Shake Up Your Event Design: Takeaways From GDC19

April 1, 2019

Attending events other than your own can spark innovative thinking, helping you transform or heighten the key elements of your own events. Registration options and processes, education, traffic flow, exhibition layout, entertainment, and food and beverage are just a few of the areas to consider shaking up.

The annual Game Developers Conference is organized by UBM, which in June 2018 combined with Informa PLC to become the largest B2B events organizer in the world. UBM’s portfolio includes trade shows and conferences across industries including fashion, life sciences, biopharma, manufacturing and technology — which gives its event designers and planners a wide variety of cross-industry event exposure.

This year, 29,000 attendees descended upon San Francisco’s Moscone Center for GDC 2019, held Mar. 18-22. The week-long event took over all three of the Moscone Center buildings, plus the adjacent Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater.

It’s not uncommon for events to grow or shrink from year to year, based on market fluctuations. GDC has consistently grown by adding sessions and activities (such as the co-located Indie Games Summit and Virtual Reality Developers Conference) designed to appeal to various audience segments.

GDC 2019 featured educational sessions, film screenings, award ceremonies, demos and an exhibition hall with more than 550 exhibitors showcasing the latest games, development tools and services. But just because GDC is a large event doesn’t mean you can’t take away ideas for smaller events — or even for larger ones. Here are a few areas to consider.



GDC attendees could choose from eight different badge types, many of which were combinations (such as GDC Conference + GDC Summits) or special pricing offers like a Student Expo pass. The Summits took place on Monday and Tuesday, while the Expo was only open Wednesday through Friday.

Takeaway: Can you (or should you) break up your audience by content type, demographics or days, or offer tiered pricing based on registration deadline dates? If revenue is a goal, it’s possible that you could make more money by offering a lower-cost option such as an expo only pass, or a group discount where if five people from one organization register at the same time, each person gets $100 off the regular price.

Staggering Sessions

Not all the sessions at GDC were timed to start and end together. There was a mix of 30-minute sessions, 60-minute sessions and film screenings. There were also demos, community spaces with special activities scheduled at certain times, and an expo hall that was open for the majority of show hours.

There weren’t overflow rooms at GDC, either. Instead, attendees were told in advance that sessions would be first-come, first served. Possibly due to the large number of options, I never had a problem getting into my first choice sessions even when they were popular.

Takeaway: If your event attracts a large number of people who are primarily there to walk your showfloor, it makes sense to have longer hours. If, on the other hand, sessions are the main interest, you may end up with happier exhibitors if you schedule dedicated expo hall time and have some breaks where they can attend sessions or get some work done themselves.

Session Content Types

GDC offered more than 780 lectures, panels, tutorials and roundtable discussions. The wide variety of formats gave attendees different ways to learn, based on their preferences.

One thing that stood out to me was the lack of true keynote presentations at GDC. There were “main stage” presentations, but even those were not scheduled as standalones. While this may not work for all events, it’s certainly something to consider.

Takeaway: Many conferences are moving away from having a full roster of traditional lecture-style presentations in favor of more interactive or participatory session styles, and changing up the seating from theater style to a mixture of seating types.


Exhibit Hall Layout

At many events, you’ll see a few rows of 10 x 10 booths around the perimeter of the halls, with the larger booths in more prominent, central locations. Often this is because the companies in those larger booths are major sponsors, paying premium prices for their spots.

While there was some of this at GDC, they also had some interesting layouts. And the halls were broken up by community spaces or areas dedicated to certain types of games, making it fun to walk every aisle just to see what you might come across.

Takeaway: Think about mixing up exhibitor booth types. Maybe the largest booths can be scattered throughout. Or you could offer a special pavilion just for one type of exhibitor, or turnkey pedestals for start-ups. Make your hall more interesting by including surprises, such as a candy station, game stop or even a cozy nook with books in it. The possibilities are endless.

Health and Wellness


Attending events can be exhausting. Giving your delegates opportunities and places to relax and recharge, and also to play, helps them get through the long days a little more easily.

This year, GDC added outdoor areas to relax, games to play — board games as well as video games — musical performances and for extra fun, a Pokemon Go Pokestop hosted by Niantic. Many of the exhibitors also had games and activities within their booth (not surprising, given that this was a gaming-focused event).

Takeaway: It’s not essential to have games at your event. But lounge areas with power strips and seating, quiet or meditation spaces, yoga classes, fun runs and other ways for your attendees to take a break from sessions are always appreciated – and help your event become more memorable.

Gaming as Education

Let’s not forget that games can also make education more fun. At GDC, I came across several exhibitors who offer ways to do just that. Here are two of the standouts:

Wonder Painter is an app that turns drawings into 3D images. At the very least, it would be a fun activity to offer — or, if you have developers at your organization who want to play with it, think of how you could turn your company logo or product story into something interactive during a keynote. The Wonder Painter team is based in China but is already working with companies all over the world.


The Adoraboos is a new game from Silicon Valley-based MyDream Interactive, which teaches the concepts of blockchain through a series of mini games (word scrambles, match-3, word finds, bubble popping, etc.) — and earns players real cryptocurrency. But there are even more applications within the corporate world.

The MyDream team can create technical and training games for any vertical industry or corporation. All they need is a file with the education curriculum, and they can work with you to tailor the training according to your requirements.

Takeaway: Why not look at new ways to train your conference attendees, employees, partners or staff? You could even create a game that could be used as a hall crawl activity, where attendees earn points by stopping by exhibitors’ booths and answering questions within the game. Or offer fun, interactive ways that attendees can get hands-on with your brand in new and innovative ways.

Hopefully, my experience at GDC has inspired you with some fresh, new ideas. Regardless, I recommend you attend a few trade shows, conferences, festivals, user group meetings or fairs — events that have different configurations and audiences than your own — to get your creativity flowing!

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.