Mobile Mavens

Tips and tricks on how to survive and make the most out of GDC 2017

Tips and tricks on how to survive and make the most out of GDC 2017

One of the biggest games industry events, GDC 2017, is just around the corner.

Thousands of games industry professionals are set to descend upon San Francisco for a week of insightful sessions, networking with peers, conducting business and partying the nights away. (Incidentally, you can view Pocket Gamer's ultimate GDC 2017 party guide right here).

But with so much going on, how can you make the best of the event?

We called up our expert Mobile Mavens for their help and ask:

  • What tips do you have for attendees to make the most of GDC and its networking opportunities?
Jason Della Rocca Co-founder Execution Labs

Jason Della Rocca is the co-founder of Executions Labs, a first-of-its kind, hybrid game incubator and go-to-market accelerator that helps independent game developers produce games and bring them to market.

Formerly, Jason was a game industry consultant focused on business and cluster development, working with game studios and organizations all over the world.

Prior, he served as the executive director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) for nearly nine years, and was honored for his industry building efforts with the inaugural Ambassador Award at the Game Developers Conference.

In 2009, Jason was named to Game Developer Magazine’s “Power 50,” a list which profiles 50 of the most important contributors to the state of the game industry.

As a sought after expert on the game industry, Jason has lectured at conferences and universities worldwide. He also serves on various advisory boards and volunteer roles, such as co-chairing IGDA-Montreal, as an advisor to the ICT Practice of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, and serving on the research management committee of the GRAND Network Center of Excellence

This will be my 21st consecutive GDC. Seems each time is more exciting and productive than the last

My biggest tip for developers is to have a plan. GDC is costly in terms of time and money, and it is wise to know your goals and priorities, and plan accordingly.

I remember my very first GDC, I got totally distracted by all the booth swag, and spent an entire day just wandering the expo floor collecting all the t-shirts and mouse pads.

Of course, there's a bunch of stuff regarding staying healthy (don't drink too much, stay hydrated, carry a snack, bring throat lozenges, etc).

And, make sure your phone is loaded with your materials (trailer, gameplay video, 1-pager, screenshots, art, etc), so you can quickly show your game regardless of platform.

And, spend some time on fine-tuning your one-liner intro for yourself, your company, your game. You are going to get asked a million times, "so, who are you, what do you do, what is your game about". Always best to make a crisp first impression.

There is so much to say... but, one advanced networking tip to share: hand over your business card at the very START of meeting someone, right after you shake their hand. Say hi, shake hand, hand over card.

Their instinct will be to hand over their card in return, and thus you have avoided the often awkward "can I have your card" moment as the conversation is finishing up, or forgetting outright.

Enjoy!

Christopher Kassulke CEO / Owner HandyGames

Forget about staying healthy! Enjoy your life, drink a lot of beers, bourbon, whatever and make friends.

GDC is for sharing knowledge and making friends. It is not a big business event! It is a big family meeting! Be open-minded. If you want check out the talks during the day and check out the expo floor that’s nice but at the end of the day. Party hard!

If you want to make business go to your partners directly and don’t be the 30th guy trying to pitch your game at the day. It will not work. ;)

William D. Volk Chief Futurist Forward Reality

Well, most of the time I travel with a folding bike so I can get to different venues quickly (faster than Uber). This year I am traveling with our CEO so I won’t be doing that.

Bike: PIC

Will Luton Executive Producer Rovio

Go in open: Talk to everyone, seek to learn and enjoy yourself. Do this and GDC will completely reenergise (while draining) you.

Harry Holmwood European CEO Marvelous Entertainment

A 20-year veteran of video games and online space, Harry is European CEO of Marvelous AQL, a Japanese developer and publisher of social, mobile and console games, known for console games like No More Heroes and Harvest Moon, but now highly successful in the free-to-play mobile and web space in Japan and Asia.

A games programmer before joining Sony’s early PlayStation team in 1994, he then founded developer Pure Entertainment, which IPO’d and launched a free-to-play online gaming service way back in 1999.

He was also a director of pioneering motion gaming startup In2Games, which was sold to a US group in 2008.

