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7 Mar 2014

Attending Video Game Conferences on a Budget

With GDC 2014 just around the corner, conference season is upon us. Whether you want to go to GDC in San Francisco, PAX East/West, E3, or another video game conference, chances are as an indie developer you will be attending one of these conferences on a budget. Unless you live in the area of one of these conferences, attending isn’t exactly cheap. You have to think about airfare (or fuel if you opt to drive), booking a hotel, and so much more.

Yet you can definitely attend these conferences on a budget. By being a bit thrifty and knowing a few tricks, you won’t break the bank attending the conference of your choice. The best part about all of this? You may win over so many new prospective customers (especially if you have a booth running a flawless demo at the conference) that the trip will hopefully more than pay for itself.

And worst case scenario? You will learn a thing or two among your peers that will (hopefully) pay for itself down the road. Here are the best ways to attend the conference of your choice inexpensively.

But first…consider the hidden expenses

  • While the attire at most video game conferences are casual, consider buying a nice shirt with your studio’s logo on it. Wear a nice pair of pants too and definitely wear comfortable shoes.
  • Is your laptop/tablet/smartphone on the fritz? Will it get you through the conference without any problems? If the answer isn’t an astounding ‘yes,’ consider upgrading.
  • Have a pet/more than one? You may have to hire someone to watch them.

Now to the savings….

Sign up early

This is the best way to save a ton of money. The day open registration is offered, sign up immediately. If you wait too long (or until the last minute like most people) you could find yourself having to pay hundreds of dollars extra. It pays to be the early bird, so if you know you are attending the conference before open registration begins, sign up the first chance you get.

If driving, carpool

If the conference is less than a day of travel, consider driving and carpooling with one or more other indie developers. Chances are they are probably in the same position as you, so create a plan to all ride together and chip in on fuel. By the end of the conference, you are going to wish you could sit back and sleep on an airplane, but you are going to save a substantial amount of money by splitting the cost of fuel (especially if you are all traveling in a fuel-efficient vehicle).

If you must fly…

Consider using frequent flier miles (if applicable). And if you do not have any? There are several credit cards that will give you free miles via one of the top airlines that fly out of your local airport the more you use it. Put normal purchases on the card throughout the year, pay it off, and before long, you will have a substantial amount of free miles. Unfortunately, you usually have to book your flight early as a result of the reward mile seats being limited (at least a few months before the conference).

If you can put a lot of purchases on your card and pay them off quickly, the free miles will be yours. At the worst, you can get a cool discount on flying to the conference.

Saving on hotel costs

Again, find a roommate. If you are carpooling with other indie devs, sharing a room together is another great way to cut costs. Heck, if a few of you don’t mind sleeping on an air mattress, you can usually fit three or more people into one room. Splitting it multiple ways makes a hotel for a few nights very inexpensive, and besides: you’re not going to get a lot of sleep anyway during the week, so split a room as many ways as possible.

And if you cannot find a roommate? Consider reaching out to groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. There is bound to be other indie developers that will be attending the conference that are also looking to split the cost of a hotel room.

Moreover, book a hotel that has a shuttle to the convention. The less you have to use a taxi, the better.


You’re going to be on the go all week, so you won’t have a lot of chances to really sit down and eat a fine meal. You will probably want to resort to fast places such as Subway or my personal favorite, Chipotle. These are all great options for lunch, and depending on how tired you may be after the day is over, you may want to relax and eat fast food during the evening as well. However, you are probably going to want to eat a nice meal at least once while you are there – at least to unwind, have a few drinks, and talk about the conference.

Personally, I save most of my conference budget for food/hanging out during the evenings. There’s nothing like sitting down to a nice meal and hanging out with fellow attendees after a long day of running around and talking to my peers. If you want to eat nothing but fast food then great, but if you want to eat a decent meal once a night or at least one time while you are attending the conference? Budget accordingly.

Bring your own snacks/water

I made the mistake of forgetting to bring a plastic bottle of water my first day of E3. I was parched by noon, so I was forced to buy a bottle at the little general store in the conference. One 12oz bottle of water was $8 – and I’m not lying either. To say I got the most out of that water bottle is an understatement – I didn’t throw it away until I arrived home later that week. I probably refilled it thirty times or more while I was there (I had to get my money’s worth out of an $8 bottle of water, after all), but I learned a valuable lesson: bring your own water.

I also made the mistake of forgetting snacks. Thus, some friends and I had to walk five blocks until we found a Subway. It was hot, we didn’t have a lot of time to kill, and by the time we arrived back at the convention center, it was time to get back to making our rounds. I wish I had brought my own snacks that day –and the next day, I did. Rather than walking in the hot heat just for a sandwich, rather than paying $8 for water, the next day I brought snacks and water in a small backpack, and I never had to leave the conference once.

The bigger piece of advice to take away from bringing your own snacks and water is to just plan ahead. For every part of your trip. The more you plan the more you will save, and the better the odds that your trip will ultimately pay for itself.

Do you have additional advice for cutting costs on attending a video game conference? Let us know in the comments below!

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