I Survived my First GDC!

Blog Posts ,Events ,Virtual Reality
March 4, 2017

It’s 11am on the Saturday following my first-ever GDC, and I’ve finally gotten a bit of time to sit down, collect my thoughts, and finish up my 2017 recap series for this year’s Game Developer Conference.

First of all – as much as I really loved the talks that I got to see, in my experience, the main benefit of large conferences like this one is the rush of endorphins that you get from being able to express your excitement about something you’re passionate about with like-minded people from around the world. Not only do you get a chance to learn a lot – you get the opportunity to share new ideas, see what’s on the front line of new technologies, experience things from experts outside of your usual circle of influence, and try out a bunch of novel experiences in a rapid-fire format. In no other format is there the same degree of expertise and enthusiasm brought together like a conference.

oculus and facebook booths at GDC in 2017

Virtual reality completely dominated this year’s expo. Oculus (with Facebook), Epic Games, Google, Amazon, Snap, and a ton of VR-based startups were there demoing a variety of technologies and tools around immersive tech.

I spent Monday and Tuesday at the talks during the days aligned with VRDC, though I ended up focusing more on education and non-VR talks than specific ones to virtual reality. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to work closely with people all over the immersive technology industries, so I figured I’d use the opportunity at GDC to take a bit of time and think outside of the box, and I’m so glad that I did.

Day 1 Recap & Notes

Day 2 Recap & Notes

In addition to the sessions that I attended in the first two days, I got to spend time at two really great networking parties, the VR Mixer on Wednesday and the Women in VR Mixer on Thursday evening. I definitely overestimated how much I’d be able to get to – as much as I love to spend time with people and talk online, I’m actually pretty introverted, and on Wednesday I started getting the GDC Germs – a combination that meant I capped evening events to one per night to make sure that I could get everything done throughout the week that I needed to. I didn’t get a chance to say hi to as many people as I had wanted to, and I now know for next time that there is a lot of value in scheduling things in advance.

Daydream booth at GDC 2017

Daydream headsets ready to demo as the show floor opens on Friday morning

Takeaways

  • Balance! The week will be miserable if you are constantly feeling like you have to make decisions that go against what you want to be doing. For me, I get huge spurts of inspiration at these types of events, which usually means that there’s a day or two where I disappear to get heads-down in code before some of the parties. Consider what your top priorities are for the week, and plan accordingly. Some people I know limit themselves to the Expo floor and parties, some don’t even get passes to GDC, opting instead to go for the events hosted by communities around the venue, while others are talks-only and skip out on some of the nighttime networking. There’s no right or wrong answer – it’s important to build the event for you.
  • Be ready to face FOMO. Unless you’re hiding the technology to be in multiple places at once, or have a time-turner, you aren’t going to be able to do everything. There will be conflicting talks, conflicting demos, conflicting parties, conflicting groups of people you may want to network with. See point 1: do the best you can to build the event you want to attend for yourself, and know that everyone has to make similar trade-offs. It’s okay to not be everywhere.
  • Take notes and share them! Some of my most rewarding conversations this week were with people who weren’t able to attend a particular session, but appreciated having notes to catch up with later. It’s always cool to read someone else’s takeaways from an event, and adding a fresh perspective is even better. Being part of a community where knowledge is being shared generously is an awesome part of conferences that I’d love to see embraced more in the future.
  • Be prepared to wait in lines. If you want to try something specifically on the expo floor, be there right at 10 and go straight to it. When I stopped by the floor Friday morning, I was in the mass of people entering right at 10am and the lines to try VR experiences at Oculus and Sony were already about 15 people deep by the time I walked by the booths. Be prepared to build wait time into your schedule if there’s something you think is a can’t-miss, including talks: There were lines of 100+ people for some of the more popular talks on Monday, and in many cases, people seemed to skip attending a session before one that they really wanted to see in order to make sure that they were able to get into a later talk.
  • Know your pass. There were something like 10 different types of passes for GDC and VRDC, and while I never had an issue myself, there were a few scenarios that I saw play out: 1) people wanting to attend a session that their pass didn’t cover (this happened quite a bit to folks because the “All Access Pass” didn’t actually include the talks for VRDC) and 2) people with limited pass types for a specific summit getting priority access to those tracks over people with full conference passes. If you attend GDC, make sure that you have a good sense of which talks you want to prioritize, and check ahead of time as part of the schedule.

All in all, I had a really fun week, but it was definitely exhausting and I now understand the idea of “con crud” – as I sit here sipping tea and sneezing, I know that next year I’ll be a bit more prepared. Overall, I left the conference having connected with new people, learning a lot, feeling continually inspired, and ready to make more amazing VR! A huge shout out and thanks to the organizers of the VR Mixer, SVVR and SFVR, and the organizers of the Women in VR mixer, the Women in Gaming mixer, and the conference itself.

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