Surviving GDC: A Newbie’s Journey into San Francisco’s Biz Dev Scene

Intro

Step into the thrilling world of gaming business development, where every event on the calendar holds the promise of unlocking the next big opportunity for your studio. It’s not just about the glamour of globetrotting; it’s about strategically aligning your schedule with the events that can supercharge your studio’s success.

For me, the Game Developers Conference (GDC) was the beacon lighting up my calendar from day one. Anticipation bubbled within me as I eagerly awaited my inaugural GDC experience, a milestone I’d been counting down to since joining the ranks of AMC Studio last year.

Hi, I’m Luke Baker by the way, Business Development Manager at AMC Studio (Part of Keywords Studios). Come with me on this adventure as I traverse the GDC landscape through the lens of business development. Throughout this journey, I’ll offer an unfiltered assessment of my experience, grading each phase—from preparation to the event itself, and even beyond. If you’re a newbie biz dev for games, just like me, you might find here some insights that could ease your way into this scene.

1. Pre-event

So, how does a business development manager from an art outsourcing company gear up for a colossal gaming event like GDC? You might assume with 30,000 attendees, opportunities would abound. But the reality is far more cutthroat; it’s a veritable jungle out there. Within the realm of biz dev, there are two distinct breeds: the strategic partners seekers and the sales hounds—each with their own goals to achieve. My advice is to adopt a strategic approach. Avoid bombarding the client and refrain from reaching out to everyone. Instead, consider whether your service aligns with the client’s specific needs and adds genuine value to their business.

Step one seems straightforward enough: register for the event. Then, it’s about making your presence known, leveraging platforms like LinkedIn to broadcast your attendance and diving into networking platforms to orchestrate those all-important meetings. This year, GDC introduced its own networking platform, a difference from the usual suspects like meet2match.

So, where to start? Firstly, I reached out to our existing network privately to see if they are open to meeting during the event. I might already have potential opportunities waiting to be seized. As a small boutique studio, our capacity may be limited, so we’re constantly seeking new partners to expand our horizons.

As I optimistically sifted through the attendee list on the GDC app, dodging the AI’s rather unhelpful recommendations (thanks, but no thanks, recommending my line manager), my focus was clear: connecting with individuals in positions like “Art Outsourcing Manager” or “Art Director“—the gatekeepers to potential partnerships in our realm of AAA photorealistic art. Yet, navigating the platform proved tricky, with glitches causing scheduled meetings to vanish into thin air after a mere three days of non-response—a frustration echoed by both service providers and developers alike.

With the clock ticking down and only a handful of confirmed meetings, it was time to pivot. I abandoned the glitch-ridden platform and took matters into my own hands, leveraging LinkedIn and other channels to drum up an impressive tally of 6-7 meetings per day for the duration of the event. Armed with this newfound confidence, I plunged into GDC with renewed excitement.

In the eleventh hour, we rushed to finalize preparations: printing fresh business cards, stocking up on brand-new AMC SWAG (including snazzy T-shirts and cozy hoodies). With our bags packed and excitement bubbling over, the time had finally come to kick off a marathon 23-hour journey from Bucharest, Romania, to the sun-drenched streets of San Francisco, California.

2. During

Arriving in San Francisco filled me with immense excitement. I mean, who wouldn’t be thrilled to set foot on the same ground where the iconic Mrs. Doubtfire house stands? However, I must admit, I’d been forewarned by numerous friends, family members, and colleagues that San Francisco has its quirks. Upon reaching our hotel, the Hampton Inn by Hilton (Downtown/Convention Center), I couldn’t shake off the feeling of unease in the neighborhood, especially at night. Despite being located just a stone’s throw away from the event venue and outside of the less desirable Tenderloin area, the hotel itself provided a sense of security, with clean rooms, comfortable beds, and a picturesque view of the city. It had all the amenities necessary for a successful business trip, sparing no expense on accommodation. Plus, it was notably more affordable than other options for the week, albeit not the ideal location for hosting meetings.

