GDC is the conference in the industry. While there are many regional and/or satellite conferences, GDC has by far the largest attendance and is considered the main conference for the year. The show typically runs in late February or early March.
Everyone from not-yet-graduated students searching for jobs all the way to 30+ year industry luminaries can be found here, frequently in the same room.
GDC consists of two phases: Summits and Tutorials, which occur early in the week, and then the main show segment, in which the Expo floor opens, and the multi-discipline talk tracks begin.
Previous years' summit topics have included: AI, Game IT, Localization, Games for Change, Education, Independent Games, Smartphone & Tablet dev, and Social & Online Games.
The speaker/roundtable tracks cover: Audio; Business, Marketing & Management; Game Design; Production; Programming; Visual Arts; Monetization.
GDC Europe is the smaller sibling of GDC San Francisco, focused on European development, and usually occurs in August.
Like GDC San Francisco, GDC Europe has two elements, Summits and Tutorials, and the main Expo and Speaker talk segments.
Summits this year include: Independent Games, Smartphone & Tablet Games, and Social & Online Games.
This year's tracks include: Business, Marketing, and Management; Game Design; Production; Programming; and Visual Arts.
GDC China is a small conference focused the Chinese market, and runs in November.
Like GDC San Francisco, GDC China has two elements, Summits and Tutorials, and the main Expo and Speaker talk segments.
Summits this year include: Indie Games and Mobile Games.
This year's tracks include: Online Game Development and Business, Global Game Development / Outsourcing, and Social Games.
GDC Online is a small, focused conference which focuses primarily on social and online gaming. The show runs in early October.
In addition to the eponymous online focus, GDC Online is known for its excellent Narrative track, which focuses on writing and other storytelling aspects of game design.
DICE is run by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS), a nonprofit organization promoting the interactive arts.
The show happens yearly in Las Vegas, Nevada. It plays host to some of the biggest names in the industry, and tends to lean towards the business side of the industry more than some other shows.
DICE is also home to the Interactive Achievement awards ceremony, which recognizes contributions from every branch of interactive entertainment.
East Coast Game Conference is an up-and-coming new show, located in Raleigh, NC, and is run in April.
The show currently runs for two days and has four tracks running simultaneously. In addition to the standard tracks, Epic Games runs a track promoting its free toolset, UDK, through a series of tutorial classes run by Epic staff.
An invite-only think tank conference, Project Horseshoe brings together some of the brightest minds in game design in a comfortable setting to solve some of the biggest challenges facing the industry.