Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

26 January, 2006

Networking into games
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 2:26 AM

Dom asked about networking (the social kind ;) on my page about breaking into games:

I’m always curious about the networking aspect. I see it mentioned in every article on breaking into the industry, but it seems a fairly nebulous recommendation. What are good ways of networking, and with who, and how much is ‘enough’? Does wriggling your way into the blog circuit constitute networking, or are we talking almost solely about exchanging business-cards at the GDC?

I figured other people might have similar questions, so I’ll make a blog post out of it.

Networking suggestions are nebulous largely because networking itself is fairly nebulous. :) There’s no “silver bullet” that will allow you to network like a pro, unfortunately. Since many game developers are introverted, it can be hard for to go out there and meet new people and make a great impression. In fact, it can be quite intimidating. (That book linked in the previous sentence is an excellent resource for introverts or people who work with introverts in understanding what being introverted really is.)

Now, I will have to admit that I did very little networking before I got into the industry. I used a recruiter to land my first job, and it just happened to be a really great job working on a notable product; many online developers know what Meridian 59 is, so my association with the game gave me instant credibility. Of course, I’ve had to network more with people in the industry, especially as I’m looking for more consulting work. So, let me give you a few tips, and even give you some information about what works on me. ;)

Let’s start with the basics: Why do you want to network? Well, you want to have someone to whom you can ask questions and get information. You want to be someone that is remembered when an opportunity comes up. So, your goal is to make friends and be memorable, in a good way.

First and foremost: most people in the industry are friendly and helpful. Don’t be too afraid of us, but treat us with courtesy and respect just as you should treat everyone else. Consider that you already have a first step in forming a friendship: both you and the developer have a deep passion for games. (And, if you don’t have that passion, consider choosing another career.) Also keep in mind that many game developers are incredibly busy, so don’t be too upset if we don’t email you back immediately. Be persistent but not obnoxious. (Hint to the introverts: You’re most likely not as obnoxious as you might first think. We tend to worry too much about this.) Generally rule of thumb: if you haven’t heard from someone in a week, drop them another line. If you still don’t hear from them, they’re probably really, REALLY busy.

Keep in mind that building contacts takes time. It starts by introducing yourself, or getting introduced by someone else. Repeated conversations helps build a rapport, and in time might allow you to contact the person to ask questions. It might take a few years to build up a steady relationship with someone, especially if your only exposure is at major industry conferences. Don’t presume that giving someone your business card is a sign that you can email them with your questions. Be persistent, and you might find yourself making some friends inside the industry.

You should also note that different people have different thresholds. While it might be great to count Will Wright or Raph Koster as one of your friends in the industry, they’re both very busy people. They also have dozens if not hundreds of people trying to ask them questions, and it can be a bit overwhelming. On the other hand, people like me are a bit less notable. Sure, I’m less famous that Will or Raph, but I’m also more available to answer questions at a conference or in email. A good idea at a conference is to go to a talk that interests you, especially if you don’t recognize the name. If the talk went well and the person seems bright, go introduce yourself to the speaker. Keep an eye out for him or her at other talks and conferences as well. You might find yourself making an important contact, especially if everyone else went to Will Wright’s talk. :)

A great tip: learn something about a person. Most conferences have bios printed in the program, so read that during the talk if you want to go up and say “hi” to the speaker. You might find out they worked on a game you really liked, or you might be able to ask them more intelligent questions. Here’s a tip for me: If you say something intelligent about Meridian 59, I’m much more likely to try to remember you. So, for example, if you hear me at a conference and jot down my email address, go try a month or two of Meridian 59 before writing me. Opening your letter with something like, “I saw you speak at FooCon a few months ago. You were talking about foozles, and after playing Meridian 59 I realize that you really did put an effort into the foozles!” You’re talking about something I’m obviously interested in, and that’s a great way to make a connection. Or, if you make comments on my blog, tell me your handle on here when we meet. Showing that you read my writing and think enough about it to reply is another good connection. And, waiting a few months after a convention means that you will probably miss the bulk of mail that most developers get right after a conference; you might even be lucky enough to hit a lull between conferences.

It should go without saying, but be courteous to other people. Put yourself in their shoes: they had to prepare a talk, and they’ve been at the conference probably since the day before it started. Introverts are going to be worn out from all the interaction with others, and extroverts are going to be drinking and partying every night. Forgive us if we don’t seem chipper on that last day of the conference. Also pardon us if we don’t remember you immediately (or at all) from a previous handshake. Also keep in mind that we have schedules to keep ourselves. We might be meeting someone to discuss business, or of to a business lunch for our career; please don’t hold a developer up if he or she has to leave. Get contact information quickly, or copy it down from the presentation.

