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GDC 2023 Session Guide and Tips for First Time GDC Attendees

Are you going to the Game Developers Conference for the first time? Eager to know about the best talks and networking events for fresh faces at GDC 2023? This handy Session Guide and Walkthrough will help you plan your schedule. 

The 2023 Game Developers Conference features hundreds of sessions—covering nearly every discipline, topic, and focus that matters to game developers today. It can be hard to choose! That's why we've created this helpful First Time at GDC guide—the first in our series of Session Guides for GDC 2023, with recommendations for sessions, events, networking opportunities, and more. 

Sign Up For GDC 2023 Now

This First Time at GDC guide features some of the "Greatest Hits" GDC is known for. For first timers, we highly recommend GDC 101, which will be your one-stop shop to learning how to navigate the event. We also recommend the GDC Main Stage presentation and the GDCA and IGF Awards—along with sessions related to your focus or discipline, which you can find more information about here

Important: Be sure to sign up for our free Game Developer Talks GDC 101 webinar, hosted by Brandon Sheffield, on Thursday, March 9 at 10:00am PT, for everything you need to know before your first GDC.

Missed the session? Head to GDC Vault to watch!

This guide also includes tips on making the most of your GDC, and links to recommended GDC Vault videos and Game Developer articles that will help you get pumped for GDC 2023. 

Must-See Sessions and Events for Your First Time at GDC

GDC 101
Brandon Sheffield (Game Developer, Necrosoft Games)

Location: Room 3004, West Hall
Date: Tuesday, March 21
Time: 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Core Pass, Summits Pass, Audio Pass, Independent Games Summit Pass
Description: "A crash course in GDC for first-timers! Get the most out of your experience by learning the ins and outs of the show, from choosing sessions, to networking, to simply how to get around. GDC is a big event with lots to do, and we're here to help you prioritize what you really want to get out of the show, while getting all the basics down in the process. Plus there's a networking event right after the session!"

GDC Main Stage: The Future of Play
Chandana Ekanayake (Co-Founder & Creative Director, Outerloop Games)
Jen Oneal (Game Industry Executive, Independent)
Robert Anderberg (CEO & Co-Founder, ControlZee)

Location: GDC Main Stage, West Hall, Street Level
Date: Wednesday, March 22
Time: 12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Core Pass, Summits Pass, Expo Pass, Audio Pass, Independent Games Summit Pass
Description: "In this installment of the GDC Main Stage, ‘The Future of Play’ is a multi-part presentation about how the game industry is expanding; opening up to new perspectives, opportunities, and challenges. It’s about looking forward to the ideas and ideals gaining ground in the industry, and how to make them work for you."

GDC Pitch: Day 1 or Day 2
Jason Della Rocca (Co-Founder, Execution Labs)

Location: GDC Industry Stage, Expo Floor, South Hall
Wednesday, March 22, 12:30 pm - 1:30 pm
Thursday, March 23, 12:45 pm - 1:45 pm

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Core Pass
Description: "Five GDC Play studios have been selected to pitch their games to an opinionated panel of investors and publishers, in front of a live audience (no pressure!)."

Experimental Game Workshop 2023

Location: Room 303, South Hall
Date: Friday, March 24
Time: 1:30 pm - 3:30 pm

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Core Pass
Description: "In this fast-paced, game-packed session, panelists will showcase a selection of surprising and intriguing prototypes made by innovation-minded game developers from all over the world. By demonstrating games that defy conventions and traditions in search of new genres and ideas, this session aims to ignite the imagination of all game makers. Come see what's happening in the world of Experimental Games, and be inspired!"

More Stand-Out Session Picks

Empowerment Playbook: Making and Measuring Change in the Games Industry
Stephanie Fisher (Co-Director, Pixelles)
Alison Harvey (Associate Professor, York University)

Location: Room 215, South Hall
Date: Wednesday, March 22
Time: 9:00 am - 10:00 am

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Core Pass, Summits Pass, Expo Pass, Audio Pass, Independent Games Summit Pass
Description: "Working with the leaders and community members of Pixelles Montréal, Stephanie Fisher and Alison Harvey will outline the concrete and specific benefits of inclusion organizing in creating change in the short, medium, and long term."

The Many Dimensions of Kirby
Shinya Kumazaki (Executive Director, HAL Laboratory, Inc.)
Tatsuya Kamiyama (Expert Director, Development Division 1st Department, HAL Laboratory, Inc.)

Location: Room 303, South Hall
Date: Wednesday, March 22
Time: 10:30 am - 11:30 am

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Core Pass
Description: "One year after the launch of Kirby and the Forgotten Land, developers Shinya Kumazaki and Tatsuya Kamiyama discuss how they brought traditional Kirby gameplay into a 3D world, as well as examine some of the new features in the game, including the fan-favorite Mouthful Mode."

Occupational Burnout in Games: Causes, Impact, and Solutions
Raffael Boccamazzo (Clincial Director, Take This)
Alicia Fortier (Lead Game Designer, Spry Fox)
Osama Dorias (Senior Partner Relations Manager, Unity Technologies)
Anna Brandberg (Lead UX Designer, The Outsiders (Funcom))

Location: Room 215, South Hall
Date: Thursday, March 23
Time: 11:30 am - 12:30 pm

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Core Pass, Summits Pass, Expo Pass, Audio Pass, Independent Games Summit Pass
Description: "This series of microtalks will offer attendees a foundational understanding of what burnout is and its causal factors before discussing the long-term impact via personal experiences. Recognizing that systemic solutions must be implemented to tackle the issue, this series will offer individuals resources and implementable steps to bolster their resilience against burnout."

