I'm having a discussion with a friend about GDC 2013. He's a British indie developer, so his costs of attending a conference in San Francisco are not small (£3-5000, or $8000 for US readers). And while some countries (such as Ireland) will help indies, the UK government is notoriously spotty in this regard. So his sensible question is whether going to GDC is worth the expense.
Most events are not worth paying for unless you have very clear goals. They tend to be quite sales oriented and their themes one-sided. Go to an event about augmented reality and I suspect you would be hard-pressed to find a naysaying argument. Which is all fine if you're the senior vice president of a publishing organisation considering on making some moves in that space. But for me, not so much. This is why I usually only go to events if invited to speak.
However - whether because of size, purpose, diversity or culture - some events are worth the trip, and the San Francisco GDC is one of them. Last year I attended for the first time and had an incredible experience. I met many people whom I had only previously admired from afar, attended rich talks which blew my mind and took many meetings with folks from all across the spectrum. I even met some students from DigiPen who turned out to be big fans of What Games Are. Mostly I felt present at a source of powerful inspiration, connections and education.
That's the kind of benefit which you can't enumerate, but it's why I'll be there again this year (this time with Jawfish). I expect it to be different, but equally inspiring. Perhaps there will be much fevered speculation about micro-consoles. Perhaps tablet games will dominate. Perhaps my speculation about local games will be rewarded. If you can attend, you should.
And if you'd ike to meet while there, email me. My dance card is likely to be fuller this year, but I'm sure we can find some time.