Along the way, he’s been a corporate VP, troubleshooter, and non-exec to a variety of companies and investors in and around the games sector.

Don't book back to back meetings in the W Hotel because you will lose the will to live by the end of the week.

Jon Jordan Contributing Editor Steel Media Ltd

Bed by 10pm.

Up by 6am for a big, big breakfast.

Always have bottled water and gum.

Spend at least one hour writing down what you've learned.

Don't.

Shintaro Kanaoya CEO Chorus Worldwide

Founder and CEO of Chorus Worldwide, a publisher for Western mobile developers seeking success in the Asian markets, Shintaro has over 20 years' experience within the gaming industry.

He has worked in various roles from game production, localisation, marketing and business development at companies such as EA, SCEE, Rare and Microsoft.

Business: Go in knowing what you want to ask or get. Finish the meeting five minutes early. Write down what you got out of it and how/when you need to follow up. Repeat.

Social: Catch up with people from around the world. Have no more than one beer per catch up. Avoid saying “VR is everywhere but no idea how anyone’s going to make money off it”.

Family: Get to the airport an hour early. Those San Francisco t-shirts and cuddly toys sell out fast.

Scott Foe Chief Product Officer Ignited Artists

As an 18-year veteran of Game Developer Conference, an 18-year veteran of the games industry, and an 18-year resident of San Francisco, I have secrets (and secret places) ...

1. Be truly kind to people: The first thing I say whenever anybody asks me for advice about the games industry is, "It's not about who you know; it's not about who knows you; it's about who likes you and who loves you". And that is SO true. No company has ever made a game; people make games; be truly kind to people and you'll have little to regret in life.

2. Be doubly kind to the organisers: Putting on any event is stressful. Putting on the LARGEST event in the world of the games industry? Trust me when I say that you'd rather take a bath in Tabasco while smoking 100 Camel Blues in a row than be tasked with the challenge of organising and operating Game Developers Conference.

Be doubly kind to the organisers: Instead of giving them shit, how about a bottled water and a sincere thank you for creating memories that we will cherish for our lifetimes.

3. Your game is your name: Your game is your name in this industry; the bigger the game, the farther you'll get with people. Don't get frustrated if the Editor of that giant website seems disinterested in you. Use that as fuel to make bigger, better games.

Have absolutely nothing to do? The W, The Intercontinental, The St. Regis, and The Clift are teeming with games industry professionals.
Scott Foe

4. Your name is your game, and your company: We live in the age of sunlight; nothing stays hidden. One unscrupulous screw up by you could find its way to Twitter, to the press, and to every mailing list in the games industry, costing you (and maybe your coworkers) game sales, a career, and even share price and/or exit value. If you wouldn't say nor do it to your mother, don't say nor do it - this applies outside of Game Developers Conference as well, just to be crystal.

5. Don't Crash Parties: The companies who throw events at GDC have cost/benefit analysed business reasons for doing so, with targeted guest lists aimed at achieving business goals, and they spend more on these parties than most of you reading will ever spend on an event in your life. You don't want some drunken, uninvited jackass burning your hard-earned money at your birthday party do you?! Well ...

6. Haunt Some Lobbies: Have absolutely nothing to do? The W, The Intercontinental, The St. Regis, and The Clift are teeming with games industry professionals. Go be truly kind to people and make some contacts.

7. Never Wear A Backpack: Hey! You! With the giant rucksack walking through the crowded space at Game Developers Conference: Nobody likes you; your mom doesn't even like you. The smartphone in my pocket does more and better than the giant workstations that I used in the 90's to complete my computer science degree, so shouldn't that be enough?

One backpack bump by you could find its way to Twitter, to the press, and to every mailing list in the games industry, costing you (and maybe your coworkers) game sales, a career, and even share price and/or exit value.

8. Find A Quiet Space: Fly Trap, 83 Proof, and Natoma Cabana are sneaky-underutilised fancy bars nearby the conference center. Steffs and The Lark are more downscale sneaky-underutilised options within walking distance of the Game Developers Conference, and, Steffs has an old-timey popcorn machine, making it the greatest bar in all of SoMa.