With a day to spare before the event kicked off, we took the opportunity to recuperate from our journey. We visited Alcatraz—an awe-inspiring experience—and then ventured downtown. Unfortunately, what we found didn’t quite match the picturesque image I had in mind. Despite the exorbitant prices, there was a stark contrast between the affluent and impoverished areas, leaving me with a sobering realization: even in a city as renowned as San Francisco, disparities abound, and not every corner lives up to its glamorous reputation.

Day 1&2

So, here’s the scoop: the event floor was off-limits for the first couple of days. Now, the usual drill involves playing a real-life game of hide-and-seek in hotel lobbies, coffee shops, or even resorting to commandeering hotel rooms for meetings. But let me tell you, I just couldn’t roll with that norm. So, I put on my persuader hat and convinced my Studio Head to think outside the box.

We decided to level up our game and booked a meeting room on the 25th floor at the swanky Nikko Hotel (prime location, by the way). And boy, did it pay off! Picture this: potential clients stepping into our designated space, greeted by an array of free snacks, drinks, and a vibe that screams professionalism. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with clients expressing their gratitude for a quiet oasis away from the bustling lobby chaos. Plus, it was a game-changer for us, allowing us to streamline our meetings without playing tag across the sprawling city.

Let me tell you, fellow biz-dev folks, preparation is key — never underestimate the power of a well-planned schedule. And trust me, arriving cool, calm, and collected beats showing up drenched in sweat any day!

Vlad embracing the 1st few days, spotting AMC logo on the board.

It was a whirlwind of back-to-back meetings, with barely a moment to catch our breath. But you know what? Vlad Alexandru (our fearless leader at AMC Studio) and I thrived on the chaos, navigating each encounter with a sense of camaraderie that kept us going strong.

We encountered a colorful array of personalities — some shy, some artistic, some CEOs, and a sprinkle of eccentric souls thrown in for good measure, it tested my ability as a person to constantly adapt to my audience. Somehow, I seemed to strike up conversations effortlessly with fellow Brits, leaning on the universal icebreaker: the weather.

By the end of the second day, we’d notched up an impressive tally of 16-plus meetings. Amidst the flurry of discussions, we began to discern which opportunities held immediate promise and which were destined for the future. This, my friends, is the bread and butter of biz dev — sifting through the opportunity pipeline, prioritizing, and strategizing for the benefit of our studio and one which is not an easy job to do.

Day 3&4
Luke & Vlad ready to enter the Moscone Center

Come Wednesday, it was time to trade the tranquility of our meeting room for the bustling energy of the event floor. And let me tell you, GDC outdid themselves — it was a spectacle to behold! Rows upon rows of companies vying for attention, and let’s not forget the allure of free swag. But I digress; back to business.

The day was packed to the brim, with client lunches, dinners, and an epic after-party to cap it all off. Because here’s the thing about biz dev — it’s not just about formal meetings; it’s about cultivating long-term partnerships. Engaging in informal discussions over meals or at social gatherings is key to building trust with potential partners. After all, most deals are sealed between people, not faceless entities. Breaking down barriers and showcasing the human side of our team — beyond being just another Eastern European provider —gives us a competitive edge.

Of course, delivering stellar work once the contract is won is non-negotiable. But with the exceptional talent we have at AMC, fear is the last thing on our minds.

As Thursday rolled around, we found ourselves inundated with positive feedback from potential clients regarding our portfolio. It became abundantly clear that our quality was propelling our reputation to new heights, leaving potential clients in no doubt as to why we’re proudly associated with the prestigious Keywords family.

Furthermore, we were thrilled to receive fantastic feedback on the swag we crafted specifically for this event. A huge shout-out goes to our stellar marketing team — Claudia and Geo — for their exceptional design work, and to Mihaela for flawlessly handling the logistics. You can see our stellar work here: AMC Portfolio

Our SWAG
Day 5

Was anyone else feeling utterly drained by this stage? As the event wound down, booths were dismantled around us while we scrambled to wrap up those final few meetings. Luckily, it was a much more relaxed day, affording me the opportunity to catch up with numerous colleagues whom I typically only see through a screen. With many attendees already bidding bye to the city and returning home to their families, we opted for a quiet evening to decompress after the whirlwind week. We took stock of the key meetings we’d had—engaging with AAA studios, AA counterparts, and even meeting with competitors to stay abreast of industry trends and glean valuable insights. Even treated ourselves to well-earned drink! Espresso Martini, yes please!

