Game Developers Conference in San Francisco is the most important industry event of the year, everybody is there. It also demands so much mental and physical resources from you to both prepare and shine at the event. And you cannot do just OK, you shall shine and outshine yourself. The next chance might happen only at the next GDC.
These are my survival guide bullet points, please add yours in the comments.
To take the most out of the event, it makes sense to set a very precise goals and overall prepare well in advance. Name 1 reason you’re there and 3 stretch goals to achieve: “we went to GDC to achieve X in order to Y”.
Go register online and build a very optimistic schedule, according to your pass allowance. There's always a tradeoff between the meetings you can hold, networking you can do and sessions you can attend. I guess the schedule can just second as a reminder for you to watch the important talks on the GDC Vault (or when they're available on YouTube) later.
Here's my schedule for the whole week. It may overlap with meetings and other events. In fact, I'll be happy to attend 30% of those, but having this by hand helps me to prioritise and have daily bullet points in this week long marathon. As you see, I am all into game engines and underlying tech.
Bonus knowledge: Autodesk and King are to announce and launch new products. Probably it should be cool to be there.
Parties is where the networking happens. Try to get RSVP to as much parties as possible - you’ll choose as you go. Search Eventbrite for “GDC" or try Pocketgamer's guide.
Everyone is overbooked at GDC, especially press. If you need any media attention - pitch in advance (one week is too late, but better that right on the spot). To pitch late is better than not to pitch at all.
There’s a BART train from the airport straights to the downtown. Costs around $5 using the vending machine at the SFO station, easily findable. It has an Arithmometer-like interface with a very refreshing UX. The taxi from the airport is $50-60. Uber is a bit cheaper.
Get cash. San Francisco is not credit card friendly, and even in bigger chain outlets you're unable to use a pin protected chip card but fallback to swiping and signing. Your bank hates it and blocks your card each time a swipe on another part of the planet happens? Mine too!
People often arrive on Monday, and till Wednesday schedules are on the lighter side, so do repoke someone you want to meetup with a place to meet around Union square.
The “real GDC” starts on Wednesday and finishes Friday at 3 PM. Second chance to get hold of busy (yet deadly-tired) people is Friday after 1 PM. Benefit from it. Often this is the time when busy people remember they haven't visited the expo area yet. So don't pack early, if you have a booth! The most important meeting might happen last minute.
Oh, and stay safe. Pickpockets are skilled in the area, and people with GDC badges are known to be easy targets. In fact, hide the badge and may be even walk in group around the area. Especially in the evening. I am not being over cautious here. Really.
Talk to every middleware provider you use or are interested in potentially. Get contacts, find your sales rep, ask for discounts and beta groups. If not for immediate, than for later opportunities. It is very often that emailing a sales person you met in some 6-7 months after the GDC gets you a better price than just buying things on the website.
Talk to peer devs. There’s so much people in the industry who had done whatever you’re trying to do - that's invaluable source of experience and inspiration. Find them at their talks, poke them over twitter, hang out at the parties.
Good nutrition is vital to get you performing at your max. You probably won’t get much chances for a good meal, so arrange cereal bars, protein bars, but not energy drinks - walking zombies are getting out of fashion.
Once you want to allocate 20 minutes of relative silence, there's a Whole Foods supermarket next to the Moscone. Eat there - there's a salad bar, hot meal options, my favorite vegan pizza, quite eatable sushi boxes and more. Just be sure to skip the official lunch break - the queue itself would be 20 minutes at Whole Foods.
Yerba buena gardens and W hotel lobby are very good for catching the right people. If you have someone specific in mind and cannot really get hold of them - try hanging out at these spots. Maybe route through the Samovar lounge sporadically.
Marriott Marquis has a huge two-floor lobby, lots of meetings are happening there. The upper lobby is often utilised by press and bloggers surviving bulk pitches and mass-reviewing beta builds. You may try your luck in getting onto TouchArcade and Pocketgamer pages as well.
I've got a handy map for you:
Write a post mortem. Publish it on Gamasutra blogs for us learn to remember the good and the bad.
Seek GDC/UBM media on social channels of your preference, they publish some of the GDC videos for free. Watch these - almost as fun as House of Cards or whatever is on your Netflix favorites =] Probably...
Did I forget anything important? Any more tips?