[This is a repost from my blog doolwind.com and #altdevblogaday]
I've been to countless video game graduate industry nights over the past five years. I started out scouting talent for the companies I was working for and now I'm always on the look out for talented developers to work with on indie games. The talent and games coming out of these graduates has steadily increased with every passing year. I'm constantly surprised by the quality of work of many of the teams given their limited experience. However, I keep seeing the same mistakes being made each year and thought it was time I shared some basic tips to reduce these recurring issues.
Get Business Cards
The simplest issue is one I'm constantly frustrated by. The majority of teams have business cards or other suitable contact information, but there is always at least one team that has no way of me contacting them. Often, this team will have the star programmer of the night that I really want to hire. There are countless options for cheap and free business cards and I think this is far more important than anything else you will spend money on for the evening (like posters and t-shirts).
Also on this topic, make sure you give out business cards for the whole team. At the most recent industry event, I was speaking with the game designer from a team of 5. I asked for "all your business cards" and he proceeded to give me 5 of his own business card.
Research Local Companies Before The Event
All of the industry nights I've attended have been in Brisbane, Australia. Home of a number of large studios in the past (Auran, THQ, Pandemic) and smaller extremely successful studios like Halfbrick. It pays to spend a few hours before the event researching the companies in your local area as there's a good chance they will send at least one representative. Knowing what they have recently released and are currently working on will give you a good opportunity to lengthen the conversation you have while they visit your booth. It's also a good opportunity to pick the favorite studios you would most like to work for. Check out their "positions available" page to find out the sort of talent and amount of experience they are looking for in each field.
Don't Drink Too Much Alcohol
Most of the events I go to have free alcohol for those attending. I remember my poor university student days and the excitement when free was offered. However if you're at these events showing off your games PLEASE take it easy with the free alcohol. I usually only make it towards the second half of the industry nights and by then there is always at least one team that has consumed their weight in free alcohol. I realise these events are held at the end of an extremely stressful period, however I implore you to wait just one more night. Use your college student ingenuity and stockpile the free alcohol in a safe container for later consumption if you really must.
Don't Pack Up Early
Most of the events only last a few hours. Game developers are busy people and can't always make it along to the entire event. There's nothing worse than walking around the booths with 30 minutes to go and seeing people packing up their equipment. There is always ample time at the end to pack up and you're missing out on one of a very few opportunities to put your work in front of prospective employers. If you can't last the few hours required for an industry night you're unlikely to make it through a multi-year development cycle.
It's Not A Pro Gaming League
Many teams go for local multiplayer in their end of year projects to save on time writing AI code. This is a great idea and lets multiple people experience your game at the same time during the industry night. Just remember that you not only created the game, but have countless more months experience with it than prospective employers. Getting absolutely smashed in a game I barely understand and then having (slightly drunk) graduates whooping and high-five each other is a bit of a turn off. It's difficult to gauge the quality of a game when I die every 15 seconds. We had this same problem with an MMO we were showing to a prospective publisher. The development team treated it light some kind of pro gaming league and completely wiped the floor with the "noob" publishers. Your job prospects will likely go the way of this ill-fated MMO.
I've noticed a number of teams have a designated spokesperson that speaks to people entering the booth. I have mixed feelings about this setup. It's good for a key person to grab the attention of people walking past and give a good introduction to the game and the team. However this role usually falls to the project manager/lead game designer of the team and if I'm looking for an artist or programmer I want to talk to these team members. If you are going with a dedicated spokesperson, make sure they ask if there is anyone on the team in particular they would like to speak with. Also, make sure the whole team is about for most of the evening. If you are the spokesperson, make sure you introduce yourself and be confident.
I remember how desperate I was to get business cards of video game developers while I was studying. As soon as I got one I'd email them and make sure I got on their radar. It seems about 10% of people I give cards to at these events act in the same way. The other 90% either lose my card or just don't bother replying. Even if you're not looking for work right away, its invaluable to have contacts in the industry, particularly in Australia at the moment. Sending a quick introduction email to all the business cards you receive on the night should only take a few hours and I guarantee at least one of them will pay off in the future.
Make Something Playable
This tip doesn't apply to the industry night specifically. Make sure when planning the game you will show at the industry night, you keep the scope small enough so that you will have at least something playable to show. Gameplay videos are great, but they take time to create and don't do as good a job at showing off your work. Having a playable build, no matter how buggy or unpolished is going to impress prospective employers more than a simple gameplay video. Also this is a great time to get a whole bunch of free user testing done on your project. Spend as much time on polish as you can as a beautifully polished, simple game, is far better than a grandiose, buggy one.
I remember one of the first industry nights I went to, about seven years ago. I walked up to the booth to find the familiar scene of Visual Studio and a coder hacking away at a bug. While it was great fun hunting down the crash bug with him, it didn't instill much faith in their abilities to deliver a project on time and on budget.
These are just a few tips I've noticed on multiple occasions throughout the past few years. Do you have any recommendations for students showing their games at industry nights?
Another great resource for tips: http://altdevblogaday.com/2011/08/26/game-dev-students-represent/