This is the most crowded area at GDC, but also a great place to run into people. Everyone is milling about trying new things, and so there are tons of excuses to strike up a conversation. My recommendation would be to head over to the IGF Pavilion, where you’ll see lots of fun and unique indie games, and meet plenty of nice folks to talk about them with.
Alt Control is also a good bet; it’s hard not to feel a bond with strangers when you’re all playing games controlled by doorbells or teaming up to help a giant animatronic elephant poop or whatever.
Make your own space: A trick I learned from my good friend Akash Thakkar, sound designer for Hyper Light Drifter, put out an open invite for ice cream at a certain place and time on Twitter. Ask that group of people you just met if they wanna continue this conversation by the weird coffee robot in the food court.
Set up an informal hang out in the park or suggest a walk through China Town. Some of the best networking opportunities are the ones you make yourself!
Where not to bother people: Restrooms. But also refrain from bothering people for hangouts at their booths too much. Chatting is fine, but just remember devs currently showing off a game are there to work, and probably don’t have the mental space to talk to you about potential career opportunities.
Networking is a slow, cumulative process: While it can happen, you’re unlikely to leave GDC with a job offer already in hand. That’s ok! Instead, if you’ve made friends and connections, keep in touch with them. Try to see them the next time you go, and the time after that. Be consistent, or as consistent as you can, about going (obviously, not everyone can afford to make it out to SF every year, and that’s ok too).
I’ve gotten plenty of work from going to GDC, but it’s almost always from someone I meet there getting in touch weeks or even months later. Maybe they hire you directly, maybe they know someone who needs a composer.
You kind of never know how it’s going to manifest, so just focus on making as many meaningful connections as you can. Be patient, and don’t kick yourself for not landing a job immediately. It doesn’t work that way.
This can be a demo reel on your website, a YouTube playlist, a link to your Bandcamp, etc. I myself simply curate the Spotlight section on my SoundCloud to show the best balance between my most recent and best work.
Whatever you post and wherever you post it, it should follow these two rules:
If a potential client has to dig around at all to find your stuff, they’ll move on. Worse, when they get there, if the first thing they hear isn’t amazing, even if there’s something stellar just a little bit down the page, they’ll move on thinking you’re mediocre.
Run by the amazing Matthew Marteinsson - sound designer at Klei. This informal mini-conference is held behind the merry-go-round across the street from Moscone West, and features impromptu talks and just a bunch of great audio folks hanging out. It’s an incredibly friendly place.
But if you’re wondering “why would I want to meet other audio people, aren’t they my competition?” then don’t worry. Audio people hook each other up with work all the time. We’re always letting each other know about openings we can’t take or gigs we don’t have time for, so grab some pupusas from the food truck beneath the overpass and come on over!
GDC is the largest game industry show in North America. When audio people ask what conventions they should travel to, I tell them if they can only get to one, make it this one. If you’re going, you’re already better off than the many, many people who didn’t. Try to enjoy yourself, make some friends, and have fun. You got this.
Remember, if you work in games, have worked in games, or want to work in games, you belong at GDC. Remind yourself that you’re not less valuable if you haven’t shipped a popular game, or haven’t shipped a game at all. If someone asks you what you’re working on and you haven’t actually landed a game yet, feel free to talk about what new things you’re exploring with sound.
Maybe you’re trying a new genre, or messing with some new effects and processing. You have as much right to be there as the big AAA guys or the super successful indies, so act like it.
Reflect: How did the show go? What did you do well? What could you do differently next year?
Just remember to steer clear of the free burrito truck. It’s full of ghouls who want to steal your identity and make your butt explode.
[If you want to read the rest of Ryan's advice on GDC, he actually wrote too much for this resource and decided to put all of it on his blog!]
If you are reading this then you are most likely a student or a junior artist looking for work. GDC can be a great place to make connections, and I highly recommend you go!
