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Networking at GDC- A Beginnerís Guide, Part 2
by Stephen Froeber on 01/13/14 08:31:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Welcome back to the Beginner’s Networking Guide. (If you missed Part 1, you can read it here) In Part 2, we’ll delve a bit deeper into some basic networking psychology to put in your mental toolbox, so let’s jump right into it.

After several of the GDC panels and conferences, I often felt that the speakers did a great job and I wanted to go say “thanks” and maybe introduce myself. (Notice here that I said “introduce myself” and not “pitch my services.”) Often, as I would walk up to the speaker, I would quickly get crowded by a bunch of presumably well-intentioned fellow newcomers who were all handing business cards and portfolios to the speakers like club promoters on the Las Vegas strip. Almost all of the speakers were quite gracious, and would politely take the cards and smile. However, their body language would often speak volumes about how uncomfortable the situation was, and my fellow newcomers seemed to be oblivious to the signals. After handing them their cards and demos, they would proceed to cram as many words about themselves as they could into a 30 second span of time. Again, the speakers were gracious.

Let’s get an uncomfortable truth out in the open now: Generally speaking, the AAA Executive for X Company or famous guest speaker is NOT that interested in you!

Please re-read that sentence and let it sink in.

Could they be interested in working with you in the (distant) future? Maybe.

Are you actually the super-prodigy exception to this rule? Possibly, but I doubt it.

Won’t they suddenly realize that you are the chosen one if only they would see/hear your amazing portfolio? Probably not.

Let me emphasize, this is not a hit on the executives and speakers, because all the ones I saw were very cordial.

Let me also emphasize that this is not a hit on your skill level, because many of the aspiring people I saw were very proficient at their particular craft. (But then again, so are the already working professionals in your trade that have more real-world experience than you.)

This is simply a realistic acknowledgement of how networking and hiring generally work. 99.73% of the time, you get jobs by establishing some kind of working relationship with the people that are hiring you. If you think that swamping an executive after a summit or conference will establish a relationship, I would politely disagree. That’s not to say you shouldn’t go talk to them at all…but just understand that it’s not the time and place to do any kind of pitching for your services. Talent is easy to find, and talent alone is not enough to get you hired.

Let’s take this further. For some readers, this next snippet may warrant a bit of reflection: Human beings typically want to be accepted into a group. We want to belong, and we want to be seen in a positive light. We like talking about ourselves (even if others aren’t very interested). When we are perceived as less than our best self, it can be discouraging and it is uncomfortable. When we realize that not everyone sees or agrees with our perceived strengths, it can be a little hurtful to the ego.

There are several interesting psychological studies that show that, at the subconscious level, our brains don’t like to be cognitively uncomfortable. Our brain will attempt to resolve difficulties in the quickest way that it can. One of the common mechanisms of resolution that the brain uses is to become defensive when our sense of self-worth is threatened. We ALL do this to a certain extent and it takes conscious effort to overcome this tendency. This can be especially hard to overcome for those of us who are professional creatives and artists. We bare our souls in our work for the world to see, and either accept or reject. But the sooner we begin to work on overcoming this fear, the sooner we will become more effective, competent, networking professionals in the gaming industry.

To help overcome this, I think it’s a good idea to seek out constructive criticism from those who know you, and sometimes, from those who don’t know you very well. Find someone who is willing to be honest with you about your strengths and weaknesses, and then compare that to your own perception of yourself. Don’t get upset and discouraged if the feedback isn’t all glowing reviews; use it as an opportunity to get better! I’m not advocating that you allow people to tell you who are on a fundamental level, but I’m simply saying that honest feedback from a variety of sources can be a useful tool for professional and personal growth.

When Luke Skywalker crash landed on the planet Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back he encounters a small eccentric little creature with pointy ears that speaks in whimsical reverse-isms. Luke is seeking a great Jedi master to train him, and instead he gets this little swamp creature that won’t help him find Master Yoda. Of course, Luke was suddenly quite willing to train under the Jedi Master once his expectations about Yoda’s appearance and abilities had been readjusted. What’s important to note here is that Yoda allowed Luke to think of him as a peculiar little creature, rather than the Jedi Master. Yoda had no questions about his own abilities; he just had to wait for Luke to be receptive to what he had to offer.

