Five Tips for a Successful GDC

The Game Developers Conference is coming up next week! Depending on your mindset, this week could either be an amazing spectacle filled with new friends, great opportunities, and inspiring experiences, or an anxious nightmare of self doubt, self loathing, and reclusive nights alone in your hotel room. I’ve been lucky enough to experience both of these over the past few years. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your time at the Moscone Center.

1. Don’t worry about making it into the “right” parties.
Your goal over the next week is to meet as many new people as you can. Any opportunity to expand your network is the “right” party. Don’t fret about not finding your way into some private executive party. Going to a bar with some friends and random GDC acquaintances can be just as fun and memorable while building stronger ties.

2. Make friends with students.
One of the things that always blew my mind is the number of people who don’t value talking to students. Trust me, you want to make friends with students. Think of it as an investment in your future. You never know where someone’s career is going to take them. Today they could be a student talking to you about one of their class projects, but in a couple of years they could be a combat designer on God of War (true story).

3. Go see the IGF Finalists.
Talk to the developers. Tell them how great their games are. Seriously, these developers are just normal people (like you) who happen to have made something cool. Ask them questions. Find out their inspirations. Why did they make this? How did they come up with this bizarre mechanic? Pick their brains. Get inspired.

4. Go out, even if you don’t drink alcohol.
Bars, parties, and restaurants. So much networking happens outside of the convention center you can’t afford to miss these ample opportunities. Just because you’re at a bar doesn’t mean you have to drink. However, I highly recommend holding a beverage. It will help you relax, feel less awkward, and actually make you look more approachable. Order a Coke, Sprite, orange juice, whatever. It’s definitely okay not to drink alcohol, a lot of people don’t, but don’t use that as an excuse for not going out.

5. Talk to strangers.
People will tell you that going to GDC is about attending talks and learning from experts. That’s a lie. You can watch talks after the conference via the GDC Vault. Going to GDC, actually PHYSICALLY being there, is about networking – making connections with people you wouldn’t have otherwise met. This is what makes GDC so valuable.

The problem is that we have this notion that networking is hard. We’re socially anxious. We’re awkward. We’re not interesting. Why would someone want to talk to us? We understand that networking at GDC is important, but we don’t know what the hell we’re doing. So instead of going out and making friends, we go back to our hotel room, we throw on the TV, and we hate ourselves for our social ineptness. Making friends seems so easy to everyone else, why do we suck at it? The spiral of self loathing begins. Why did I spend so much money to come here? I’m not making the most of this experience. I suck.

These are lies and excuses we tell ourselves to justify our lack of action. I know. I’m speaking from personal experience. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s some tips and techniques to network like a pro even though you don’t know what you’re doing.

5a. Remember: We’re all nerds.
You’re at the Game Developers Conference. It doesn’t get nerdier than that. Thankfully, this is something we can use to our advantage. You immediately have something in common with every single person you talk to – a passion for video games. When you have something in common with someone, talking to them becomes infinitely easier. You can always ask them about their favorite games, what they’re currently playing, or their thoughts on bastardizing beloved IP’s by adding f2p mechanics.

5b. Take the initiative.
I look at networking at GDC like diving into a pool. It’s awkward for the first few seconds, but then you get used to it and it’s no big deal. Warm up by talking to people who are standing alone, not talking to someone. Chances are, they want to talk to people, but they feel awkward. Walk up to them, say hi, and make them nerd out. If this seems intimidating to you, bring a friend.

5c. Make them nerd out.
Conversations are easier to have when you’re not the one talking. Ask them questions. What do you do? Where do you work? What’s your role? What projects have you worked on? How long have you been doing that? What did you do before? People love talking about themselves. Get them to nerd about how awesome they are. Everyone has a story about how they got into games and most are willing to tell you if you ask them about it.

GDC really is what you make of it. Get out there, make friends, and have a great week.