(This post was mostly written by Seth, with some edits by Sam and Adam.)
EYYY! We are back from the Game Developers Conference (GDC)! WE DID IT!
GDC is one of the largest conferences for game developers in the world. Something like 25,000-30,000 nerds (like us) descend upon San Francisco for a week to attend talks, show off weird gadgets, play with weird gadgets, talk shop, and share lots of drinks and stories.
We've been to GDC three times (including this year), and we're finally starting to figure it out. So we thought it'd be cool to have a post-GDC "lessons learned" INFOBLAST!
We planned to do this through our podcast, but Sam and I came down with what is commonly referred to as "The GDC Plague." We both have been fevering, fatigued, coughing, and shooting face-goo all over creation. So we figured this wouldn't make for the most ideal podcast, and we decided to instead hit it via the good old-fashioned BLOG format! So get your Blogpants on. It's time to get learny.
Lesson 0: Why are we here?
Some people might tell you that you should decide why you're going to GDC, and then plan your trip around that. WRONG! Unfortunately you don't get to decide why you're going, because when you get right down to it, there is only one reason to go to GDC. And that reason is to make friends and connections with people who can help you succeed as a dev (and who, in turn, you can help to succeed!).
Game development is super hard work, and the industry changes month by month. There's insane competition, the hours are high, the pay is low, and there are only a few winners. In such turbulent times, the best way to survive is to get people into your corner who can help you along on your journey. GDC is a magical moment that grants you the opportunity to meet hundreds of those people.
Forget about parties. You can go clubbing while learning nothing about making games anywhere, anytime, for the entire rest of the year!
Forget about going to talks. Those talks are available online for $495 per year, which is an embarrassingly large amount of money, but a week at GDC is a lot more money than that, and you won't even get to see all the talks you want to see anyway!
When you go to GDC, your #1 goal should be to meet people. BUT HOW?
Lesson 1: Capture the Power of Twitter
At GDC, you can meet people from all walks of life, doing all kinds of interesting things in the games industry. You can meet mobile devs, console devs, people who run storefronts (like Steam), people who make the tools you use (like Game Maker), musicians, artists, programmers, storytellers, and, of course, ad companies. Thousands upon millions of people from ad companies.
For us, though, when it came to meeting new people, our first two GDCs were punctuated by an undercurrent of frustration. We wanted to meet other devs who we could talk shop with. But nobody knew who we were, and nobody was interested in finding out. The number of ignored emails and tweets we sent out was mind-boggling. We got snubbed by other developers constantly.
This year, then, we set out with a new goal. We decided that we would not do that to other developers, and that we would be as open and welcoming as possible. So on the first day, we did some digging to find good, semi-quiet, open spaces to go sit down. And then began the tweet train. We sent out generic tweets using the #GDC16 tag, announcing where we were going and inviting anyone else to come along. Those first couple days, if you were following the GDC hashtag, you'd see us. We kept an eye on that tag as well, and we made it a point to respond to anyone looking to meet people.
Sure, most of our tweets and messages went ignored (such is the way of the internet), but we managed to meet a lot of great new people anyway. The evening of the first day, we rounded up about 10 other developers at a relatively quiet bar, where we had drinks and shared our experiences.
The next day we did the same thing, but at a semi-quiet coffee shop called the Workshop Cafe. Once again, we managed to pull together a group of about 10 people and hung out for the afternoon, drinking coffee, working on games, and sharing ideas. It was FANTASTIC!
We kept up the trend throughout the week, constantly replying to people's tweets and asking if they wanted to meet up, or announcing where we were going and inviting others to come along. It made for a busy week, because any time we didn't have pre-planned meetings, we were organizing ad-hoc get togethers with anyone who would sit down with us. But still... super worth it.
Lesson 2: Develop a Brand and Stand Out
You probably don't put a picture of your face inside your games. So even if you've made something that a ton of people have played, people at GDC may not know you when they see you. In fact, you should assume that no one knows what you look like. So go out of your way to help them find out. Otherwise you'll miss opportunities to meet people!
On a side note, no matter who you are, you are not so important as to be offended when someone else has never heard of you or your game, or can't recognize your face in a crowd.
Some people get around the anonymity problem by having a wild mohawk, dying their hair blue, or having some otherwise identifiable characteristic like brightly-colored glasses. For us, we made it a point to wear our black shirts that have "Butterscotch Shenanigans" emblazoned across the chest in bright, vibrant colors. Indeed, most of the people we met at GDC said hello to us first because they saw our Butterscotch shirts.
