This article was originally published on LinkedIn as 'A Newbies Guide to GDC and San Francisco'. You can read the full version here.
With GDC 2015 just around the corner, I started to reminisce about my first ever GDC and how I approached it. I was the very definition of a newbie, landing in San Francisco for the first time as a lone representative from my company, with zero knowledge of the city or the conference and practically no contacts in the wider industry to help lift me out of the disarray.
I was armed only with my excitement for being there, my love for exploring and my almost insane passion for meeting new people in the games industry. As it turns out, those things are more than enough to get you everything you could want from GDC. Regardless, I thought Id throw together some of the lessons I've learned over the past few years, and highlight some of my favorite places for anyone who wants that little bit more knowledge in their toolbox.
The GDC day-to-day
First of all, and most importantly, bear in mind that GDC is huge. This can be super daunting for a first timer. It takes over the massive Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco and the entire area is abuzz with thousands of games industry folk. The atmosphere is non-stop electric, filled with debate and deals being made, people handing out flyers and promoting parties. It is absolutely awesome. Get your game face on, your business cards in an easy to reach area and go introduce yourself to the first people you see. A great way to break the pre-GDC newbie nerves and get you started.
Places of interest
The Moscone and the W Hotel
The various halls of the Moscone will be your home for the next few days. It's useful spending a little time between talks getting to know the layout and keep up to date on Twitter with what’s happening and where (giveaways, talks or networking events). When it comes to networking though, the games industry elite head to the impressive W hotel bar at the mouth of the Moscone.
The lobby bar of the W Hotel is a contact boosting treasure trove, so be ready to mix and mingle with the power behind the industry. A great place to show off your stuff, meet potential investors or simply hang with a Martini and tick off names in your games industry who’s who guide. The W Hotel bar stays packed out for the duration of GDC and, whilst its outrageously expensive, it’s a justifiable premium for the value of potential conversations to be had in there.
The Thirsty Bear
Literally across the street from the W Hotel is this superb watering hole. Given its proximity to the Moscone, the Thirsty Bear is also a great networking hub, especially later in the evening when people migrate from the dining tables to the bar area. They serve one of the best selections of craft beers downtown and it’s very reasonably priced too. A great place to head after you’ve maxed out your budget in the W hotel and want to switch to a more manageable bar tab.
The Marriott Downtown
The Marriott hotels are the favorites of games industry execs worldwide. The Marriott hotel bars are therefore always packed with top contacts. Its pretty generic, its expensive, its corporate, but when GDC’s in town there always seems to be a great buzz around the lobby and bar areas and again, it’s a top spot to mix and mingle with the decision makers.
Parties, oh so many parties
Now this is what really gets me excited! There's nothing quite like the evenings at GDC. There are so many parties going on, from the major headline superclub exclusives, to the intimate open networking events in smaller downtown bars. For me, this is what makes GDC stand out and what gets me pumped up during the long flight to California.
There will be numerous events taking place every night, and if this is your first GDC, you should work hard to get invites to as many as possible in the run up to your visit. Keep an eye on Eventbrite leading up to GDC, subscribe to GDC party Twitter channels and fire messages to anyone you may know who could open a few doors. Push yourself to meet key people at the parties as they may just be your pass to a more exclusive party later on in the night or week.
Never be afraid to ask around, anytime day or night, “where are you heading tonight” and follow it up with “can I tag along with you!?” A couple of sentences may open so many doors!
- Get a posse together: It’s always great fun to explore as part of a group. Meet up with contacts or quickly build a social group with people you meet there and then. Utilise social media to find others who share your interests and arrange a hook up. Hit the conference and events together and share your experiences. Groups tend to open more doors than solo artists.
- Sleep is for the flight home: whatever you do, don’t go home early and don't lie in. You will miss too much. Push yourself as far as your energy levels will allow – you’ll regret it afterwards otherwise.
- Don’t try walking too far: Google Maps is so deceiving in San Francisco. Whilst locations look close by, you have to factor in those hills. Those calf-muscle destroying hills. Taxis and Uber are a way of life in SF, use them if in any doubt.
- Dress to impress in the evenings: San Francisco is a super cosmopolitan place, but there can be pretty strict dress codes in the evening. Its worth dusting off your nice shoes and avoiding any embarrassing moments after a long queue to get into that party you've been looking forward to.
- "Nerd Bird" Networking: Networking begins at home! The flights out from many major airports to San Francisco on the lead up to GDC are usually packed with great potential contacts. Chat to people waiting for your flight in the departure lounge, chinwag whilst queuing for the in flight toilet, start making connections early. You never know when they are going to come useful.
Lovell's full guide includes advice on places to eat and drink, and activities in San Francisco is you have any spare time.
Don't forget, the March issue of Develop will be on the show floor all week, giving you the chance to get your company in front of thousands of GDC attendees.
And if you want to meet up with our Deputy Editor Craig Chapple at the show, email email@example.com.