Advice for Attending Your First GDC

March 20, 2015 – Originally posted on

Earlier this month I attended the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco for the first time along with several other members of the Game Developers' Group at IUPUI. I was honored to receive an All-Access pass as one of the inaugural IGDAF Intel Scholars , and so I was able to experience all that GDC had to offer and more.

Unless you had a time-turner, there's more things to see and do than you could possibly have time for. It's easy to get burnt out, especially if it's your first conference. Here are my tips to make the most of your GDC experience, starting with your preparations.



Unless you live on the west coast, you're probably going to fly to GDC. The sooner you book your flights, the more choices you'll have and the more money you'll save. Additionally, you may save money by flying in to Oakland instead of San Francisco.  

Because GDC takes place in winter, you'll also want to keep in mind the high possibility of delays due to winter weather. Delays of more than an hour are not uncommon, and flights may take longer than estimated when flying from east to west. Longer layovers are better than missing one of your flights and having to wait overnight (or longer) for a new flight. 

Even if you aren't already planning to travel with a group of people, you can often find other developers in your area to coordinate flights with, which is a lot more fun than traveling alone. One great example of this is Train Jam , where over 100 developers make games during the 52 hour train ride from Chicago to San Francisco. More than 50 games were created and showcased at GDC this year. I didn't get the chance to take part in Train Jam this year because I learned about it after all of the spots on the train had already been filled, but this is a fun and unique networking opportunity that I look forward to being a part of in the future.

Once you get to San Francisco, there are several ways to get around the city. For travel to/from either airport and for larger distances, I recommend using the BART. You can also use the MUNI for transportation within San Francisco.

If you're going short distances, Uber and Lyft are popular alternatives to taxi services. They often offer special discounts during GDC in addition to their referral code system. If you've never used these services before, you can click either of the links above to get $20 off your first ride. This is especially useful if you're traveling through a sketchier section of town for a party.



There are a number of hotels offering deals for GDC attendees, which you can book with through the travel section of the GDC website . You may also consider booking through an alternative service such as AirBnB . You can also save a considerable amount of money by splitting the cost of a room with other attendees. 

One thing that's important to keep in mind when choosing your lodging is location. Northeast of the Moscone Center where GDC is held is an area called the Tenderloin (shown in the map above), which is known for its higher crime rate. I would recommend choosing a hotel outside of this area unless you are staying with several people and can walk in groups, particularly at night.

I stayed at the Hotel Bijou, located on the edge of the Tenderloin, along with several other students from IUPUI. We paid about $250 each for the week and were very satisfied. Space was a little tight, but it's conveniently located near the Powell Street BART station and was only a 15 minute walk to the convention center.



There are several types of passes you can choose from when attending GDC, so I recommend reading their descriptions on the official website, but here's a quick run-down of the three passes you're most likely to choose from:

Expo Pass:  This is the cheapest pass. It gets you into the expo hall (hence the name), career pavillion, and a few sessions that take place Wed-Fri. While there's a limited amount of things you can do at GDC with this pass, there is still more than enough to do to fill your time both in and around the conference (read part 2 for a list of other events going on locally).

There's also a special expo pass for students that is only good for Friday, but you should avoid getting this pass if at all possible , because the conference will be swamped with local students on that day. In addition, if you're struggling financially you can enter the Low Income Pass Lottery  or apply to volunteer at the IGDA booth  to potentially receive a complimentary expo pass.

Indie Games Summit Pass:  This is a step up from the Expo Pass in that you get access to sessions on all five days of the conference in addition to access to the expo hall and career pavillion.  It's still quite limited, however, on the number of sessions to choose from each day, which means that these sessions often fill to capacity. There are a limited number of these passes available and they often sell out before early bird pricing ends, so buy it early if you decide that this is the pass for you. You can easily get a full GDC experience with this pass, especially if you plan on attending a few events in the surrounding area.

Summits, Tutorials, & Bootcamps Pass: At half of the cost of an All-Access Pass, this pass is the most likely to give you a full, rich GDC experience. There are an overwhelming number of interesting and educational sessions to choose from, including the sessions that are available to IGS Pass holders, as well as access to the expo hall and career pavillion. The majority of sessions I attended fell under this category.

There are a number of other ways to receive passes and other aid to attend GDC, including numerous scholarships and the Conference Associate program. It's worth noting that many of these awards and programs also include additional mini-sessions and networking opportunities that are not available to other attendees. It's also important to keep in mind that many of these have very early deadlines, so plan accordingly.