My friend and fellow Sound Designer Tom Maddocks is off to GDC this year for the first time and emailed me asking for some advice. I've relayed (an edited version of) our conversation here in case it's useful for anyone else.
Please note, I'm definitely not saying this is the right way or the only way to do GDC, but it's what I think helped me get the best out of it. Your mileage may vary!
Hope all is well, again gutted that you won't be coming to GDC this year. Just wanted to ask you a couple of things for a first timer. Are there any must-go to parties that I need to sign up for to try and attend? I'd quite like to go to the G.A.N.G awards is this part of the audio pass anyway? Or should I speak to someone like Kenny to find out?
When you guys went out for the evenings were you hanging around a specific area? I'm looking at staying around Union Square I'd kind of like to avoid long late night walking, I think I'm only a few blocks from the Moscone centre. Is it pretty packed schedule in the evenings from Monday to Friday just wondering how much downtime you get? I assume it's as much as a choose but a rough idea just helps me plan things, as I would like to see some of San Fran as well
Sorry for my delayed response. All is well, thanks. I'm also gutted I'm missing GDC but bigger things are in motion. Hopefully by 2018's GDC I'll be living just down the coast, so should be able to make every single one after that.
So, parties. The parties are all pretty much recruitment events, so you want to hit up recruiters. Last year, the Blizzard party was particularly awesome but they're all pretty good fun and more often than not, open bar! Find recruiters on LinkedIn and just email and ask if they're having an event at GDC and if you could attend. Frame it as "you'd like to expand your network and meet more people in the industry", in my experience, it's not hard to get an invite. Also, if you know anyone at companies, ask around! Also, helpful: https://twitter.com/gdcparties Oh, and just register for EVERYTHING. They're free to go to and if you don't show up, it doesn't matter. And absolutely go to this if you can http://www.eventbrite.com/e/everything-is-going-to-be-ok-aka-that-venus-patrol-wild-rumpus-party-tickets-15218002455 it's the place to be. Add yourself to the waitlist but ask around too, maybe someone can get you in.
In regard to audio hangs/parties: I have what I assume is an uncommon opinion, in that I think you shouldn't bother with audio parties. This isn't to say you shouldn't hang out with audio people during the day and talk shop, but the audio community is pretty tight outside of GDC, and the blogs, articles, talks, etc always end up making it out to the community anyway. I feel that I was a better sound designer for seeing talks on design or art, and you meet people you might not otherwise attending these talks. So what I'd advise you do (and this is absolutely just my opinion, definitely not gospel of what to do at GDC) is hanging out with audio folks during the day (Damian will be holding hangouts at the Carousel every day for lunch, that's always lots of fun) and branch out for the events at night, and meet some programmers/designers/artists/other developers. This is the event where all the other disciplines come together, a good chance to make some new friends and let other people know what audio can contribute to a project, something audio folks are used to hearing.
So for the audio events like GANG awards etc, ask audio folks. I didn't do much of them in 2014. Kenny Young will know everything official that's going on cos he's on the GDC Audio Advisory board.
The evening events all tend to be very close to or within walking distance of the Moscone, so staying pretty close is ideal. We stayed here in 2014: https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/The+Orchard+Hotelemail@example.com,-122.4061247,16z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0xad3af12910f1a1f2 and I think it was probably still a bit too far. You end up going back to your hotel for naps or changing clothes/shoes or charging your phone and you don't want it to be too far! The Sightglass Coffee house where Damian and Anton hold the morning audio meetup is pretty far from the conference centre and Union Square, so you just have to stomach the morning walk every day ;) it's usually a good way to wake up and if that doesn't work, Sightglass's coffee will.
It's a really busy schedule, non-stop, but only if you want it to be! I was exhausted by Friday so was taking it very easy. Again, I'd emphasise talking to people and hanging out over seeing talks. Talks will be on the GDC vault after the fact, but there's no way for you to have those conversations in the halls and around the Moscone after GDC is over. We went 9 days, on the first day we went and saw Museé Mechanique and the wharf, and the last day we saw the Golden Gate bridge. I also got lucky enough to go with a friend who had rented a car and see the Redwoods at Muir Woods but that took a bit of planning and someone who knew the way. Just be prepared not to sleep much if you want to do everything! Coffee and youthful energy will see you through ;)
My three bits of advice I'd give you off the top of my head:
1. If your phone is unlocked, get one of these: https://www.readysim.com/ I got the 1 week deal and it was a lifesaver for seeing where everyone was and what they're doing. The conference wifi is very busy and only available in the conference centre, so you ideally want something like this to use phone data anywhere. If you're on 3Mobile here, you should already be able to use data abroad.
2. Get something like this http://www.anker.com/product/A1104011 and charge it every night (and I can recommend Anker, their stuff is great). Phone charging was the most common reason for me heading back to the hotel every day, better to avoid it if you can. I also kept my notifications on for every service (email, text, twitter @s and DMs, etc), good to know what's going on and where people are hanging out but it definitely contributed to my battery going.
3. Take comfortable shoes and try and take a minimum of stuff out with you. You're on your feet for LONG periods of time every day, and that shit is TIRING!
(Ok more than 3 bits) Don't be afraid of just emailing someone on Twitter or LinkedIn directly if you want to meet them. This is the one event of the year where it's probably ok to do that.
#GameAudioGDC on Twitter will be your friend, keep tabs on it at all times! Meet some awesome people! Have an awesome time!
If you've any more questions, let me know, and have a great time!
P.S. A very close friend of mine is giving a talk and he's one of the most talented people I know. If you fancy catching someone outside of audio and design, go check this out http://schedule.gdconf.com/session/art-direction-graphic-design-is-key