Game Developers Conference 2023: What I Learned, part 1

Creative Scotland gave our indie studio (Bearhammer Games) a Go See Share grant to send two people to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in March 2023. We’re incredibly grateful! I’m Tracey S. Rosenberg, and I came on board at BearHammer to work on administration and grant applications. The other BearHammer attendee was Rachel Cassandro, a junior developer who focuses on level design, and you can read what she learned about the vistas in God of War Ragnarök.

GDC is a major industry conference – they bill themselves as “the game industry’s premier professional event, championing game developers and the advancement of their craft”. Unlike E3, which cancelled all of its 2023 events (even the online ones), GDC roared back from the pandemic with 28,000 attendees in 2023. Here are a few things I learned.

1. Get your badge as early as possible.

The conference was Monday to Friday, and they opened badge collection on Sunday afternoon. This involved two different queues (one for proof of Covid vaccination, which netted you an orange wristband, and the other for the actual badge). While it was annoying to stand in multiple queues, GDC handled the logistics pretty well, with many t-shirted assistants to point clueless attendees in the right direction. It took me around 45 minutes to collect my badge, but it wasn’t like I was doing anything else on Sunday evening, and this meant I could hit the ground running on Monday morning, rather than stand in even longer queues. (I ended up cutting off the orange wristband because it was scratchy and annoying, and re-taped it around my wrist every morning.)

I’m not good at selfies.

2. Make sure your devices understand how time zones work.

Rachel and I, along with our senior producer Tine who also attended GDC, planned to join a conference walk on Monday morning to view some of the gorgeous San Francisco scenery, meet other attendees, and have a meeting with Remangu. Unfortunately, in spite of multiple checks of the starting time, our LinkedIn didn’t adjust properly and we were an hour off reality, which meant we had to rush around in Ubers to catch up to the Remangu folks. Thankfully we all gathered at a very nice coffee shop, which served an enticing orange-juice-and-rose-syrup concoction.

3. Network, even if that isn’t your thing.

It was good to have a pre-established meeting that early in the week, as it got me into the “chat about your studio and ask good questions” mindset. I’m not a person who likes to work a room, but part of the reason to attend this event was to meet people who we could work with, so when I went to the Women in Games event at Twitch HQ, and people started up conversations, I engaged with them. It was even fun! And not just because Twitch put on an amazing spread and had a room full of pinball machines, though that definitely put me in a happy mood. (Also, I would like to thank Gustaf, who let me into the event even though the waitlist had already closed. You are a rock star.)

Thanks to all the networking, and from having my badge scanned many many times at the expo, I now receive many many emails starting ‘Hi Tracey S.’, which shows that everyone’s mail merges with the official conference registration list are working effectively. (Protip: use some variant on your first name when you sign up for a conference, so you can easily sift the auto-emails.)

4. Be judicious about attending unofficial events, especially if you need to pay for them.

Many events sound great, but you’re forking over money based on an Eventbrite description. You may think you’re going to show your demo to people who make decisions, but in fact the attendees are mostly students. (We’re incredibly grateful to the students who tried our game demo! There’s a short video on YouTube if you want to see their enthusiasm and feedback in action.)

Search Twitter and relevant forums to find candid accounts of last year’s events – hopefully this will become easier now that events are returning post-pandemic. Don’t hesitate to contact event organisers before you buy the ticket, and ask them any questions you need to. If they’re charging for entry, you have a right to know what you’re getting.

Above: Tine on the left, Rachel on the right, and a willing volunteer in the middle.

5. Hit the expo early for the good swag, and be nice to the folks who give it to you.

I’m now all set for t-shirts until at least 2026, and my nephew was the grateful recipient of a stuffed penguin keyring and something squeezy and green that looks sort of like a duck, and my mom loves the two pairs of socks that I sent with her Mother’s Day card. The good swag can go quickly, so try to get out there on day one when everyone’s eager and fresh. But also do a sweep around the expo floor on the final day, when people want to offload things rather than drag them back home.

Shoutouts to Epic Games for their efficient queuing system and well-designed t-shirts, and to Anyscale for the two best items of swag in the whole show – a Stojo sustainable collapsible water bottle, and a travel kit with useful things like bug spray, after sun spray, and insect repellant (it’s the item in the photo that looks like a set of whiteboard markers). You can pick up a lot of bite-sized chocolates, pens, and stickers if you just scoot by booths, but make an effort to engage with the people behind the counter. Even if you actually have no idea what their product does (sorry, Redis!), you might have a great conversation.

Part 2 focuses on the business things I learned.

Why not check out Venture’s Gauntlet VR on Tiktok or YouTube?

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