Friday, February 24, 2017

GDC Advice for young first-time attendees, 2017 edition

I remember when I was totally bewildered and disappointed at my first GDC. Since everyone is doing little advice columns / threads on Twitter, I thought I'd chime in with my own shit. This is a bit of advice and info primarily for young people (ages 15-30?) going to GDC for their first time:
  • If you are a man, assume every woman you meet is a developer. Never ever ask a woman whether she is "in games" -- don't be so fucking basic, of course she works in games, she's at GDC! Women at GDC are not your mom and they are most definitely not your girlfriend: women are your colleagues. The secret is to understand women as skilled experienced professionals. Instead, you could ask:
    • "What are you working on? What's your current project? What was your last project?"
    • "What do you think about [area of expertise]? What are your thoughts on [related game]? Did you go to [related GDC session]?"
    • "Go to any good talks? See any cool stuff? Go to any cool parties last night?"
  • This is a business conference. If you're not here to "do business" or sign some deals or have meetings, then the conference is going to be kind of boring, and it'll be up to you to entertain yourself. On the other hand, if you do have something to show, this is a great time to try to talk to a publisher about a deal / getting a console devkit / getting some VR money.
  • When requesting business meetings / making appointments / approaching people, err on the side of doing it. Awkward first meetings are expected at GDC. Assume that you and your project are worth their time. If the meeting isn't a good fit, then let them decide -- they will quickly wrap it up, they're used to it... but also, use your judgment and don't annoy people if they don't look receptive.
  • Business cards exist to end conversations politely. If you ever want to leave a conversation, just make an excuse, offer your card, and then leave. Everyone knows this is bullshit, but the effort you put into this bullshit ironically indicates that you do give a shit.
  • If you ever have to choose between going to a talk vs. hanging out with people, you should usually choose to hang out with people. All sessions are recorded, you can always just watch it later or read a summary. (Personally, I've never regretted missing a talk.)
  • Stay aware of how tired you are, take short naps in the Mild Rumpus area or the park, and remember to eat enough. If you're hungover, you'll probably just have to drink a bunch of immune boosters and coffee, and try to hold it together until Friday.
  • If you are manning an IGF or Alt.Ctrl booth, it is totally OK for you to put up a "back in 30 minutes" sign and take a break, or maybe ask a friend to cover for you. Some people even just setup a looping video trailer and leave. The drawback is that you might miss some possible press coverage and interview opportunities.
  • Lunch recommendations near Moscone:
    • For the cheapest lunch, there's a new Trader Joe's grocery store near Market St.
    • The Sentinel is a popular sandwich stand 2-3 blocks away from the park, mostly frequented by nearby office workers. Don't go too late in the day, or they'll run out of the best stuff.
    • The Sushiritto is a giant sushi hand roll shaped like a burrito. It is a trendy overrated bourgeois abomination that you should try at least once.
    • Wise Sons is a trusted local deli with amazing bagels and lox, pastrami, and reubens -- and they have a convenient (but kind of pricey) lunch counter inside the Contemporary Jewish Museum, no museum ticket needed.
    • Zero Zero is a nearby kinda-pricey sit-down pizza place that's good but also pretty crowded. But if you haven't had pizza recently, it might be worth it.
    • Tu Lan is a popular (and cheap) Vietnamese lunch place, several blocks away. Cash only and no frills, but amazing deals. Good options for vegetarians and vegans too.
    • Miss Saigon is another popular Vietnamese place but it's more of a sit-down place with lots of seating that's good for groups. It also has pretty cool decor, and there's always something weird playing on the TV.
  • Monday and Friday are the quietest days. Wednesday is usually the biggest busiest day, that's when the expo floor opens and the awards shows happen later that night. A lot of indies usually leave after the first show (the IGF) to go catch a quick dinner before their party plans.
  • If you can't get into That.Party, you can often pay at the door / talk your way in... there's also literally like a hundred other less-crowded bars and parties to go to, it's San Francisco!
  • If you don't care to be around alcohol for whatever reason, then loitering around the "indie hostel" (HI San Francisco Downtown) is probably your best bet for a low-key hangout with other young indie game developers.
  • Yes, sex sometimes happens at GDC. It just probably won't happen for you, though. It's OK, there's a hundred other things to do.
  • Annual free GDC traditions:
    • GDC Run is a casual morning running group for people who want to get a little exercise and meet other light runners.
    • Lost Levels is an unconference that I helped found, and is now entering its 5th year. It usually skews pretty young and indie. Check it out on Thursday at noon in the park, and be ready to give a talk!
    • GDC Feet is a playful walking tour led by Richard Lemarchand on Saturday after GDC. You usually end exploring sights away from Moscone Center. Past years focused on Land's End / Sutro Baths / some scattered beaches / Musee Mecanique. Great way to end your week with some communal sightseeing. Follow the hashtag to see where the meeting point is.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: It's OK if you're not at GDC. Yes it can be fun and exciting, but it also has plenty of boring disappointing moments. If you read Twitter you'll feel like you're missing out on a lot of fun stuff, and you certainly are, but you're also saving yourself a lot of expense and hassle. It'll be OK.