How to survive GDC 2018 (Updated)


Moscone centre from above, GDC

This post was originally published in March 2017 and has been updated for this year’s GDC. See our plans and sign up for exclusive merchandise at our booth.

The Games Developer Conference (GDC) in San Francisco isn’t a cheap date. Just to get into the Expo costs $200-$250, let alone the $2,000-$2,500 for the access-all-areas pass. Super-developer Rami Ismail has written that visiting GDC, for an African or Southern Asian developer, can cost the equivalent of $80,000, when purchasing-power parity is taken into account.

But, if you’re reading this, you’re probably already going (or at least making a flying transatlantic visit to the welcoming US customs desks.), meaning that your money’s spent, and now you’ve got to make the best of it! And, unless you’re Bobby Kotick, you’ll need to get more out of the trip than just meeting your billionaire pals in the bar of the W hotel. We’re going, so here’s our guide to getting the best out of GDC.

Crowds at GDC

This then, is a guide to surviving GDC, what to see, and how to Escape From S.F. with your pride (mostly) intact!

Making friends &c.

The number one question about GDC is ‘Where are the parties?’ normally followed by ‘how do I get an invite?’ and ‘how much is a ticket?’

The  best ways of finding events are:

  1. Eventbrite (that link finds tickets in San Francisco)
  2. Brandon Boyer’s Google Calendar (updated regularly via Twitter)

The best parties – Marioke and That Party – sell out fast, but even busy happenings periodically release more tickets.

At GDC itself, the crowd is fairly friendly. The three main areas of the conference have different levels of access – the cheapest expo pass will get you into the two main halls (where our booth is!), but not into most of the talks. Plenty of developers don’t even buy that pass, but just head to nearby hotel bars – if you want to go industry celeb-spotting, the W and the Continental are where the richer types hang out.

Usual conference etiquette applies – so if someone doesn’t seem interested in talking to you, please don’t push it. If someone does fancy a chat, the Yerba Buena Gardens on top of the Moscone Center itself (the conference venue) are a good, sunny place to go for a break and a chat.

Yerba buena gardens waterfall

Nom Nom

Improbable’s local guide John Strine (a former resident of the city by the bay) has many food recommendations, specifically the city’s numerous and varied food trucks (his favourite snack is bacon-wrapped hotdogs from the carts outside the Mission bars – “if you’re not opposed to bacon, hot dogs, people, or carts.”)

His top tips for culinary delights are the Arizmendi bakery, the In & Out Burger, and Little Star pizza. If you love sourdough bread, go to Boudin near Pier 39 to see the crazy bakes they have in the window, including life-size Alligators or King Crab-shaped loaves. And, though Chinatown is justifiably famous, “Eric’s in Noe Valley has the best Chinese food I’ve ever had in my life,” says John.

Arizmendi bakery, SF

Oh, and drink in the Mission. (Not in public, except maybe Dolores Park, unless you like getting arrested.)

Downtime / Consumerism

If you’re wise, you’ve planned your trip so you get some time off in the city. There’s tons to do. If you’re looking for free or cheap fun, the sea lions at Pier 39 are good and Clarion Alley is great if you love street art. Riding the cable cars is cheap not free. And people-watching in the old Beat cafes, like Cafe Trieste or Vesuvio, is pretty low-cost (if you don’t start buying rounds.)

If you love your museums and art, John recommends visiting the Yerba Buena, De Young, Cal Academy of Sciences, and MoMA. (Sadly, if you’re just getting round to booking now, you might have already have missed Alcatraz.) For the best views of the city, he recommends Twin Peaks, Coit Tower and Mount Davidson. And if you just want to see a weird-shaped street, walk up Lombard.

Vesuvio Cafe San Francisco

Going further afield, Ocean Beach might be close to the city but it can be pretty dirty – instead, we’d recommend Baker Beach (unless you’re averse to the occasional nudist). Our guide John’s favourite, though, is the aptly-named Fort Funston – he says “it’s great to visit if you happen to love dogs and beaches.” If you’re able to venture out of the city, go to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, Muir Woods, or the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The city centre is pretty good for shopping, but if you’re looking to get some music, you need to head up to Haight. Amoeba and Rasputin up there are the best places for vintage vinyl. For Anime / Manga fans, the Japantown mall by the Peace Plaza is your spiritual home. And Star Wars fans should head to the Palace of Fine Arts to pretend they’re on Naboo.

General survival tips

Finally, San Francisco isn’t a perfect city and you should always be aware you’re a tourist. So don’t head too far away from popular areas – the quality of an area can change in a block. Don’t wander around with your phone wide out. Oh, most importantly, it’s recommended to always avoid the Tenderloin area at night.

Moscone centre from above

That’s all our in-house tips about GDC and spending time in San Francisco good luck on your intrepid journey.

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