GDC 2016 report by Tijmen Tio

Tijmen Tio was one of the winners of the Student Grant for GDC 2016. In this report he shares his experiences, so others can benefit from the things he has learned.

Going to GDC as a student

GDC is over and I have been jet-lagging for a week. It has been such an exhausting yet fun and inspiring week!

I set out to promote the new game collective I started along with Tom van den Boogaart, Rubna and Aran Koning. The collective was supposed to be a small indie company in which we all make our own games but share the stress and financial hurdles that come with commercial game development.

My main goals were to:

  • Meet up with as much other game developers/artists/audio designers/etc. I know from Internet groups and social media as possible. A good way to start getting to know other developers is to become active on forums such as TIGSource and GameJolt. Post everything you make and interact with other members. You should also definitely become active on Twitter! Every developer is on there, so it’s a good place to meet them digitally. Once you get to know more people, it’s likely that people will invite you to closed groups on slack or other websites. These places usually are brimming with information on events such as GDC.
  • Get acquainted with inspiring and successful people. There are a lot of people that inspired me to become a game developer myself like Messhof, Cactus and Matt Thorson. I knew that a lot of them would be attending because I asked around. Meeting your heroes is one of the most motivating things in the world. Plus, you never know, it might lead to something in the future!
  • Hang out and create personal bonds with journalists. Writers for big sites like ‘Rock, Paper, Shotgun’, Indiegames.com and Polygon get a lot of review requests every day and it’s hard for a lot of people to get good articles about their games. So it’s really useful to have good relationships with big game reviewers since you will be able to pitch your games to them in the future!

Visibility in the game industry is very hard to achieve and also very important to have to maintain success. In acknowledgement of this I tried to meet all these different people at GDC. Having met face to face really adds to the memory of each other. Our collective has shown potential from all the feedback we had online, but we needed to get out there a little bit more. Just enough so we won’t have the trouble of chasing after elusive journalists/publishers/etc.

However, don’t try too hard. No one likes shallow people. Trying too hard to get befriended with people you don’t even like is also very mentally exhausting.
Being aware of someone’s work/how valuable they could be to you is important, but friendships that are based on actually liking each other and being actual friends will eventually be far more valuable to you.

Going to GDC is something you should definitely prepare yourself for. How to do that depends on what your goals are. In my case, I wanted to meet the people I mentioned. So I checked whether they were going to GDC and when/where exactly, asking on forums or directly through Slack, Twitter or Facebook. I also was able to ask some Dutch friends because I met a lot of them throughout the years going to Dutch events. Network is something that expands exponentially, so you can never start too soon just going to small nearby events!

One of the best ways to prepare is to ask people that you know have already been there for advice. For example, there are a bunch of smaller events and parties surrounding the main event that you need to get tickets to as well. These events usely get sold out pretty quickly. If you want to meet people it kind of helps a lot if you know where everyone is and that you will be there as well! Tickets normally cost around $10, but are sometimes free. Knowing what parties to go to is difficult, there could be 15 on the same night! Websites such as pocketgamer.biz keep track of what parties there are. There is also a Facebook group called the “GDC, E3 and Gamescom Party Schedule” that you can join where party-related information is shared.

Keep track of social media in the months/weeks before so you don’t miss out on anything big. The one you shouldn’t miss is THAT.PARTY. It’s the party that everyone wants to go to and sells out in 10 minutes or so. Be sure to head over to www.that.party on time! I didn’t get a ticket in time even though I set a timer. In that case don’t be shy to ask around on the Internet.
Normally people tend to buy multiple tickets so they can give one or two to friends that didn’t get a ticket.

One of the things I struggled with was that I underestimated how much time you need to properly prepare. For example, I ordered business cards that took a bit more than a week to be delivered. After that I thought I could print stickers of our collective as well. However, the delivery time was a week longer than the business cards, which at that point was just a bit too late.

Getting information on whether the people I wanted to meet were going to attend and where they were going to took me weeks as well. If you want to set up meetings you’d better do that 2 months in advance as a lot of people are fully booked pretty quickly. Send whoever you have a meeting with a friendly reminder a week before so they won’t forget about it.

Another thing I did in preparation was making a short video of the games from our collective. The best way to explain what you do is to be able to show what you do.
Try to come up with these ideas on time. Do a little brainstorm well in advance so you have time to do the things that need to be done. In my case, recording gameplay footage, editing, uploading it on youtube, having to find a way to download a youtube video to my iPhone and finally buying an extra battery for your device.

There are a bunch of other things that you’d need to prepare for, such as getting a converter for your plugs. You should search up lists of useful travelling equipment.
Don’t underestimate how time-consuming this all can be!

Eventually we had a great time making new friends that we still have contact with and are able to help us in various ways. We now have people we can contact at big game websites such as Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Indiegames.com, publishers such as Devolver Digital and we’re receiving offers to showcase at events by different organisations like Juegos Rancheros. Going to GDC really got us out there and is something I’m very glad I didn’t miss!