If you've been to the Game Developers Conference before, you know all of the steps you need to make in order to make it fiscally (and emotionally) possible to go. Taking a trip into the heart of San Francisco isn't cheap, regardless of the tiny corners we all try to cut to save a few bucks here and there. I'm giving a "GDC for Dummies" talk for some students this week and, while putting together the presentation, I started to develop a checklist for myself in order to be prepared. Kick off November by getting done these major tasks, and lighten up your stress by doing so!
The conference actually has partnerships with hotels that are close to the Moscone Center, which can be a huge headache-saver when it comes to being in an unfamiliar city. There are a few things to make sure to do when booking, though, just to make sure you're getting the best trip. Just going through the official hotel partnerships doesn't guarantee a seamless experience by itself.
The number one rule is to avoid the Tenderloin area. It's a section of the city that's pretty close to the conference hall, and it's safe to say that being there leads to (putting it lightly) uncomfortable experiences. It's a part of San Francisco with blatant issues of crime, drugs, and other problems, so if you can, avoid the area altogether for the sake of personal safety and comfort. Folks who have gone to GDC probably each have their own Tenderloin stories, and I promise they'll vouch for this bit of advice. If you do go into the area, especially at night, just go with a group of friends and stick close to each other. There's a good chance you'll be out late anyways, and staying in a group in a foreign city is always good practice.
Keep in mind that you're going to save a lot of cash by grabbing some buds and splitting a room. Just finding one other person to book a room with immediately cuts your bill in half, so start thinking about who you'd like to partner up with. Also, look up reviews of the hotel before you book it. Make sure that you treat it like any other purchase- double-check that people vouch for their experience with the establishment.
A lot of folks going to GDC will book their hotels through the conference partnerships, so rooms fill up fast. The cheapest hotels are the first to go, so make sure to do this soon!
This is pretty straightforward. The longer that you wait to purchase your plane tickets, the greater chance there is for the perfect flight to fill up. The default "cheap airline" is Spirit, but shop around a bit before opening up your wallet. I'm personally planning on doing Train Jam so I only need to get a one-way ticket back to Chicago, and I found a Southwest flight that was $40 cheaper than Spirit and included 2 bags. Not bad. Just do yourself a favor and invest half an hour into looking around at alternative options.
If you have the funds and haven't been to GDC yet (and especially if you haven't been to San Francisco yet,) go a day or two early to see the city! Last year, my boyfriend and I got in Friday night so that we could spend all of Saturday and a bit of Sunday to see Chinatown, the Wharf, and other ecelectic parts of the city. We saw a parade, ate a LOT of clam chowder, rode trolleys, got dim sum, and walked about 2 miles uphill before realizing how much we had explored. If you have the funds to do so, go early. This also helps satisfy that urge to seek some adventure in a new place. San Francisco is a gorgeous, exciting city that deserves its own time, so don't be afraid to give it a full day!
This also gives you the chance to go revisit things later in the week when you need a break from GDC. When you're feeling overwhelmed or just need to get away from the conference, having a little knowledge about the city makes that a lot easier. Just remember that the parties start Sunday night, so as soon as that afternoon rolls around, you're going to be busy!
This is especially for students and younger developers that want to use GDC as a way to kickstart their career. Way too many folks don't start thinking about the content of their portfolio or website until January, and then they spend the entire month panicking. Start planning early, and make sure that the content that you're putting forward is your very best.
When it comes to showing your work, I recommend bringing along a tablet rather than using a phone or (for artists) a physical portfolio. I, as an artist that was reviewing portfolios last year, even prefer tablets over laptops. They're easier to quickly interface with, less clunky to spin around when talking to a recruiter, and less deadweight in your backpack. It doesn't have to be anything fancy- you can get a used Nexus 7 for under $100- but make sure as a golden rule to not depend on the conference hall WiFi. Save all of your images locally, preload your webpage, and make sure that everything that you have to show doesn't depend on internet. Finally getting a chance to speak to someone that wants to see your work only to watch the loading circle spin is the worst feeling in the world.
Also, bring external phone/tablet batteries. I can guarantee you'll burn right through the internal batteries because you'll constantly be using your map and camera, so get some extra juice to keep your tech alive.
Thanks for reading, I hope that these points help encourage GDC-goers to plan ahead! What other tips and advice do you have for new attendees? What did you learn your first year that you wish you had known beforehand?
Feel free to comment with any suggestions or points that you'd like me to elaborate on!