GDC 2012 tips for students

Here are some tips for aspiring games students heading over to GDC 2012 in San Francisco, as collected from the general wisdom floating around in the air from faculty and fellow students here at Parsons:

  • The purpose of GDC is to meet people. All the talks will have write-ups on all the blogs; a lot of the GDC Vault stuff will be free anyway; focus on talking, enjoying yourself, and being awesome. Don’t think of networking as this totally transparent, artificial interaction — this is one of the few contexts where you’re expected to promote yourself and be lovely, and such behavior is not only accepted but it is the norm.
  • The prices at the “indie hostel” are pretty reasonable, and will surround you with a bunch of fellow students / cool indie developers. There’s also CouchSurfing, which is generally pretty safe and reliable; San Francisco is a CouchSurfing capital, actually.
  • Don’t bother buying (expensive) business cards when you get a free pack of 50 from MOO Cards. The print quality is pretty good and the paper stock is excellent. Make sure you get a white background / with matte finish, so that people can write notes on them, like “hire this person” or “he smells good.” (EDIT: Ian Schreiber recommends for $10 / 250 ct. which sounds decent.)
  • Bring a tablet or smartphone or laptop so you can show / demo your games, or at least show them a game trailer — not just to employers, if you’re going there to look for a job, but to show to fellow developers and peers too.
  • Don’t get the student pass, it’s definitely not worth it. By Friday, everyone’s packing up. Some indies don’t even bother getting a pass at all. There’s also a good chance someone will just give you an Expo pass, but don’t bet too much on it. OR, alternatively, go with a friend and share a pass on alternate days or something.
  • Here are the places where you must eat: Mission Chinese, Ike’s Place, El Farolito.
  • Yes, it will be bright and sunny, but still — BRING A JACKET. There’s a choice Mark Twain quote that goes something like this: “The coldest winter I’ve ever faced was a summer in San Francisco.”

5 Responses to “GDC 2012 tips for students

  • I’m all for free business cards ( offers nearly-free cards as well) but seriously, you expect a box of 50 to last all week? Bring 250 on your first trip. Running out of cards on Wednesday makes you look like a n00b, when you want people to accidentally mistake you for an actual game developer 😉

    Passes are expensive, and I guess going “halfsies” with a friend might be the best one can do at this point. For next year though, plan ahead. A pass is very achievable on a student budget if you actually save up for it a year in advance (and next time your family asks what you want for holidays/birthday gifts, “money to go to GDC” is a great response). Then there’s the Conference Associate program and IGDA Scholarships, both are such great deals and there’s really no excuse not to apply to both. Also keep in mind that with the alumni discount (which stacks with the early bird discount), the second year is MUCH less expensive than the first.

    On bringing a jacket: make sure it’s waterproof, too. Much greater chance of rain than snow.

    On the subject of hostels, note that if you’re already going with a large group (4-8 people) it’s worth looking into renting a hotel suite instead. Big room, awesome amenities, and on a per-person rate it’s cheaper than a standard room for one. Still not quite as cheap as hostels, but if you’ve got SOME discretionary funds, the better night’s sleep and closer proximity (so you’re more refreshed each morning) is worth it.

    Lastly, Darius Kazemi has a ton of articles on social networking in general (and GDC in particular) which are not hard to find with Google. Find them and read them all.

    • Yay, comments that aren’t me!

      re: business cards, it’s always a weird ritual to me because, uh, what do you do with them when you have like 100 of them from other people? And for giving out cards, do you just spam them out or should you be selective?

      I’ve linked to Darius’ articles here, for everyone’s convenience:

      • What to do with 100 business cards: some of Darius’s articles go into that. Basically, you have some system in realtime of keeping track of who these people are and if you need to follow up with them on anything. Then you use the cards to follow up. (e.g. if you’re in a conversation with someone who mentions, btw, we’re hiring… yeah, you want to shoot them an email a few days after you get back!).

        As for being selective, no. Don’t think of it as “spamming” your card any more than you “spam” a handshake by shaking everyone’s hand when you meet them. Half the time when you’re in a conversation with someone they’ll just give you a card anyway, the other half you can just say “oh, right, we should probably exchange cards” and get it done. If you’re having a conversation at a lunch table with a bunch of people, usually someone will start by dealing out a card to everyone, then everyone else will follow suit. Easy.

  • Nice roundup, and some good advice. I’d like to add one thought for those who are concerned about the pass prices–if you’re a student studying games, it may be worthwhile to consider the costs of attending GDC in relation to the cost of just a couple credits at your current educational institution, then consider the potential educational/career benefits. Chances are, they’re significant.

    You can learn as much about the industry in a week at GDC as you could in a whole semester in a classroom (and several things you’ll never get in a classroom). If you don’t have the money then you don’t have it, and economize where you have to, but if you think you can scrape it together, then remember that the chance to see and be seen and meet and mingle with professionals in your chosen field, and learn from their ideas and expertise, might be a benefit worth paying for.

    Also: if you do find yourself at GDC without a pass that will let you into sessions, resist the temptation to attend the free sponsored sessions. Just don’t do it!

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