*Ding!* Light bulb!

Who knew that Star Wars had such a great analogy for GDC networking! Like Master Yoda, you can show off your skills to the bigger fish once the proverbial way has been paved by your hard work and industry credibility.

Let me leave you with a final anecdote. I went to my first GDC as an aspiring game composer. On the first day of the conference, I spent most of the day walking around, and talking with people. I ended up meeting an Indie Developer named Wilson Leong. We chatted for a while and talked about the game he was working on. Through the course of the conversation, he expressed some things that indicated to me that he might be very interested in my services, so I told him what I could do with music and sound effects. By that point in the conversation, I had already asked several questions, established a rapport, and even downloaded the lite version of his game from the iOS store to play for a few minutes. I really liked the game and the concept, and we seemed to be having a good conversation. We exchanged business cards, and continued on through the day. Later that evening, I went home and created a music and sound design demo (free of charge and without being asked to do so), and I emailed it to him just to give him an idea of my work. Later that week, we decided that it would be best if we began a working relationship.

I left GDC as a working game composer. I met people in various fields that were, like me, aspiring. They were very talented and they were likable people, but in my opinion, some of them weren’t going after realistic projects and relationships, and they left GDC still aspiring.

Was I lucky? Perhaps. But I also think that I set myself up for success by using the principles that I’ve shared here. This is a wonderful exciting industry to be a part of, but as with success in any industry, you have to become competent in how to work with people, not just the technical aspects of your chosen craft. I hope that you find this information helpful, and I hope that everyone achieves the success that they prepare themselves for.

For more information on my game audio services, or if you just want to say "Hi", check out my website!


Very special thanks to the following game industry veterans for their feedback on this article: Gene Koo, Brian SchmidtKole Hicks, Paul Lipson, and Silas Hite.

 


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Comments


Michael Fitch
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Stephen:
Interesting piece. The press of people around the podium after a talk is definitely an awkward situation. Generally, it's not the best time or place to get into something substantive, because they're trying to turn the room over for the next session, the speaker probably has someplace to go (like the next session), and there's generally a crowd of people waiting/competing for attention. If you really want to connect with a speaker, my advice would be to keep the interaction short and sweet and focus on how to contact them to set up a later conversation.

Three other pieces of advice that have worked for me at GDC (your results may vary):
1) People love to talk about themselves. If you're trying to connect with someone, focus less on talking about yourself and more about asking meaningful questions that give the other person an opportunity to demonstrate what they do and know.

2) People are amazingly generous with advice and stingy with commitments. Focus on the former and not the latter. Make them feel like an expert with something to offer, but don't ask them to do anything that will take substantial time or energy, at least not until you've developed a relationship.

3) Be fearless in striking up conversations with random people. I'm not suggesting that you should break into existing conversations, but if you are in the same space with someone else (coffee line, smoking area, mixer) and they're not doing anything else, go ahead and introduce yourself and get a conversation going. A generally useful line is "What's the best session you've been to so far?" or "What sessions are you most excited about today?". I have met some really awesome people just because we happened to be waiting for a talk to start or having a drink.

Best,
Michael.

Paul Chen
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Thanks for the great article and tips! Looking forward to my first GDC this year as a designer (1yr in), can't wait to meet the industry and learn from everyone. Gotta find a way to combat the jetlag from Taiwan though :S

Stephen Froeber
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Thanks for the feedback, and I'm glad you found it helpful and interesting.

Kevin Zhang
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Thanks for the great article! It's exactly what I was looking for, thanks to your friend's reference (http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=38439.msg989531#msg98
9531). I'll also be a GDC first-timer, so this is incredibly helpful to my team and I.

Stephen Froeber
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Thanks for the feedback Kevin, and I hope to see you there!

Anthony Pitts
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I'm a little late reading this, but I really appreciate the advice!

As this is my first GDC, I find myself scrambling to check necessities off the list. But seeing a guide like this helps me recenter and refocus on the really important bits.


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