But don't get your hopes up that you will walk away with full-time employment. It is easy to have very high hopes and end up disappointed. It is also stressful seeing all these super-busy developers ignoring you while you aren't entirely sure what to do or where to go.
There are loads of tips online for making a perfect portfolio for your medium, but specifically for GDC remember that you most likely will not have internet and the battery on your devices will most likely die. Bring a backup battery, and download your work.
This is a great chance to meet other artists and build your network. After the roundtable, talk to someone that you found interesting from that roundtable.
I know this is cliche, and you have heard this before. One year I went to GDC, did animation portfolio reviews for students, and given away around 300 business cards. I told every single student that if they followed up with more work or a new reel then I would get every animator I know to look at it and I'd make sure the art director of Irrational games weighed in on their work. 2 people followed up. Be one of those two people.
If developers are hanging out at a bar or at a party after the show hours then they probably don't want to review your portfolio. If you meet a developer and you want to show them your work then ask if they will be around during the show the next day. Try to set a time to meet them during show hours, and show them your work then. Only show your work to someone at a bar if they ask to see it.
It is a good idea to talk to the people that are working on your tech. It can also be fun to see what new technologies are coming online for game development.
I first saw Apex cloth by Nvidia on the expo floor. I ended up using that a ton for Bioshock Infinite.
GDC can be very inspiring, but it is best to go in without any expectations.
GDC is the biggest gathering of developers, publishers, middleware companies, and service providers in the world. You can make important business connections, good friends and memories to last a lifetime.
You do, however, get out of it what you put into it, so it's incredibly important to have clear goals in mind when planning your trip.
Are you looking to meet publishing partners for your indie game? Are you looking for potential clients for service work? Are you just looking to other developers? Do you want to improve your skills and attend talks?
Once you've identified what you want out of the show, it becomes a lot easier to plan what events you want to attend.
The show can be overwhelming, even with a clear goal in mind, so here are a few survival tips to get you through the week.
San Francisco is notoriously expensive, and GDC is located in the heart of the city. Make sure you've allocated transit costs to and from the area for every day that you're there.
Also, while many evening events have hors-d'oeuvres, it's very important to find time to eat since the days can get away from you. Again, keep in mind that food in SF can be pricey, so budget accordingly.
Many of the meetings at GDC happen at the bars of the nearby hotels (namely the W, St. Regis and the Marriott). It's a great way to meet new people, but be mindful that a group casually chatting may actually be in a meeting before you decide to introduce yourself.
This is especially important for younger developers but extends to everyone. GDC is generally overflowing with alcohol, and it's not uncommon to end up having had too much to drink.
Remind yourself that you are here representing yourself in a business capacity and make decisions accordingly. Most importantly, do not feel pressured to drink or do anything beyond your comfort zone.
Unlike big studios, you probably won't have the luxury of having a controlled demo environment for your pitch meetings. I recommend always having pitch materials ready on your phone/tablet so that you can demo at a moment's notice.
If you're an authorized Nintendo Switch developer, having a build on a test kit is a really convenient way to demo to potential partners.
More importantly, know when to demo your game. Read the room and don't monopolize anyone's time unless there's genuine interest.
I've been going to GDC for 15 years, and it's responsible for some of my all-time favorite memories. Make sure to take time for yourself and have fun in this incredibly unique environment.
There are going to be a lot of opportunities for business meetings at GDC and schedules fill up fast. Set up your meetings 3 weeks ahead of time so you can get a spot with someone before they are bombarded with requests closer to (and during) the event.
Also, be mindful of who you set aside time for. Don’t do meetings with service providers that you 100% KNOW won't ever be useful. But, if you can, take some meetings (like with random indies) that have no immediate purpose beyond breaking the ice.
Only schedule 1 meeting per hour even though they often only take 15-30 minutes. You need time to go to venues, bathroom, snack, etc. That also means schedule eating all 3 meals.
