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Go to GDC. Do Not Pass Go.

Authored by Ichiro Lambe of Dejobaan Games
A colleague recently e-mailed me to ask if she should go to GDC. If you’re just starting out as an indie (she weren’t, but that’s another story), and are on the fence: if you can go to GDC and not starve, go to GDC. Here’s a slew of thoughts on why/how, especially on a budget:
GDC Pass
Holy crap, it’s like $1500, and that’s the discounted rate. You could buy a new computer for that. But the IGS pass and the Expo pass aren’t bad at $325 and $195, respectively. I typically snag the IGS pass. And if I had no pass ($0), it’d still be worth my time to go because of the people I’ve met outside the con. Read on.
Your Built-in Network
You already know a bunch of people going to GDC, which is a great start. These people are grand, and they also know other people who are grand. You’re probably zero degrees of separation from the woman who runs the Indie Megabooth. She’s important (in part) because she brings together enough indies so the likes of Apple, Google, Valve, and Sony come by to visit everyone. As a result, she knows everyone. She’s also a punk. Whatever. My point is that you’re currently part of a friendly, awesome network of folks you don’t know yet.
Networking
When you’re out there, connect with everyone you know, and find out what they’re up to. We’ve been setting up a GDC-Devs mailing list to coordinate events. We call out for food (“Who’s up for Shalimar?”), beer (“How big can the indie Katamari get?”), random hallway rants (“I started my own session on how much Intellivision still rocks.”) and chat sessions (“We love F2P P2P IAP” or “Strategies on getting your games noticed by the press“). Caroline doesn’t like to brag, but it’s there that she hunted down John Graham and gave him a noogie (but only after securing $1M in funding).
Big Parties
They’re fun, and you feel all special going to them, but I find the smaller ones more useful. YMMV.
Room
There are a number of hotels nearby, but you can also rent out entire apartments via AirBNB. Places go quickly, but we’ve found comfortable, close-to-Moscone-Center ones for about $50/person/night. You could stuff more people into them (to an extent) if you like sardines.
Your Stuff
Business cards, an elevator pitch about your studio, and a build of your game (“Give it a try?”) are all great ways to start conversations. At a recent conference, Raph Koster strapped Eitan into a chair and placed before him a game he’d written on the plane ride over. That was the beginning of a conversation on game design; and implicit to it was the new knowledge that Raph was an approachable dude. Similarly, why not bring your handcuffs? Do it. And once the con’s over, don’t forget to follow up with these people via e-mail, LinkedIn, or Facebook.
That’s all I have to say about that. Indie life’s getting harder; the sky’s falling; go meet everyone before it’s too late; yadda yadda.