The winning combination, in essence, is: learn something about us, make a connection, and be memorable. Here’s another tip that works well on me: buy me something. I’m not terribly materialistic, but if you offer to buy me a pop, a beer, or even a meal I’m going to be much happier while talking to you. At one conference someone offered to buy me a meal after chatting for a while. That person got an hour and a half of my time for about $25; a great deal on his part any way you look at it.

Once you do get to the point where you can ask us questions and get information, be intelligent. Don’t ask me a question that is already answered on my blog, for example. That shows you don’t pay attention and don’t value the time I spend talking to you. Do some research, show that you’ve put some effort into this. Especially when it comes to breaking into the industry, it’s not going to be easy. Also, let us know if you finally do get a job in the industry. We want to be happy for you when you do. :) Plus, that whole contact thing goes two ways: maybe sometime in the future you might be in a position to help us if you’re as clever as you think you are! :)

There’s my suggestions. Hopefully it’s a bit more concrete than “go out and network”. Unfortunately, as I said above, there’s no single silver bullet. But, I’ve given you some suggestions that should make approaching me at a conference a bit easier, at the very least. :)

If anyone has any other stories or specific questions, feel free to post.

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  1. I’ve also found that people tend to remember you more if you grow an insanely long red beard. =) I’m not recommending this (sorry Brian =) but personally, I tend to remember people more on a visual basis, than remembering their name.

    Since the limited networking I’ve done so far has primarily resulted in Brian pulling me over to someone and introducing me, most people will know my face, know I work for Meridian 59, and have more than once remembered me as ‘Brian’s bitch’.

    Making the initiative yourself instead of relying on others to introduce you makes a bigger impact, and also helps curb amusing nicknames. I did need the help to get started, but now that I’ve taken the first step I’m learning it’s a valuable resource, especially in this industry.

    Comment by Mike Emmons — 26 January, 2006 @ 2:26 PM

  2. I remember that chair you broke Mike :)

    Comment by Notin — 26 January, 2006 @ 7:05 PM

  3. Great advice!

    From the ‘media’ side of things I think the most important thing to remember when building relationships with developers is to be genuine. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not, and don’t get lost trying to use language or slang to fit in with the developers.

    I’m fairly frank about what I do and don’t know, and track developers like Psychochild because they offer me a window into a world that I never chased after. Oddly enough there is a lot to know about games and design and provided that you don’t make a fool of yourself worshipping these people, or try to fake what you don’t know — most developers are generous enough with their time and will answer your questions when they can.

    Patience, persistence, humility, and honesty — those are great things. If you have those with you when you approach a game developer (in person, email, boards, whatever) they tend to respond.

    Or at least that’s why I think I’m humored by them. ;)

    Comment by Grimwell — 26 January, 2006 @ 7:24 PM

  4. One additional thing that I didn’t really describe in the post: a great way to be recognized is to be known for something. Perhaps you had a killer game demo out there that people talked about. Maybe you run a intelligent rant site about games. Perhaps you post thoughtful comments on noted blogs or mailing lists. Or grow a beard or break a chair. :) Do something worthwhile and it’ll help you get recognized.

    Comment by Psychochild — 26 January, 2006 @ 7:37 PM

  5. And, like you stated in your article, buying a dev a drink or food will definitely get you remembered. =P

    Comment by FattyMoo — 28 January, 2006 @ 12:58 AM

  6. Darius Kazemi has a rather extensive supply of networking essays. Many of them are quite good.

    Comment by Craig — 28 January, 2006 @ 2:05 PM

  7. Wow, Craig, great link. There definitely is some good information there.

    There’s a more direct link to the networking stuff.

    Highly recommended reading.

    Comment by Psychochild — 28 January, 2006 @ 4:24 PM

  8. Thanks, Brian. Much appreciated, and hopefully I’m not included in the “ask a stupid question” section. :)

    Comment by Dom — 30 January, 2006 @ 12:03 AM

  9. Another good article that came out recently: Top 12 Networking Tips & Tricks For GDC 2006.

    Of course, it applies to more than just this year. :) Plus, the general information is good for all conferences.

    Comment by Psychochild — 11 February, 2006 @ 4:48 PM

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