In most industries, getting your foot in the door is the biggest challenge. In games it can be particularly difficult to get attention from the right people because there’s so much interest from ambitious gamers! Luckily, there are a few recipes for success…
This week’s question is from Ian Morrison, who asks “Do you have any tips as far as networking goes? What are the best places to go and get your name out there? Specifically, what’s the best way for a university student to go about it?”
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject of networking, but I’ve reached a stage in my career where I can do what I’m passionate about — and it generally works out! That said, it’s interesting to note that I’m in this position arguably because I relied on my creative self-expression. So this is my best overall advice; follow your heart and you’ll get people’s attention.
Anyway, in terms of your networking strategy, you should focus on two complementary techniques:
The Salesman’s Approach — Be in the right place at the right time, and have the smooth talking skills to work yourself in.
The Geeky Approach — Focus on what you love doing, then share what you’ve discovered with other geeks!
Ideally, you want a bit of both, but by far the best way to get started is the second solution — particularly if you’re a student. It takes much less effort to bring out the inner geek in you, and it’s much more rewarding!
From experience, the following three strategies should help you achieve these goals. I’ll even give you some examples of how I did it…
Write, Write, Write
I don’t have enough praise for how useful writing is generally. But in terms of networking you can use it to grab people’s attention and get your name out there. Regardless of experience, there’s always something you can write about that people will find useful. Then, as you write more, you’ll find it easier to get attention from larger publications, which are perfect to increase your visibility.
Write about anything you’re passionate about, from topics where you have lots of experience, or even your learning process. However, keep this in mind:
Focus on writing top quality articles, with illustrations and examples.
Publish your work on established sites that are targeted towards your niche.
While I’m on the subject, if you’re looking to get into game AI, email me if you would like to get started here at AiGameDev.com!
Personally, I started coding in Pascal, and make lots of graphical demos with it. In the process of learning C++, I wrote a column called The Art of Demomaking that quickly became popular on the game development site I published it on. (In retrospect, I should have included more screenshots! :)
Build Cool Projects
Of course, writing is even more useful if it’s backed up by something unique. This will help you attract the attention of the right developers.
Identify areas of games that you feel need some work or that can be improved, and experiment with different solutions. If you can implement everything yourself, that’s great. But don’t hesitate to re-use existing engines and modify the scripts. There’s always something you can do given your level of experience.
If you want to get into game AI, I previously wrote about research opportunities for artificial intelligence in games.
In my youth, I spent a while working on voxel landscapes, and since there aren’t many such engines, it eventually became one of the best around. Of course, I wrote about it in a tutorial and released the source code. This helped tremendously landing my first placement in industry!
Conferences & Meetings
Finally, I recommend you get involved as much as possible in the game development scene. It can be expensive to go to conferences (and not always worthwhile financially), but there are ways to network on a student’s budget.
Advice & Examples:
Attend cheaper and more focused seminars, like Apply AI this year.
Help out at big conferences in exchange for a free pass, e.g. at Develop.
Go to free local meetings for game developers, as organised by the IGDA.
Once you have a cool project, try submitting a proposal to speak!
If there’s little game developer activity in your area, contact the organizers and offer to help. Often they don’t have time to sort out the details, so use your motivation to help out!
Do you have any networking tips for Ian? Post a comment below.