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The Dark Art of Networking in the Games Industry

Alex J. Champandard on November 9, 2007

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:

  1. The Salesman’s Approach — Be in the right place at the right time, and have the smooth talking skills to work yourself in.

  2. 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.

Advice:

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!

Example:

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.

Advice:

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.

Example:

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.

Discussion 4 Comments

Andrew on November 10th, 2007

I need to do the advice "do more stuff". Project work (which is AI based, so some gain from it ;) ) is taking up my precious free time though. And so many games to play and other university coursework, gah! Some additional tips/stuff I can think of (since it's worth sharing I'll put this on my site too actually!): IGDA scholarship applications to GDC 2008 are open until December: http://www.igda.org/scholarships/ - you have to be a student member, of course. Worth getting involved in the IGDA regardless. You can also volunteer to work at GDC (if in America, I doubt it's worth flying there to volunteer if you're strapped for cash) and it's said there is some free time or choice of what to help at (and thus see) at the conference. I volunteered at the Develop conference (mentioned in Alex's post). Was good work and fun, although I was terrible at networking, since I mainly talked to the other volunteers. For shame me :( - but still worth doing! Note: The UK game developer conferences vary year on year from my research - there used to be one in London (now not on), there used to be another one, the European GDC is more in Germany (Lepzig) or Lyon (GDC Lyon), but Develop will be on in 08, which is good! - http://www.develop-conference.com/ The IGDA can always use some boost in it's SIG's too. I've been told the AI SIG *will* be active as soon as Alex and his people sort integration of AIISC content/discussions into the IGDA site. The student SIG is all but abandoned, and for university people, getting it working would be good. And my preference is the Preservation SIG...I'm a bit biased with this though since I help with it, but it's a good SIG to help if you can! While not AI related as such, there are UK gaming career fairs, which is good to see what's around and talk to people/see seminars (Going to the London one: AI and programmers are seemingly in demand, although obviously not all without experience). The last one was London (in October) - http://www.gamecareerfair.com/ - the next one I can find it "Game Grads" in 2 locations - Hammersmith or Manchester - http://www.gamesgrads.co.uk/ There also is some other events in the UK that students might want to attend; Nevermind The Polygons is awesome, I filmed the last one and hope to get the final permission to get it online - next one would be a bit more promtly up ;) it's held in Derby - http://nevermindthepolygons.com/ - and yeah, I was rubbish networking there, since I had a camera to look after (honest excuse guv!) Also, although you have now missed them, the London Game Festival, and GameCity (my choice) are both on in Autumn - and likely will be on next year. Various events (such as the career fair in London, and cool events at GameCity) are well worth attending. Networking might be limited depending though :) - http://www.gamecity.org/ - http://www.londongamesfestival.co.uk/Home.aspx Covering interesting things on your blog/site/whatever is a good idea, since some interesting stuff can crop up, and it's worth keeping a personal record at least. Note: I am terrible at talking to people really - I get so hung up on what I'd talk about, I need to practice I guess. The Apply AI thing was okay-ish (some neat guys there), but I got laughed at a bit for saying academic stuff is useful in game stuff (or a lot has been used from academics), which actually once I found out about it, what I said was, really correct. I think it was just more out of context (ie; I think I said "currently..." rather then the masses of stuff implemented years ago, like B&W, Sims, etc. which is now "old") Gah, damn late night posts. Hope this is useful to someone now I've done it!

alexjc on November 10th, 2007

[B]Andrew[/B], Thanks for commenting. I was hoping to land a comment from you; I've been very impressed with your approach to networking ;-) Don't worry about people in industry laughing about new AI technology; it's always like that before it gets adopted! As a newcomer, it gives you a chance to specialize also... I enjoyed ApplyAI. It was one of the best game AI roundtables I've moderated — including two at GDC Europe. Shame there wasn't more time for chatting afterwards. Alex

Ian Morrison on November 11th, 2007

Fantastic advice guys. Thanks for posting the article, Alex!

Andrew on November 12th, 2007

I forgot to mention, there is a free GDC recording entitled "Networking 101" available at http://www.gdcradio.net/free_gdc_recordings/ I've not had a chance to listen to it, but I'm sure it's worth checking out.

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