And so it begins...
It’s Monday 17th March at 11pm San Francisco time, 6am UK time.
Despite being in a zombielike state of exhaustion, I’ll be documenting my experiences as an indie developer at GDC starting now. I’ve never done anything like this before, so I have no idea what to expect, and I’ll be trying to post on a daily basis to share my experiences with you all. I’m also going to experiment with vlogging (its what the cool kids do right!) because I foresee being pressed for time and it should take me way less time to hack together a short video of what the hell is going on.
So far all I’ve managed to do is get to America, but that in itself has been something of an operation, so that’s what I’ll be talking about.
Day 1 of my GDC adventure begins with an unnerving amount of nothing to do. I’ve been so geared up for my GDC trip that I’ve already done 99% of my preparations and all that’s left to do is just GO! But that’s only been possible with the seemingly endless prep that’s been going on for the last few months.
- Have a demo
- Have a website
- Get business cards
- Book a flight
- Book a hotel
- Get an ESTA
- Get travel insurance
- Arrange meetings
Now, Hidden Armada are only going to GDC because of the support provided by SDI (Scottish Development International), and they are also responsible for giving me a ton of insight into what I need to do to have a successful event. I’ll be passing on what I now know for any other indies in the UK planning a trip out to GDC, although most info will apply wherever you hail from.
Step one was fairly obvious, make a game. Hidden Armada haven't been around for very long and Mutiny has been developing fast over a very short period of time and we’ll be going into the background and dev progress 'soon'. The demo we’re showing at GDC was built in 10 weeks, and is about the minimum level of development we’d be happy showing. This meant taking every last moment for dev and using the macbook to build the project for PC, which thanks to Unity has been relatively straightforward in testing. Although I don’t get to find out the reality of it until tomorrow.
All in all the dev period was… tight, and worth noting the efforts the team went to to get it done alongside thing #2: the website.
This very website was an absolute must for us, since we’ll be networking with people from all over to take us seriously, despite having less to show than most other devs since we’ve only existed for 3 months or so. Still, we're here, and we're as ready as we could have hoped to be! Lastly in the ‘materials’ prep was business cards, which was the easiest of them all, but still essential for any meaningful interactions at GDC.
Flying to San Francisco can easily cost £1000, which would still sting our poor indie pockets even with the support from SDI, but I was given a tip from a GDC veteran and advised to book during the British Airways January sale, and it drastically cut the price of the flight over. The flight itself was pleasant, a meal provided that was actually tasty, and a whole pile of movies, tv shows, and music provided (I watched Frozen and Thor2! :D). I avoided paying for the convenience of in-flight wifi at £10 an hour/£20 for the whole flight, although its bordering on reasonably priced for a 10 hour flight.
Booking with BA also guides you straight into booking an ESTA, something which I’d never heard of. Its essentially a permit to enter the US, and it costs $14. SDI informed me that less trustworthy sites would have you pay far higher for one, and that trying to enter the country without one means that US customs will laugh at you, and DESTROY YOU. So get one.
Finding somewhere to stay was a long and tedious process of checking places on TripAdvisor while also not breaking the bank, and staying away from the dreaded ‘Tenderloin’ district. The Tenderloin is what one dev described as “like walking onto the set of The Wire” which gives a pretty clear indication of what to expect. It sits smack bang in the middle of where you’ll be likely to stay during GDC, so it’s worth looking up the area and plan routes accordingly. Just in case you do get stabbed, or suffer less dramatic health issues, you should probably pick up some travel insurance before you head out, since even simple medical procedures can cost thousands of pounds.
Finally, booking meetings! Since meeting people from other companies is kind of the whole point of GDC. SDI provided us with a stand to exhibit from, allowing us to use GDC’s conference interface to book meetings with other attendees. We’ve had our pick of game devs, publishers, tool developers, marketers, audio engineers, and everything else besides! As long as you know what you're looking for you'll probably find it. Booking meetings is a slow and time consuming process, and currently I have no idea how they’ll pan out. I got turned down from a bunch of companies and turned down a bunch myself, but this is all part of the experience and knowing what you want to get out of the event will help you have a better time. I’ll be meeting around 20 companies in a formal setting, and many others outside of the GDC booking system.
So… that’s about the size of it… a pretty long post for a day where nothing really happened, but I hope its been educational.
Tomorrow, I get to register for the event, and (hopefully) install the current build of Mutiny on the PC. Maybe even take in some of the sights and sounds of San Francisco, but all of that after some well deserved sleep.