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  • Getting To GDC 2018: How To Survive In San Francisco

    [11.09.17]
    - Rachel Presser
  • Game Developers Conference 2018 tickets are on sale now! Did you grab one of those coveted Indie Games Summit passes before they were all gone? (Hey, I told you they sell out quickly.) Don't fret though, I already detailed in Part 1 how to scrap your way to a pass -- or just getting there.


    This is Part 2 now. This is the more in-depth part where we're going to worry about getting you there and finding you a place to stay. Not starving is also nice. San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the country to live in as well as travel to: I bet your eyes rolled back into your head when you looked up the official hotel GDC block and thought "THAT'S the discounted rate?! Dammit, I'm going to have to sell my liver to go." You won't have to meet any black market organ dealers, I promise. There's other ways.

    Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and More

    If you're flying in like me and thousands of other attendees, start collecting those frequent flier miles now. Even if you're cramming into the absolute cheapest seat you could get from the travel site of your choice that boards absolutely last on the worst airline possible. DO IT. You'll be glad you did. Most travel sites like Orbitz (my preferred provider, heads up I'm not compensated to mention them by name) let you store multiple frequent flyer/travel reward numbers. Pay attention to their partner airlines and other companies they partner with: you can get Jetblue points shopping on Amazon or certain Lyft rides to/from airports, for instance. Delta points for SuperShuttle. You're in games-- treat it like one! You'll be surprised at how quickly those miles add up.

    Obviously, flying in what's practically steerage is the most surefire way to save serious bucks getting from A to B. Tools like Trivago can help you comparison-shop multiple travel sites to see who offers the best rates for an economy seat. But once you find that travel site, make sure you get rewarded while doing it. Places like Hotwire where you name the price *may* save you some cash, but can put you in an awkward spot of being unable to get a ride to the airport at the weird time they choose and are often nonrefundable. It's best to go with the sure thing if you want to leave and come back at a decent time, but be sure to look at flexible dates and do the math on whether the difference in flight price each way is worth an extra night in your accommodations or not. In the SFO-JFK route for instance, a weekend flight can actually mean a difference of saving enough money to make that extra night worth it.

    Now onto bag fees. If you're on a domestic flight and definitely not getting free checked bags, you may be tempted to shove everything you need into a carry-on to avoid the fees. If you're not staying the whole week, this could be doable. But if you are and you're a newcomer to San Francisco, well, the weather can be gorgeous but it also be utterly unpredictable. I eventually gave up worrying about bag fees, caved in, and started using my big suitcase: I wore everything from my winter coat to short shorts and a t-shirt at GDC 2017. The weather is unpredictable, so be prepared. You're also going to do a ton of walking EVERYWHERE, so having an extra pair of shoes to change into is also prudent. Meeting an investor or got an interview you want to look sharp for? Have room for it. Bag fees suck, but factor them in.

    Compared to various airports in this country, SFO isn't super far from civilization. It's about $15-25 for a shuttle to/from downtown and the airport, $30-40 for a Lyft, $40-50 for a cab. The BART train is a pain in the ass to find in that airport, but it's the absolute cheapest option to reach the city at $9 between SFO and the Market Street fare zone. It's doable if your crashpad isn't super far from any of those stations and you're not lugging a bunch of really heavy suitcases and exhibit supplies.

    San Francisco itself has a pretty good public transit infrastructure. In addition to BART, the bus system is good compared to numerous other buses that have carted me around the planet. The Muni streetcar system is also pretty sweet (it's not the same as the cable cars on Powell, heads up.)

    Pro Tip: if you're not staying near the convention center but opted for one of the cheaper hotels or hostels north of Market Street or perhaps further out, but anywhere between Van Ness and the Embarcadero? The nearest station to Moscone is the Powell BART/Muni station. BART is cheaper than Muni each way and that difference adds up fast over a week. If you plan on visiting San Francisco frequently, it's also worth the $3 to buy a Clipper card because you can use it on multiple transit systems and can keep using it year after year! (If only the MTA did this, the author seethes...)

    If you drive, I'm sorry, I can't help you here. I'm a non-driver so I don't have a frame of reference for car rental, parking, and whatnot except "it's probably really expensive" so feel free to offer tips in the comments if you've rented a car while in town or drive in. Depending on where you're staying, you should compare the cost to what it'd cost for public transit or rideshare. GDC is one of those events where you really want to be close to the center of the action. We turn the entire SoMA area into a huge frigging summer camp for game devs for an entire week. You don't want to miss it unless saving those extra few bucks is really a matter of getting here or not.

    But with that said, San Francisco is highly walkable and with good public transit that's not super expensive. So you probably won't want to opt for a car rental unless you're exhibiting with a lot of equipment/props.

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