9. Find Some Food: The Bloomingdales nearby the conference center has a truly excellent food court in the basement. North India is all-you-can-eat Indian food at a reasonable price. Atlas Tap Room has craft beers, good wines, and sandwiches. Archive Bar & Kitchen has pizza - some of which have ghost peppers. Pink Elephant, which is only open for lunch on Fridays, has the best pub food that you will ever experience.

10. Find Some Coffee: Philz Coffee is amazing - like angels are dancing on your tongue. Don't listen to anybody who says that Blue Bottle coffee is better coffee than Philz: Those people are all dirty, dirty liars who have probably never worked in the trenches of a real game production in their lives.

11. Find Some Tea: Like tea? Samovar Tea Lounge: It's like a zoo full of games industry executives. How many publishing deals have hands been shaken on there, I wonder? If Samovar were to disappear, would the entire games industry vanish with it?!

12. Find Some Food After Hours: In need of vomunition?! The Pub, in Aquatic Park, has tremendous BBQ, tasty drinks, and is open and serving everything until 2:00 a.m. Just remember to tip your server before puking outside.

13. Real San Francisco Party, Sunday through Wednesday: Want to find a real San Francisco party on an off night? Look no farther than Madrone, where all of the San Francisco-local bartenders and wait staffs go when they get off of work for the evening. Be careful, those might not be cigarettes that people are smoking outside.

Like tea? Samovar Tea Lounge: It's like a zoo full of games industry executives. How many publishing deals have hands been shaken on there, I wonder?
Scott Foe

14. Thursday Party: On a Thursday, start with Driftwood, where even the wicked cocktails mix wicked cocktails. Then, head on over to Cat Club, for 1984, an 80's theme dance party that is so sweet, it will give you cavities. Madonna wigs are optional, but encouraged.

15. Friday Party: What!? You're still alive after a full week of the Game Developers Conference?! Well, okay then ... #SFGameNight usually throws a wicked party at The Foundry on the Friday of GDC. Board games, video games, fried chicken, and beers will be waiting upon you to geek. Once you get pulled over for kart racing under the influence, 11th street offers a buffet of bad decisions for you to make.

16. Saturday Party: StackOverflowError.

17. Change Somebody's Life: Whenever anybody asks me, "How do I get into making games?" I tell them the real truth, "You have to get REALLY into making games". It never, never hurts to have some help, though. If you are established in the games industry, you have the power to change somebody's life for the better. Do one favor for a stranger at Game Developers Conference this year. Try it. The high you get will be greater and last longer than the high that any of those not-really-cigarettes ever could offer you.

Jared Steffes Co-founder Muxy

Wow lots of good advice so far!

I missed GDC last year and busted my streak at nine years.

Health: I take a multivitamin in the morning, and drink a lot of water with an Emergen-C before going to bed. Use hand sanitiser and don't touch your face. Don't share drinks or smokes. I hate being sick for a week after a conference and this recipe has helped me (knock on wood).

It's okay to go up to someone you contribute to on Twitter. Introduce yourself and your Twitter handle, say you enjoy the conversation points they bring up.
Jared Steffes

Students: Don't tell anyone you are a student, say you are a game developer and show off your game(s). When you tell someone you are a student it unfortunately makes eye balls glaze over. I love helping people, but I want you to hustle and do your homework. It's too damn easy to put out a game.

Friday Expo: I feel this is a worthless day to get any unexpected business done at the expo. It is known as student expo day, and it is usually just lines of people trying to get swag from booths while recruiters take resumes.

Swag: I personally like to bring some things home to my engineers. They act like they hate it, but they always end up wearing the t-shirt or using the charging cable.

Clothes: Hoodie weather 24/7. I will even wear a scarf with my suit coat to help prevent con-flu. I realised while working at EA Chicago that game developers are pretty much rock stars, so dress cool.

Bonus Talking Points: It's okay to go up to someone you contribute to on Twitter. Introduce yourself and your Twitter handle, say you enjoy the conversation points they bring up, and then politely get out of there. You are much cooler in brevity, plus you will likely run into them again during the week at some point.

