Heading to GDC for the first time is an exciting step for any business.
As the world’s largest meet-up of games industry expertise there are 27,000 attendees and 500 sessions to choose from, so the possibility for making business connections is almost endless. The sheer scale of the event is a double edged sword – our advice is to accept up front that you can’t meet everyone you want to so you’re going to need to prioritise and target.
More broadly, travelling to San Francisco costs, not just in terms of flights and hotels but also your time and energy spent outside of your business. Factor in the prep work before and follow-up afterward, and suddenly a week in California becomes just the tip of the iceberg on your time, finance and energy investment. Maximising the return on your investment is the key, and this takes preparation. A great start is to really think about why you are attending GDC in the first place.
Who do you want to meet and why?
Networking is all well and good, but if you are running your own studio and funding your own trip, you’ll want a detailed breakdown of your ‘why’ to pull out some objectives from who you meet. Whether you want to attract a publisher, soft-launch a game or shop for new partner relationship, all of these start with making the right industry contacts. Whoever is on your target list really focus your efforts on who you want to meet, where you are likely to find them and what you want from the meeting. At the same time be ready with what you are bringing of value to your new contact – it’s a two way street, so do your research and be clear what’s in it for them.
To play Devil’s Advocate, ask yourself whether your objectives are achievable without travelling to California. Opting not to go could save yourself a lot of time and money but on the other hand, the convenience of having everyone under one roof could mean it takes a only few days to meet people it would otherwise take weeks of diary-tennis.
Diarise key meetings, but don’t over-book
GDC can be overwhelming even for seasoned attendees, so it helps to have a few key meetings booked before you go to anchor that day’s purpose. Logistics come in to play here so plan your routes to avoid walking (literally) miles back and to meeting points, so download the maps and get your bearings before you arrive. If you haven’t met before, be super-clear about how you will identify your target person - a bit of preparatory homework printing Linkedin pictures can really help here, or download the Linkedin app and use screenshots to help. Bear in mind that one of the benefits of almost the whole industry being in one place is the opportunity for chance meetings and discoveries, so allow plenty of gaps. Keeping too tight a schedule could prove unfeasible when you’re on the ground, especially if someone cancels or you run late. Make sure you have a way to contact someone directly if you need to reschedule.
Make notes and don’t be shy
It’s unrealistic to expect that you will remember everyone you meet so whether you type in to your iPad, use your camera phone or notate a business card, make notes as soon as the meeting is over to jog your memory. When you get back to the office a little reminder – such as ‘bought a coffee’ or ‘firm handshake’ – can really help you place them. Meeting new people is a huge part of GDC so while you’re on a roll don’t be shy about introducing yourself to some of the speakers and bigger names in the industry. You’ll often find they are generous with their time and can offer a nugget of insight in their sphere of expertise if you get them talking.
Ready your tech for travel
Whatever happens at GDC you will be spending a lot of time on your feet and walking round so travelling light, especially around your tech set-up is a key consideration. Some great advice I received was don’t wear new shoes! Filter down your devices to the essentials for the floor, and if possible leave larger items in the hotel-room. If you are demoing a game to new connections, watch out for things that could cramp your style such as a slow WiFi network. It’s a good idea to have a back-up options on your device such as videos or screen shots, just in case the wireless network lets you down. Go out each morning fully charged and keep a USA adapter on you so you can use any charge-stations while you’re out and about. Finally if you have stuck with a New Year mission to get in your 10,000 steps, don’t forget your FitBit - your bragging rights could soar that week.
Don’t just be there, be seen to be there
Even if you run an indie studio without the luxury of a marketing department, don’t let this stop you getting the message out that your studio will be at GDC. Content is a key driver in engagement and trust of any brand, and your studio is no exception. The contacts you’re making will be much more receptive if they have already ‘met’ your brand through social-media. Anyone who doesn’t know you will Google you, so run a check on what comes up and make sure you have a great online footprint and Linkedin is up to date.
Social media will help you push your game, connect with your partners and can even attract talented people to come and work for you. Blog, Tweet, Snaphat, Pin or Insta what you’re up to. You can even stream to the world on Facebook Live! If you work this smartly social media doesn’t need to take up too much time. Before you go set up a stack of regular status updates using a tool like Buffer and pepper in some real-time posts form your device a couple of times a day – maybe set a reminder in your phone. Don’t forget to get seen by everyone interested in GDC by using the hashtags linked to that event #GDC17, or the people you are interested in. Before you go follow all your target contacts on Twitter, retweet and ‘like’ them now and again and keep up with what they’re posting about the event too. The balance is to avoid stalking, but be interested in what they have to say.
Though the primary focus of GDC is the Conference there are lots of informal social meet-ups and parties going on throughout the week which are listed on the GDC website under Events. The local hotel bars are also full of delegates so if you’ve done a bit of research you might even be able to schedule in a breakfast meeting with some key contacts away from the melee of the show-hall. Don’t forget to reach out and connect to other studios in the same boat as you too. One must-stop visit would be 1416 South Hall to the UKIE stand who will be hosting a number of UK based studios. Whoever you meet and whatever your aims, enjoy this fantastic event and have a whole heap of fun!
This article first appeared in Develop Magazine in print and online edition here