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You know, I love GDC. We spend so much of our working time staring into code, that it’s actually nice to meet-up and share that buzz with like-minded people. With over 20,000 attendees, it is easily the biggest conference for games professionals anywhere in the world, and I feel so privileged to even attend. Some of the large studios make it clear that they’re mostly using GDC to recruit top talent, but for a new start-up, GDC can be our most important marketing activity in the year. It’s pretty expensive flying across the Atlantic for a week, nevermind the cost of the conference. It’s easy to get distracted by everything going on, so I thought I’d share my top tips for how a startup can make the best of GDC.
1. Three-wheeled Ferraris don’t sell
Every startup technology is under constant development. We all try to push our tech and make it better. But if you’ve not left time to add that extra polish and your product doesn’t quite work, or the demo crashes, it doesn’t matter how many half-finished features it has. Your product won’t sell, and you’ll have wasted your time at GDC.
At Mercuna, we’ve been constantly working on our product: improving features, boosting performance, eliminating bugs and tidying up the code. But since about November last year, we’ve been working to get a completed version ready in time for GDC. And that takes some planning, a few late nights, and the discipline to not include some really cool features which aren’t quite developed enough yet. So our version 1 will be launched in time for GDC as a completed product that works as it is meant to work.
But it’s not all about the tech. We’ve needed to get the business side as clear as possible so we know what everything costs, what our customers get for it, and why it’s good value. Those questions might be quite simple if you’re selling a game, but they’re much harder to pin down for a middleware. So our whole first year of development has been about getting the business ready for GDC.
2. Be a Business, not a Fan
Ok, it is super tempting to see all the cool, new game launches, or to stop for half an hour at a stand with some incredible new tech. But that’s not why we’re here. Fun as it might be, this is work and we need to make sure we make best use of the time. So when we see a stand with a cursor controlled by brainwaves, we need to just keep on walking. I normally look for a block of free time in my schedule where I can just wander and enjoy the buzz, but for the rest of the time I just need to make the best of this opportunity. GDC should be fun and I always enjoy it, but it can be too easy to get this balance wrong.
3. It’s all about the meets
I must admit, finding relevant customers to meet is the hardest bit of all, especially for a middleware. It’s a curious thing, but one of the biggest challenges of a middleware is just letting potential customers know that you exist. And that’s why GDC is so important. It’s easy enough to get in touch with people we know, but when we’re trying to use GDC to find new companies, a lot of it comes down to the meeting tool. Which can be difficult to use well. The search function is pretty cumbersome and I never know if someone is thinking about my request, hasn’t logged on yet or has just declined it. It can be difficult to know how many invites to send out so I don’t get overbooked. But I still think it is worth persevering with the tool, as the meetings are the main reason for going to GDC. Personally, I send out invites in blocks of 10 invites so that I can keep control of how many people I am inviting.
4. Don’t just talk the talk, make sure you walk the walk
It’s easy to focus on getting the pitch right and making sure you’re coming across well. But in such a huge conference, you need to make sure you don’t end up walking about aimlessly, wasting time and missing the good parts. You need to plan your days: it’s about attending talks, going to your pre-arranged meetings and dropping in on relevant stands in the expo. And how you’re going to coordinate it all. Don’t be the one who misses a meeting because it took ages to get through the crowds from a talk at one end of the building to a coffee shop at the other end. With over 20,000 people attending, this is real possibility!
So you need to have a plan which talks you want to attend. I’m pretty much interested in all the talks at GDC, so I just limit myself to the ones of direct relevance to my business. There are 2 days of summits before the conference officially starts, and I find these to be some of the most interesting parts of GDC, and there is lots of time afterwards to talk with interesting people who are directly relevant to what I do. There are also lots more talks during the official conference, but at $1000 for a pass, I think this doesn’t provide the best value for money for a startup. Again, I need to remind myself that for a startup attending GDC, it’s about establishing the business.
5. Manage the energy
I think this is my hardest-won lesson from going to GDC. Like many developers, I am quite introverted, which means networking all day can leave me pretty drained. So I’ve learned to manage my time, and manage my energy. I don’t feel guilty about dipping out of the conference for half an hour, just to have a coffee on my own to recharge my batteries. And even though it’s tempting spend the evenings going to one of the many sponsored parties which are laid on, I know I need my quiet time.
So for me, being a startup at GDC isn’t about rushing around trying to meet as many people as possible. It’s about having a really good think about who I need to see, and then focussing on energy management, and not just time management.
6. Share the buzz
GDC happens at the Moscone Centre, but it also happens on social media. Last year, I couldn’t make it to Game AI North in Copenhagen, and felt a bit left out that not much detail came back from social media. So for this years’ GDC, I want to tweet a lot more and share our experiences.
7. The follow-up
If there was one thing that I think almost everyone could improve upon, it’s the follow-up. There’s such a buzz at GDC and we get so excited at all the new contacts we made. But when we look back in 6 months’ time, it’s easy to see that we didn’t make the best of the contacts we made. This year, we’re going to schedule in our follow-up when we get back. Having a team member dedicated to marketing is going to help here, not least just to make sure that we actually follow through with our good intentions.
8. Do the boring admin
I put this at the end because it’s so dullsville, but getting the admin right is critical to a good GDC. We do need to step away from the dev and make sure we’ve covered all the boring stuff before it becomes urgent: book flights, hotels, visas, transport to and from the Moscone Centre, chargers for tablets etc, and travel insurance. Amongst all the struggles of getting a startup off the ground, I could do without a bill from the local ER!
And don’t forget business cards. I’m still amazed we give each other bits of card so that we can email each other later, but I’ve learnt just to roll with it. I like to keep some white space so they can jot down a reminder of who I am.
So that’s all our good intentions. I hope you’ve found them useful and feel free to add in tips of your own. Why not give us a follow on twitter and see if we actually manage to stick to our intention of tweeting throughout GDC.