And whatever you do, be consistent about it on all platforms on which you are visible. If your thing is having a red mohawk, make sure that red mohawk is visible on your Twitter profile and anywhere else you're going to be active online during GDC. If someone sees your tweets, then they see you, you will be familiar to them, and they are more likely to come say hello. Or if you send out a message saying that you're going to be at X coffee shop, people will know which person at the coffee shop you are, and they can come sit down and chat.
Come up with an identifying mark, make it known, and wear it loudly and proudly!
Lesson 3: Record everything!
Ever discover a business card in your wallet and say to yourself, "WHO IS THIS PERSON?" We all have. But really, there's no excuse for it. If you got someone's business card, that's a person you actually met with, probably shook hands with, and chatted for at least a minute or two.
But the human brain is stupid, and it trashes most of what goes into it. Our solution to this problem was to create a Google spreadsheet. At the end of each day at GDC, we got together and discussed all the meetings we had throughout the day and all the people we met, and we compiled all their information into our spreadsheet. We recorded details like where/when we met them, what game they were working on, their role at their studio, etc... When we finally got home from the trip, we then had a detailed recounting of every person we had met, so we could later reach out to that person as needed.
It is super important to record these details as close as possible to when you meet someone, since you'll meet so many people that things can get muddled quickly. This is made even more problematic by the fact that most people's business cards, like the people themselves, don't carry consistent and loud branding to stand out. Don't be one of those people: if we hold your business card up to your person, each should feel like an appendage of the other.
This spreadsheet will also come in handy for next GDC, because we can shoot all these people an email asking if they're going to be there next year, so we can catch up in person.
Lesson 4: Ibuprofen
If you're running around all day, walking for miles and miles, rushing to get to meetings, carrying a backpack around, and drinking through the evenings, chances are you're going to have some kind of soreness, aches, and pains. Get ahead of the pain train by popping a couple ibuprofens in the morning and a couple in the afternoon. Drugs are great! (Also, we aren't you doctor and you should never take our advice on medical issues. Obviously.)
Lesson 5: Parties? Meh.
There are a lot of parties that go down at GDC. And by parties, we mean parties. Insanely loud music that makes it impossible to speak or hear, dim lighting, bustling crowds that make it difficult to move, expensive yet weak drinks... the works. At GDC, every company and their parent company, and every loose coalition of humans, is throwing a party of some sort.
There is no good reason to go to one of these. As an experiment, try the following:
- Climb inside the trunk of your car. This will simulate the crowdedness and poor lighting, and eventually the smell. The only allowed light sources are your phone screen and glowsticks.
- Put on some headphones and turn the music up as loud as possible. It should be physically painful. Bonus points if you feel blood running out of your earholes, and extra bonus points for every day of tinnitus that follows.
- Continuously scream over the music, as if attempting to communicate with someone. Most of what you say should come in some form of "WHAT!? SORRY, I DIDN'T HEAR THAT!"
- Drink a series of very weak alcoholic beverages, and burn a $10 bill for each drink. Bonus points if you spill it on yourself!
- Look at an endless series of low-res photographs of human faces.
After 2-4 hours, climb out of the trunk. If you can still talk or hear, you probably didn't run a good enough party simulation. Jump back in the trunk!
Finally, make sure you have several super important business meetings starting 6-12 hours after finishing your experiment.
Now, have you grown as a game developer?
SIDE NOTE! There are some "parties" that are actually more social get-togethers. These are good, because you can actually meet people there and have a normal, human conversation. Before you go to anything labeled as a "party," try to figure out which category it falls under.
Lesson 6: Talks? Meh.
Every year we go to GDC, we start off the week super pumped about the talks. Then we go to a few talks, and we become substantially less pumped. Then our pump runs out and we don't go to any more talks.
Whatever the case may be, we would argue that you shouldn't go to GDC if your priamry goal is to see talks. For $495 you can get an annual pass to the GDC vault online, which allows you to watch every talk that's ever been recorded at GDC. Even if you had an All Access pass to GDC for $1500 (or whatever astronomical amount), you wouldn't be able to get to all the talks you want to see, because as a human person, you are only able to occupy one space at one time.
So just get the online pass! Plus, if you're watching a talk online and it turns out to be bad, boring, or inapplicable to your circumstances, you can just close the video and move on to the next one, and nobody gets upset.
GDC is an amazing week and can be incredibly helpful to you and your studio, but only if you recognize the point of it all. You're there to meet people and make connections. So take it seriously and put on your GAME FACE! After all, an opportunity this good only comes around once a year.
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