Professional events of interest to game developers.
I get to one or two of these a year.
If you can only afford one event, make it this one.
The GDC is far and away the most useful event you can attend, either as a wanna-be or as an experienced game developer. It brings together thousands of developers from around the world to attend hundreds of lectures, round tables and tutorials on everything from blue sky design questions to the most hardcore programming issues. In addition there is a large trade show exhibiting the latest development tools. If it has to do with game development, it's at the GDC. The Conference is held annually in California.
One of the best things about the Game Developers' Conference is the volunteer program. If you can't afford to attend, you can work at the Conference in exchange for free admission. You won't have to work the whole time, and your CA (for "Conference Associate") shirt is an automatic admission to almost everything. Visit the website for more details.
E3 used to be the place to go see the latest games, but most of the major publishers pulled out of it in 2006, and it has become a small event for deal-making in private meetings rather than the gigantic, noisy trade show it once was. It's not yet clear what, if anything will take its place. The GDC and the Consumer Electronics Show will both certainly benefit from E3's downsizing.
GDC-Europe is simply the European version of the GDC. It's a smaller version of the American event. It's held in conjunction with ECTS.
Although ECTS's name makes it sound like it's a computer show, in fact it concentrates on interactive entertainment. It's held in London, and is Europe's premiere sales show, the European equivalent of E3, though not so large.
I can't claim personal knowledge of the shows below, because either I haven't
attended them for a while, or I've never attended them at all. However, they are significant industry events.
SIGGRAPH is the graphics Special Interest Group of the Association for Computing Machinery, and their annual conference is an eye-popping extravaganza for anyone interested in computer graphics and animation. Highly recommended for artists and high-end graphics programmers.
Milia covers a variety of digital media, including interactive entertainment. For several years this was the cool new place to be seen in the game business. Milia is held at Cannes in France, and a certain amount of the Cannes chic rubbed off on it. More recently the event has lost a little of its hyper-cool image, but there's still a strong game presence.
gigantic trade show about every possible kind of electronic device a consumer could own, from beeping keyrings to car stereos. This used to be where the game industry exhibited until E3 was established. There's still a certain amount of game stuff shown here, mostly in the nature of handheld electronic games.
Another colossal show, or rather worldwide series of shows, about anything and everything to do with
computers. Sometimes game publishers who are interested in the convergence of gaming, the Internet, and other media, exhibit here. It's not a must-see for the game industry, though.