GDC Guide 2009, Part 1: The First Morning

by Darius Kazemi on February 21, 2009

in conferences,gdc,gdcguide,networking

A few years back I wrote a guide to the Game Developers Conference (part 1, part 2). In some ways, it’s badly outdated. In some ways, things still hold true. So I am writing an updated GDC guide here, which will feature some of the info from the old guide, but lots of new stuff too. I’ll be doing this in parts over the next few weeks — and they’ll all be tagged “gdcguide” so you can view them all here if you like. I’m writing them in order of whatever is most convenient for me to write first. So they may seem haphazard… I’ll reorder them at the end in a summary post, and then probably publish it all to a big PDF.

The First Morning
The first morning of the conference is a pretty crucial one. I recommend getting there very early, likeĀ 7:30am or 8:00am (sessions don’t usually start until 9:00am or 9:30am). Drink a lot of coffee if you have to. I don’t care. Get there early.
What to Do at Breakfast
When you get to the conference, if you show up as early as I recommend, you might be there before they put out the bagels and stuff. That’s okay, because first you’re going to register and get your conference guide. It looks something like this (my 2004 guide):
You’ll notice that I went through and highlighted every session I wanted to attend. This took a long time, maybe 30 to 45 minutes, because I had to read through a couple hundred session titles. This is one reason to show up to GDC very early on the first morning. You can park yourself at one of the many tables in the common areas and work on your schedule. People might even take it as a cue to walk up to you and ask, “Hey, what are you thinking of attending today?”
(Aside: Even though CMP now offers a session builder on the GDC website (not sure where it is exactly), I ignore it in favor of manually highlighting my session guide. I find this way a lot more intuitive than using the online session builder, plus, when you’re there, you can ask other people what talks they’re going to and can coordinate with them: you go and take notes on that talk, I’ll take notes on this talk, and we’ll fill each other in.)
When you’re working on your schedule, it’s okay to be alone. That’s not a failure of networking. But by all means if you see someone you know there, especially if they’re also working on their schedule, ask to sit down with them and you can go over the sessions together.
Around 8:00am, breakfast will be ready. At this point, the place will be filling up — in fact, there may be more people than there are tables. This is good, because one of two things will happen. People might ask to sit at your table, which means you get to say “why, certainly” and then engage them in conversation over breakfast. Or, people will look longingly at your table but not sit down because they think you’ve claimed it for someone else already. At this point, you can survey the people who are seatless, determine who is interesting to you (often a person’s company and position are listed on their passes hanging around their necks), and offer seats to the interesting people and their friends. You haven’t even met them and you’ve done them a favor. You’re off to a good start.
Next time… What Sessions You Should REALLY Go To!


Ian Schreiber February 21, 2009 at 6:45 am

Schedule permitting, I’d actually go farther and pick up the conference guide on Sunday. I think last year they opened everything around 3pm Sunday afternoon.

I would also recommend ignoring the schedule builder on the CMP website, but for a different reason: it changes before the conference. Times change, talks get canceled, new talks appear. It’s just not worth building a spreadsheet only to have to double-check everything against the on-site conference guide anyway. And anyway, what else are you going to do Sunday afternoon if you get there early?

Also worth pointing out for those of us on the East Coast, getting up early on Monday (and the rest of the week) is an easy sell. We’re jet-lagged in the right direction, so if you’re used to waking up at 10 then you’re up at 7 anyway.

As for coordinating with other people (“you go to this talk, I’ll go to that one, we’ll share notes later”) I’ve only had limited success with this in practice. Most people don’t take notes, or don’t go to the trouble of typing them in and sending them out later. You can really get brownie points with people by doing this yourself (I send out a “GDC according to Ian” guide each year) but don’t expect anyone to reciprocate — it’s a LOT of work.

Mark February 21, 2009 at 3:06 pm

So, when people sit down do you talk to them about their schedule?

Darius Kazemi February 21, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Mark: you certainly can. “So what are you going to this morning?” is a perfectly acceptable thing to ask *anyone*, even someone you just met.

Mark February 21, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Right, they’ll probably be making their schedule as well anyway. Do you have any tricks on determining who might be interesting to you, besides staring at their badges, which may be impolite?

Darius Kazemi February 21, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Mark: one “trick” like to use is to say hello, and then ask them what their name is, where they work, and what they do :) It’s not at all impolite to do so at a professional conference. It’s why most people are there in the first place.

David McGraw February 21, 2009 at 9:23 pm

I actually liked the schedule builder last year and I hear it has improved this year. It gives you a good idea of what your week is going to look like. I didn’t have any problem checking it against the booklet when I was at the conference due to it giving me something to do, and something to chat about immediately.

Instead of…

Other: “So what sessions are you going to?”

You: “Erm… Not sure yet, I’m still looking…”

You can immediately be like: “Well, x from company zzxyxx is giving what looks to be an awesome talk about y.”

I actually ended up telling somebody about a session that they were really interested in before they found it in the booklet.

I didn’t run into any problems with changed times or canceled talks. 2008 was the first year the builder was around (I believe), so it’s understandable that some people had some issues.

Andrew February 22, 2009 at 3:39 pm

If you’re down on Sunday, I am pretty sure like last year you can register then (and therefore get the pass stuff) right? Or if you’re going to do wed-fri, you can work on it the day before if you go register.

I think the online one is okay for finding the “must go to” sessions (once they finally upload the times – it’s nearly march and they haven’t yet), but I too like looking through the guide. Helps find the ones you don’t immediately look at on a website since they’re in tracks you rush through or somesuch.

Make sure you have some decent breakfast if you get down early though. GDC only provide basically bits of bread to eat, and sadly not much to put on them.

Scott February 26, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Not sure if this link went up after your blog post or if they were just really good at keeping it hidden. The GDC09 Schedule Builder is here:

Not to undermine your original suggestion, though.

Anonymous March 25, 2009 at 5:05 am

What happened with breakfast this year!? Grrrrr….

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