Event Ratings

Event Meeting Support: 1/10 (practically nonexistent; we had to arrange our own meeting space for the first two days)

Event Organization at Moscone Center: 9/10. I was thoroughly impressed by the scale; fantastic job!

Networking Opportunities: 10/10 – We had the chance to connect with a diverse range of potential clients and establish new relationships.

City Atmosphere: 6/10 – To be honest, this rating would be even lower if it weren’t for the influx of GDC attendees bringing a positive energy.

Overall Event Experience: 7/10

3. Post-Event

Post-event organization is a thrilling yet critical endeavor. From deciphering hastily jotted notes to recalling vibrant conversations (I can’t be the only one prone to an occasional memory lapse!), it’s all part of the exhilarating process. Fortunately, I had Vlad by my side, serving as my trusty memory bank and offering corrections when needed. And let’s not forget the bundle of business cards—each one a potential opportunity waiting to be unleashed. I make it a point to hold onto them like treasures, always prepared for whatever the future may hold. Perhaps it’s time to invest in a snazzy folder to keep them all safe!

Once the dust settles and the notes are neatly arranged, it’s time for the follow-up frenzy: emails, meetings, you name it. This is where the real magic happens — transforming promising conversations into tangible projects for our studio and artists.

Out of the 25-plus meetings we hustled through, a solid 2-3 opportunities emerged, ripe with potential for immediate action. But it’s the two colossal opportunities, beckoning with the promise of long-term partnerships set to unfold in 2025, that truly excite us.

Post Event Ratings

Immediate Opportunities: 5/10 – While no concrete projects materialized, valuable connections were established, signaling potential for future collaborations. There’s work to be done, but the groundwork has been laid.

Large Opportunities: 9/10 – Exciting prospects loom on the horizon, with significant projects potentially on the horizon for 2025. The potential for substantial growth is palpable.

Client Feedback: 7/10 – The majority of clients have responded to our follow-up efforts, though a few have slipped through the cracks, either due to being preoccupied or overlooking our emails. The persistence required to follow up can be frustrating, but overall, feedback has been positive.

Overall rating 7/10

4. Conclusion

So, where do we stand now? GDC wasn’t a one-hit wonder for us in terms of immediate business gains—but hey, that’s not what we were banking on. Instead, it was about the exposure, the networking, and the chance to rub elbows with industry giants during these tumultuous times. And you know what? Despite the lack of instant gratification, we’re walking away from GDC with a spring in our step and a heart full of positivity. Because at the end of the day, it’s the connections made, the relationships forged, and the invaluable face-to-face interactions that make every minute worthwhile.

There’s a looming question regarding San Francisco’s suitability as the event’s host city. With soaring travel and hotel expenses, exorbitant restaurant prices, and concerns about safety, one can’t help but wonder if San Francisco is where it’s at. While the organizers may feel wedded to the city due to its historical significance, there’s a genuine argument to be made for a refresh, perhaps even relocating to a more affordable and safer destination. What are your thoughts on the possibility of GDC moving elsewhere?

Final Ratings

7/10 – Investing your time and resources in attending GDC is undeniably worthwhile. It’s a fantastic opportunity to connect with numerous companies and industry professionals, making it an invaluable event for networking and collaboration.

At AMC Studio, we stand at the forefront of art and design innovation, specializing in crafting digital content—ranging from 3D and 2D artwork to concept art—for the dynamic video game industry.

If you’re seeking your next outsourcing partner to elevate your digital content, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at luke.baker@amc.ro

We’re here to bring your vision to life with creativity and expertise.