Posted on October 12, 2010 by Doolwind

Should Indies Go To Conferences?

There are an increasing number of game development related conferences happening around the world.  I went to GDC and Freeplay earlier this year and I’m attending GCAP tomorrow.  Gamification has just been announced and it seems like the changing landscape in game development is being mirrored in the conferences held.  Whenever conference time comes around I hear a lot of debate within the indie scene about their value.  Today I’ll discuss the ways I determine whether a conference is worth attending and hope to help you with the decision.

Different Perspectives

From my experience there are three main opinions when it comes to game conferences within game development (both indie and mainstream).

Shut Up and Code

I often hear people say they don’t have time to go to conferences as they want to make games, not talk about making games.  This opinion is particularly prevalent among programmers.  When laying out the entire costs of many of these events, they often make up a substantial proportion of an indie.  For this reason, many developers I meet simply don’t have the time or money to burn on conferences and most tell me they will go there “when they make it big”.

Networking, Networking, Networking

Another viewpoint I often see is from those that go to every event they can and give talks whenever possible.  To this group (often in marketing or management) the whole reason for making their game is to get it out there for people to see and play it.  This group will often miss all the talks/lectures and can instead be found walking the halls looking for new contacts or reconnecting with old ones.  A lot of value is achieved at most conferences from these people, none of it related to the speakers.  It is difficult though, particularly for the more introverted members of the development community.

I’ve found the best way to achieve the networking goal is make full use of whatever contacts you have (the higher the better).  You receive invitations to bigger and better parties and you’ll get more introductions.  The friends I went to GDC with introduced me to people working on Halo Reach, Mass Effect and a bunch of influential people attached to the Australian game industry.

Cost to Benefit Analysts

I fall into this group.  We are the people that list out all of the costs of going to a conference and weigh these up against the expected benefits.  I’ll dig deeper into this analysis and shed light on how you can quantify whether a conference is right for you.


It’s easy to quantify the costs of going to a conference.  The major costs are associated with time and money.  Below is a list of the costs I’ve found from the average trip to a conference:

  • Conference Tickets (the cost of admission)
  • Travel (airfare, insurance, taxi’s)
  • Accommodation (hotel)
  • Food (approximate per-day price)
  • Drink (mountain dew and/or alcohol)
  • Miscellaneous Expenses (passport, present to appease partner upon return)
  • Lost time (per day cost of being away)
  • Spending money*

*The further you travel the more you will spend on non-essentials.  I find I spend $100 per 1000km I am away from home.  For example I spent $150 on my trip to Melbourne and $1100 on my trip to the US (including Kennedy Space Centre)


To determine the benefits of the conference, you really need to decide exactly what you want to get out of the conference.  The following list is an example of benefits:

  • Networking – with potential clients, partners or existing friends
  • Marketing – Showing off your current or next game or entering your game into competitions
  • Information/Talks – Be critical with which talks are valuable.  Check the schedule and see how many are relevant or outside your comfort zone.  Also check reports of previous speakers
  • Giving a talk – If you have something important to say, tell people.  Best way to network and market your game or company.
  • Inspiration – This is a little hand-holdy and abstract however it can be the most important.  I come away from most conferences with a fresh outlook on game development and excitement about the possibilities.  If you are in a slump or unsure of the direction to take next, a conference can be the shot in the arm your team needs

Should you go?

To get a good idea of whether you should go to a conference, you need to map out what you want to achieve from the conference.  Of the benefits I’ve listed, some will be more important than others to you.  Unlike benefits, costs are easy for you to quantify and get a good picture of their total cost (which can often be surprisingly high).

Unfortunately you can’t easily assign a dollar value to the benefits to compare them directly against the costs.  You can, however, assign an importance for your business/game.  Look at each benefit you’ve listed and assign an importance from the following list:

  • Unimportant – limited or no value to you
  • Helpful – would be helpful, but not life or death.  An example is a talk that you could find the information for from the a textbook
  • Critical – without this, your game may not succeed

If you have any critical benefits then you really should go to the conference.  If the majority of benefits are helpful then you should most likely go and if most are unimportant then perhaps your time could be better spent elsewhere.

Another good idea is to do this cost to benefit analysis for all the conferences in the coming 12 months.  You can then order the conferences from best to worst ratio and decide which you will and won’t attend.


What are your experiences from conferences?  Do you fit into one of the three groups I listed?  What’s been your favourite conference and why?  Can you recommend any conferences that others should go to?