Oscar Clark Author, Consultant and Independent Developer Rocket Lolly Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

Wow all good points... Here are my top 10 tips:

1. You can never go to enough parties - but use them to meet NEW people not just catch up with friends
2. GDC is a Marathon not a sprint - Sleep is your friend and its ok to sneak back at midnight.
3. Try to take in at least one talk - even if you only have an Expo pass you can usually get into a sponsored session
4. Business Cards are essential to keep track of who you met... You won't remember.
5. Scott is absolutely right that its important to find a nice quiet place outside the hall - makes meetings more effective - my current choice is getting busier every year
6. Generally GDC meetings aren't about closing deals - but they are vital for learning and building relatoinships.

7. Don't forget Game Connection - The meeting system can be very efficient if you surrender to it
8. Take time to look at the indies showing off their games. Something will catch your eye and perhaps change the way you think about your own games.
9. Don't try to do everything. Its now too busy, too arduous but make the most of the experience. Thats what GDCVault is for!
10. My favourite tip is drink bottled lager where possible - its easier to keep your drinking moderate without being too obvious.

Bonus tip! There are amazing breakfast places in SF from Mel's Diner, Lori's, Brenda's Frend Soul Food, Sears, Daily Grill, Pinecrest Diner, and my favourite Dotties! Eating a good breakfast will keep you going despite the limited lunch you will inevitably end up with. It's worth queing for the right place.

Harry Holmwood European CEO Marvelous Entertainment

A 20-year veteran of video games and online space, Harry is European CEO of Marvelous AQL, a Japanese developer and publisher of social, mobile and console games, known for console games like No More Heroes and Harvest Moon, but now highly successful in the free-to-play mobile and web space in Japan and Asia.

A games programmer before joining Sony’s early PlayStation team in 1994, he then founded developer Pure Entertainment, which IPO’d and launched a free-to-play online gaming service way back in 1999.

He was also a director of pioneering motion gaming startup In2Games, which was sold to a US group in 2008.

Along the way, he’s been a corporate VP, troubleshooter, and non-exec to a variety of companies and investors in and around the games sector.

Under no circumstances agree to a 'breakfast meeting', unless both you and the person you are meeting with haven't been to bed yet.

Christopher Kassulke CEO / Owner HandyGames

1. Arrive one or two days earlier and hang out with other devs you know if you don’t know them join local guys and they will introduce you to them (but honestly you should know some guys already) – some are renting boats, some are skiing in the mountains, do bbq in a park, some just driving up Napa Valley or down to the Pacific or enjoying Farmers Market… yes do some touristic stuff if you are there the first time. California is awesome…

2. GDC is sharing knowledge for me. So I normally do no single planned meeting during session times. It is a big difference to watch them later on Vault as you cannot speak to the persons later on or more funny talking to the audience in the room. You can easily meet awesome people in the audience that are same minded.

Keep in mind the big boys normally don’t go to the sessions as they are afraid to show weakness as they don’t know everything. And yes I am damn weak I don’t know everything and I love new platforms, new business models etc. ;)

Keep in mind to eat and drink enough during the whole show!
Christopher Kassulke

3. I do my meetings in the morning for breakfast meeting (be sure your partner will show up – mainly talk to Europeans as they are still in their time zone and awake early anyways), lunch time (just go to not such crowded places see next point) or of course nice dinners in the evening. Do it only with partners you really want to sit down with for 30 to 60 minutes!

4. If you want some normal food during the day and don’t want to waste a lot of time go to the Food Plaza in Metreon or my favorite place is A.G. Ferrari Foods in 688 Mission St, San Francisco. If you have more time you can find good places nearby. If you like a breakfast meetings go to Mels Dinner around the corner and drink orange juice. I like it there. And for Dinner I totally like the Marines' Memorial Club and the steaks there.

5. Keep in mind to eat and drink enough during the whole show! I don’t talk about coffee and the energy drinks you get everywhere. Also don’t try to eat on those mass parties with finger food. Eat a real meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner (that’s why I do my meetings with partners there).

6. Do not make tons of 15 to 30 minute meetings. You will run into each other anyway on the show or in the city at the parties. Or just get some “fresh” air during the days outside the convention centers. Funny who you all meet anyway.

