Like Grant, I have also been a GDC volunteer. You could probably ask 50 of us volunteers and get 50 different responses, but here are my two cents:
--The volunteer program at the main GDC is probably different than at other GDCs (e.g., GDC Austin/Online). I have been to the main GDC only.
--Competition to volunteer is tough. I'm guessing 250+ spots went to returning volunteers, so that leaves 150 spots for 1650 applicants. And that doesn't include recommendations! (Returning volunteers can recommend new applicants. It's not clear how this helps, but you can imagine that it can help a lot.) So if you didn't get in, don't feel bad. Even with a great essay it's probably a crap shoot.
--So what you really want is a great essay and a recommendation. If there's a formula for a great essay, they're not telling us. But, in their shoes, I'd be looking for passion, maturity, authenticity, and humility, specifically a servant's mindset. Why? Passion: duh. Maturity: it's a trade convention, not a fan show like PAX. Authenticity (i.e. personal, not generic): they want people, not robots. A servant's mindset: A volunteer's main purpose is to serve the other attendees and help them to have the best GDC possible (without costing the organizers money). All of the other awesome stuff is cake.
--Also, I would apply early next year. I knew one volunteer who would check the app page each day, and the day it went live, he applied. If you think about it, applying early can indicate initiative, planning, and passion. (FYI, the application form usually goes up in November.)
--Even if you aren't a volunteer, go to the GDC anyway. Financially, the volunteer only saves on the cost of the pass and maybe lunch. So buy an Expo pass or a Student pass. (FYI, the cost of Expo passes goes up after this Monday.) If you've never been to the GDC, there's still plenty to see or do. And you can still network: all the bigwigs still roam the halls and eat lunch at the tables and also go to the Expo floor. And, if you want to know more about the volunteer program, you can then go to the source: Find the CA Lounge, go there, and introduce yourself and just be humble and ask some questions. Maybe you'll meet some people who you click with or who live near you, and maybe they will get to know you well enough to recommend you next year.
--Have multiple people read your essay before you submit it. Having other volunteers read it helps, but even your parents would be way better than nothing.
--You could also try going as Press. I don't know what their press requirements are, but I used to attend conventions writing for my university's paper. A press badge is often better than an "All Access" badge. If your school's paper isn't enough, visit your city paper and maybe you can work with them to write an article on the GDC. (I don't have experience with online press, like blogs or websites. But a friend got in that way: he was local, and some friends at a Euro gaming site wanted someone to cover the GDC. Win win!)
--Even if you don't make it to the GDC (or another GDC), the GDC vault has some of the lectures available for free. They seem to release more free ones as time goes on, too.
Last thoughts: Wow, is the original poster in the UK? (There's always GDC Europe...) If I were choosing volunteers for a program, I would give extra weight to someone willing to fly out from Europe. But that wasn't apparent in your essay. And what's an "A2 essay" anyway? Remember your audience.
Good luck to everyone . . . for this year and next!
Last edited by geoffhom : 01-22-2011 at 02:41 PM.