As for where to have these meetings, it's ok if you don't have a pass, just suggest a cafe or restaurant nearby to meet in. Some publishers have meetings in hotel suites. So far all of the ones I've been to have been professional and not gross.
Another thing that’s important is being friendly, especially to students. They’ve got it rough. Being sincerely warm and kind to random strangers might pay off someday, but it also will make you feel immediately less cynical and jaded by the soul destruction of business.
Every meal, every session, every lobby, every hallway, is crowded with potential new friends, business partners, and collaborators. The human mind cannot possibly comprehend the fractal of alternate universes that are spawned every second of every conference.
You’ll miss a few opportunities along the way, but that’s how it is. Breathe, think it through, weigh the pros and cons, and let it go. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Accept that.
When I met Harry Lee (Sokobond) [in 2014], he said, "This year, I'm not promoting my own work. I want you to try my friend's game. I have it here in my backpack. Do you want to play?" The selflessness of that gesture - of taking the value of a self-promotion opportunity and giving it to someone you want to succeed - touched me, and I think we should all take it to heart.
Of course, just by making friends you'll be promoting yourself. But now is not the time to ask for favors - now is the time for building better relationships. You’ll want a few petty things (introductions, recommendations, invitations), but it’s far, far better to invest in your future now. Wherever you can, be the giver. Be the supporter. Offer to help others where you can.
If nobody asks for favors, that’s fine; go out of your way to show your appreciation for the kindness others have shown you. It sounds trite, but really do pay it forward. If you want to be completely mercenary, then try to see conferences and events as great times to make brand deposits and not-great times to make brand withdrawals.
It’s not "just networking" - making friends is legitimately about becoming closer to someone, such that they grow from stranger to acquaintance, and acquaintance to ally. Be friendly, but be yourself. The more friends you make, and the more effort you put into being visible (so others can approach you), the more you can contribute to the greater community.
So get to know these people. Learn about their work. Listen to the words they say. This means that generally, you have to put in effort. Actually learn their name and pay attention to what they’re working on, and be sincere. Be patient. Friendship isn't Kool-Aid mix.
“Feeding the Beast” refers to when you have to do something for the good of your brand/company/product. Going to events you don’t care about, talking with investors, giving talks, tweeting when you’re not in the mood. Everyone has their own approach to feeding the beast, but the truth is there: you have to make some sacrifices to power the engine.
I personally feel I am when I have run out of the energy to have a sincere conversation, yet continue to "network". Don't decline something because it sounds tedious. Don't run away to your hotel room. At least, not every time. Don't cancel meetings because you're nauseous from nerves. Buck up.
It was two hours after I had given my GDC talk. After four days of navigating the tight-rope of friend-making and networking, just as my nervous energy started giving out, I crashed. Hard. It was like a sudden, full-body experience of the indie shame spiral.
I wasn’t indie enough, wasn’t connected enough, wasn’t professional enough, wasn’t stylish enough, anything enough. I felt I didn't belong, because I failed every possible comparison. Amazing, talented, wonderful people are all around you, and while that's inspiring when you're happy, it can feel damning when you're vulnerable.
I challenge you to recognise when someone subtly ramps up the competitive atmosphere, comparing themselves (or their games) to others, and to ramp it back down. Find ways to be supportive. Raise others up, don't tear them down. Be an example of how to always, always learn.
Define your goals beforehand but be realistic - e.g. if you're meeting a publisher for the first time, don’t expect to walk away with a cheque.
Before any meeting, read up on the other party (person/company). What have they done lately? Anything to congratulate or comfort them about? A few days before the meeting, email a reminder along with your best mode of contact (ideally a cell number) if things change last minute.
At the end of it all, don't take it personally if someone is late to or misses your meeting. They're probably just overworked.
[Tanya contributed to another resource that Pixels made about GDC. There you'll find some interested info about the safe places around the city (and where the bad ones are) as well as some other helpful tips on stuff around San Francisco.]