How much does it cost to go to GDC?
The wonderful discussion around the IGF and the Game Developers Conference initiatives around scholarships for international visitors made the part of me that deeply cares about emergent territories a bit wary: the costs of visiting GDC are often trivialized, which tends to neglect the very real issues the EEMEA territories (Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa), South America and Asia have in attending the largest industry event in the world. Since these things also affect the cost of submitting to something like the Independent Games Festival, or the ability to submit to events which require nominees to showcase the game without adequate travel reimbursement, I was wondering what the impact of the geographical and economical status of each country around the world is on the expenses required to GDC.
The Game Developers Conference, or GDC for short, is the largest annual games developers conference in the world. It takes place in San Francisco, usually at the end of the first quarter of the year. GDC is potentially the most potent networking event of the year, with developers from all over the planet, from all aspects of the industry, meeting for talks, conferences, networking and informal events. It is attended by a enormous variety of industry professionals, press, media and video content creators. It’s the event to be at if you’re looking to break into the industry.
So I spent all of my spare time today using Skyscanner to figure out how much the cheapest flight to and from San Francisco would be for each country in the world (and entering CAPTCHA’s every time the bot detection balked at me), I figured out how long a stay from Sunday the 13th of March to Sunday the 20th of March in the cheapest hostel I could find with availability would cost, did a cursory check for general Visa fees, estimated that $15 a day will get you fed and transported in San Francisco, and added a $325 Independent Games Summit pass to the total. Then, I’d add up the amount of hours lost to travel for each country, and the amount of hours spent in San Francisco (~170 hours). I multiplied the time lost as an opportunity cost with the GDP PPP divided by 365 divided by 24, giving us a highly unofficial but useful GDP PPP per hour. The GDP PPP has the advantage that it standardizes every currency into Geary–Khamis dollars, a hypothetical currency that corrects for purchasing power, thus eliminating the need to further adjust for that. I added the opportunity cost expressed in Geary-Khamis dollars to the cost tally.
Note that I am not, by any interpretation of the word, really qualified to figure this out. I did pass my statistics class, and my topology, history and economics class in high school, but I’ve been a game developer first for most of my life. I am, however, curious – so I decided to see how far I’d get with what I know. Some of the data here is deeply generalised or flawed – there is no way to adjust for income disparity since GDP PPP is an average, for example, and averages are a terrible metric that tends to get less reliable as countries have larger income disparity. Some countries are rather big, which also leads to inconsistencies. For larger countries, I picked the capital city. In case the capital city did not have an international airport, I went with the largest international airport, and if none existed, the closest international airport. I also compiled several sources into one, which might lead to some minor differences in the datasets, the airfare changes on a daily basis and fluctuates wildly, as does the time spent traveling. The result, however, would be a somewhat useful indicator of relative costs.
I then calculated a ratio of cost to go to GDC as part of the GDP PPP, and used that value to calculate a rather generalizing but useful real cost of GDC per country, expressed in US Dollars. I mapped out the data, and got the following map.
The U.S. is the anchoring point at $1451. A few things stand out immediately: As soon as you head into Central and South America, things get expensive fast. Mexico, which is close to the United States, still ends up paying the equivalent of $2,897 for a week at GDC. A Brazilian game developer pays the equivalent of $4,321 (14% of their GDP PPP), while a Bolivian game developer ends up paying the equivalent of $10,077 (or 33% of their GDP PPP). The difference between Europe and Eastern Europe becomes rather visible too. Where a German developer pays the equivalent of $1,837, a developer in neighbouring Poland pays the equivalent of $2,779. Move a single country further East, to Ukraine, and the cost rise to $7,188, which is almost five times the price of a German visit to GDC.
African and Southern Asian developers end up paying the most by far. A developer from Niger pays the equivalent of $79,234 to come to GDC, or two-and-a-half times their yearly income. An Afghani developer pays the equivalent of $44,345. A developer from India pays the equivalent of $10,218, while a developer in Somalia, Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo each pay the equivalent of what would be $125,000 for an American – or the equivalent of more than four years worth of income to be able to visit GDC. I had to exclude their values from the color scale to not turn the entire map yellow.
The cheapest countries to develop from are surprisingly in Europe. Liechtenstein, where GDC costs the equivalent of $1,189 and Luxemburg, at the equivalent of $1,254. Bermuda falls right in between those two, as in Bermuda a trip to GDC will cost you the equivalent of $1,225.
I don’t really have anywhere to go with this data, as the issues here are infinitely complex and barely understood. All this data really says is that things are more expensive for some than for others, and that developers from many places on the planet at GDC are potentially spending years of income for their shot at being at the event, so give them a super huge high five if you come across them. I haven’t had time to properly process the data mentally or figure out if there is any actionable response to the data I can attempt or take. For now, it’s just data – but it’s data that didn’t exist before, and in many ways, I find it more shocking than I anticipated.
If you’re as curious as I am, I’ve uploaded a copy of the full dataset on Google Spreadsheets. Sources used are Booking.com, the CIA World Fact Book, Indexmundi.com, Skyscanner.net (January 19th, picking the cheapest flight every time) and several airline websites for Island groups that weren’t represented on Skyscanner. I got help from my ever wonderful partner Adriel in compiling the data. The map was generated using a trial version of Tableau. The map data was made interactive by Antanas Marcelionis using his magnificent amcharts.