7. Be open-minded and talk to people which are waiting for you before a session in a line at lunch or dinner. Please don’t rush with your sales pitch everywhere and don’t give everyone your business card in the first 10 seconds. I totally hate that if you cannot introduce yourself before a sales pitch or even ask if I want that.

8. Check out the expo floor and play some games from indies or on platforms you never checked out. I totally love the expo and the events around it. Perfect for a time period with not so interesting sessions. And partly it is eye-opening what you can see there or helps you on other projects.

9. Parties a big topic! How much can you handle? How old are you? Do you like alcohol? Do you like to dance or chat? I normally go to two to three different ones after a real dinner. See points above. If I have to stand in a long line I will skip this one for sure (normally you get the information if the party is good, if the line is long on social media from other friends and partners).

Sorry guys if you invite me I don’t want to stand 30 minutes or an hour in a line to come in. I can pay for my beers also alone so why not just hang out with partners and friends in a bar somewhere mainly those parties are the best ones.

10. Write it down. I have my little black book so that I can remember to whom I talked what I should do or just note down one sentence from a whole talk so that I can remember and share the information with my colleagues later on or just put it on my to do list when I am back in the office or check out the talk on vault later on again with the team member I think it makes sense to.

A lot of guys never note down something and forget about what you talked. Also some guys always “forget” their business cards so let them write down their e-mail address in there. ;)

11. The most important thing is WORK HARD – PARTY HARD.

Oleg Pridiuk Evangelist, Defold King

I see people here had very good tips for those coming with very well defined business development needs to GDC.

And this is the right way to approach such an expensive and demanding event, but probably hard to approach for an indie team developing their way across the industry. So let me try to come up with something useful for smaller teams.

1. Try to share duties across your team members. The most introvert person probably should not do biz dev, and the less technical person probably should not discuss SDK integrations. It is hard to achieve, but once you agree on who works towards what directions, I am sure you’ll be able to bring back much more.

Polish your elevator pitch until you can enthusiastically explain how cool and new your game is even if you’re dead in bed.
Oleg Pridiuk

2. Polish your elevator pitch until you can enthusiastically explain how cool and new your game is even if you’re dead in bed. It should still sound exciting, you should sound like you totally know what you’re doing. Everyone and their dog should enter the can’t wait state after you’ve explained your game.

3. Third point is the same but I am framing it from a different angle to highlight the importance. You’re probably not pitching your company, but your game. This means you’re not saying that you're the best company in the world, please outsource something to us. You’re saying 'hey this is our game, we believe in it, if you like the game, lets sit and talk'. I feel there’s no room for more than one statement on the pitch.

Then there’s always vision and long-term, you’ll get these questions, but they happen if and after your elevator pitch has been successful. And it is a very good sign if you’re asked about who you are, I’d read it as “okay, your game kinda makes sense, now can you actually deliver it?” .

4. You’ll be tired, you’ll be trying to look for the right people, someone who’d enable your game a featuring or something. But please be very nice to people. All the people you meet or talk to. Someone is going to carefully listen to your VR game pitch and then would try to sell you ads or something, and they still deserve some love and respect, because we’re in the games industry. It stands on good people.

5. Bonus for those still reading - bullet points! Press, media, producers and other decision-making games industry professionals see so many games, and most of them are often crap.

All games looks the same after a short while, and it is very easy for people to write off your game without giving you a chance. Have that in mind when showing your game and try to:

  • Show the best part within the first 30 seconds
  • Explain why the game is fun
  • Explain why modern market needs this game
  • Let the person play the game (it should be fun, right?)
  • While the person is playing the game, explain the core loop. I.e. in this game you do one in order to two so that you can three.
  • You’ve noticed all the bullets above are the same just rephrased? Yes this is what I am suggesting you do.

This also means if you have a special demo build of your game, make sure:

  • It's okay about no/broken wifi
  • It's very easy to reset/replay each five minutes
  • It has five to ten minutes of gameplay, but the best part of it
  • It has easy ways of showing different aspects of the game and different levels
  • You can turn the god mode on fast and easy

Have a very good GDC everyone and please pop up at PL1 at the GDC Play area to play indie games #madewithdefold by young and talented teams.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.

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