Advocacy Microtalks: Cultivate Your Karass

Location: Room 303, South Hall
Date: Friday, March 24
Time: 10:00 am - 11:00 am

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Core Pass, Summits Pass, Expo Pass, Audio Pass, Independent Games Summit Pass
Description: "In this session, meet six game creators who are challenging what's possible—advocating through their own work on how to expand the idea of what games can be and how they're made. Some of these presentations are serious, some silly. Some will encourage you to engage with your community, others will encourage you to debate with your friends. All of them are thought-provoking."

"CODE RED!": How We Organized a Game Jam From Bomb Shelters
Elena Lobova (Co-Founder, CBDO, GDBAY)

Location: Room 2010, West Hall
Date: Friday, March 24
Time: 11:30 am - 12:00 pm

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Core Pass
Description: "When the full scale war started in Ukraine, the entire GDBAY team was inside the country, prepared to start the international online game jam they were supposed to host that very weekend. In this talk, Elena will tell you how her team organized a game jam during the first week of war, and which approaches helped keep the team's spirits and motivation up under high levels of stress and uncertainty."

Be sure to visit our Session Viewer for a full list of sessions, talks, and events, and get started on prepping that schedule (we will update with dates and times as they become available). 

10 Tips for Making the Most of Your GDC

1. Complete your Swapcard profile: GDC is once again using Swapcard as the go-to system for all GDC networking activities. Make sure to fully complete your profile once available (in mid-March) to stay connected during GDC. You can also request meetings with any fellow attendee registered through Swapcard—with the ability to search attendees by job title, professional interest, and other filters.

2. Book your hotel with us: Don't try your luck with some random travel website—GDC has discounted rates on hotels near the event for attendees. It's the best way to get the best room near the convention center. Head here for information on booking a hotel and other travel inquiries.

3. Join a roundtable: Our talks and panels are amazing, but be sure to bookmark at least one roundtable during your time at GDC. They're a great way to get hands-on with a topic of interest, as well as network with your industry colleagues. Head here for a list of roundtables at GDC 2023, with more being added regularly. 

4. Do a speed networking session: There are many ways to network at the Game Developers Conference, like using Swapcard (once available) to set up meetings in our Connect Lounge. But if you're looking for variety and entertainment, join one of our Speed Networking sessions! These are one-hour sessions where attendees rotate around the room, meeting new people and making connections. No pre-registration is required and attendance is first come, first served. 

5. Attend a sponsored talk: Many of our wonderful sponsors host sessions and talks throughout the Game Developers Conference. Some of them showcase latest products and services, while others are about helping game developers navigate opportunities and challenges that they themselves have experienced. They're open to attendees of all pass levels. It's worth checking out what studios and companies are speaking at GDC that are of interest to you!

6. Plan your Expo tour... then wing it: The GDC 2023 Expo Floor features many booths and exhibitors, showcasing some of the latest games, technologies, and career opportunities. Be sure to visit our interactive Floor Plan so you can map out the booths you want to visit. But don't forget to set aside some time for an unstructured lap around the Expo Floor. You might be surprised by what you find—one time I discovered a popcorn machine! A vital snack in the afternoon.

7. Check out alt.ctrl.GDC: If you're wanting to see the latest innovations in game programming and alternative controllers, look no further than alt.ctrl.GDC on the Expo Floor. Several developers have brought their groundbreaking (and often unexpected) games and controllers to showcase at GDC. Attendees of all pass levels can play them for free, and chat with the devs. 

8. Relax in our community spaces: It's time to rejoice: Community spaces are returning to GDC 2023! Not only are they a place to unwind during the day, they're also the perfect spot to network with industry colleages and prospective employers. Head to our Floor Plan to see our community spaces throughout the Expo Floor, including interactive spaces for certain disciplines and the GDC Play Lounge. 

9. Get food recs from an SF ambassador: Trying to find something to eat in between sessions? Keep an eye out for the city’s official Welcome Ambassadors–in their signature bright orange jackets, with the words “Welcome Ambassador” written on the back. They'll be hanging around GDC and may have recommendations on interesting spots to grab a quick bite or a more hearty meal.

10. Attend the GDCA and IGF Awards: Last but certainly not least! On Wednesday, March 22 at 6:30pm PT, the GDC Main Stage hosts the Independent Games Festival Awards and the Game Developers Choice Awards—two prestigious ceremonies that celebrate the game industry and standout games and developers of the past year. Best part: It's free for attendees of all pass levels.

Watch and Read

VIDEO: GDC Main Stage: The Developer's Renaissance: David Anfossi, Davina Mackey, Mike Wilson (GDC 2022)

VIDEO: Classic Game Postmortem: 'Q-bert': Warren Davis (GDC 2022)

ARTICLE: Inscryption wins 4 awards, including Seumas McNally Grand Prize, at 2022 IGF Awards (Game Developer Staff)

ARTICLE: Josh Wardle reflects on the the unconventional road to Wordle's success (Alissa McAloon)

Watch more GDC talks on GDC Vault here

This is the latest in our series of Session Guides for GDC 2023, with recommendations for sessions, events, networking opportunities, and more. Head here to view all previous GDC 2023 session guides.

Of course, the only way to see these sessions, and so much more, is to sign up for GDC! 

Register for GDC 2023 Here

We can’t wait to see you at GDC 2023, taking place March 20-24, 2023 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California. Follow the #GDC23 hashtag for the latest news and updates for this year’s exciting event.

GDC returns to San Francisco this March 20-24, 2023, and registration is now open! For more information, be sure to visit our website and follow the #GDC23 hashtag on social media.

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