This’s a new one for me. There are two reasons for that. One is that I’ve never attended an Game Developers Conference till now, and the other being that this is the first time I’ve been an attendee (of anything) since, I don’t know, 2016? The difference though is that it’s a giant business gathering, instead of a group of game loving fans.
Full disclosure, this isn’t going to be a “how to network” piece. However, there’s some crossover here and there. I’ve been working professionally for almost three years as a contract programmer and instructor, so I wasn’t going in blind. I went to GDC to grow the network and make connections. I’m also not a speech and conversation expert either (keep that in mind). Regardless, I do hope that some of this info will be beneficial to whoever comes across this.
Being in a convention center where some of the biggest companies and developers in are in one place does pay potential dividends to talk to as many people as possible. During the day the best place was the expo hall, at night it’s parties from what I’ve been told.
Developers that are exhibiting are metaphorically chained to their booths, so they have to talk to other devs and potential publishers. The conversation can go further, but that’s dependent on both speakers I’ve realized. If both speakers on introverted (a likely scenario), both speakers are dependent on the other to carry on to the next topic.
I’d find something memorable about their game, why they’re at GDC, anything to keep the conversation going (it also helps if speakers are in line, or packed in like sardines for something). I ended up with a lot of interesting conversations to latch on to when following up on people.
Write down people to remind myself who they are
This’s a new tip I accidentally adopted during the show. After getting a giveaway notebook from the Mogi Booth (full disclosure they helped out with translating Negative World into Simplified Chinese, Russian, and German) I started using it to remind me of people I talked to.
What we talked about, what struck out to me that would help me remember them. Definitely going to help when following up on everyone. In hindsight writing on the business card would have been better, but some cards don’t have a blank side, plus the notebook has a solid surface to write on.
Business cards at the ready
If there’s one thing I wish a lot of conventions provided, it would be business card holder, because the ones I have can only carry so much, and vary in terms of quality. GDC badges provide a little pocket, for business cards (if that wasn’t the intention, I don’t know what it might have been).
If I was out, I’d just reach for my card boxes in my beaten up laptop bag for more, it was the fastest tradeoffs I’ve had. It’s simple, but it really helps.
Opportunities coming out of (mostly)nowhere
The only party I was able to get into was via invite beforehand from one of my colleagues. Met and talked with other colleagues in person for the first time. One of them was an certified educator for Unity.
We talked about what we’ve done, and making a few cracks about our profession, and I was asked if I’d be interested in taking up a new opportunity with them. I got a tour of the Unity offices and got some swag. Job wise, nothing’s official at the time of writing, so fingers crossed.
Never know who’s looking at your work or who’s introducing your work to other people.
Going out of my way to keep up with meetings and opportunities
Every opportunity (that went anywhere) I’ve ever gotten came from either meetups I didn’t feel like going to, but went anyway, or failing to proof read my emails. When the Unity representative told me about the potential new opportunity (again everything’s up in the air at the moment). I needed to wake up earlier than usual to catch an educators meeting, leading to talking with higher ups.
Of course going to every meetup doesn’t guarantee anything, but stuff does happen when it’s not expected sometimes.
Time for the stuff that didn’t go so well.
You get what you pay for (expo pass)
GDC is expensive, really expensive. Went with the cheapest pass possible. Meaning I just get the expo hall, and no talks. Honestly I’m still fine with that, I can just wait for the GDC talks on youtube … eventually, but on the flip side it does mean wandering around and hoping to make a good contact in the dark.
If I were able to go to talks I’d be able to find people with similar interests (or problems), and connect over that in a much more straightforward manner instead of hoping for similar interests.
Getting to the show early
I landed in San Francisco on Tuesday morning, one day before the expo hall opened. I just spent the all that day just going through the west building networking with people (not being able to go to talks mind you).
Hopefully something comes out of it in the near or even far future if I’m being optimistic about it, but it did kinda felt like a wasted day.
Parties sell out fast
“Parties are where people find out who you are” -Anonymous Colleague
I don’t like big industry parties all that much, it’s loud, million things are happening at once, and I don’t drink. Apparently though, it’s where everyone’s at. When I found out, every single one was sold out, even the free ones. Judging by the lines I witnessed passing through, people need to get there at a decently early time too.
I’d much rather be in an hotel room learning shaders, or working on something productive, but I also recognize that networking with drunken developers is where friends and jobs are found, sigh.
Standstill conversation at some points
Remember when I said that a conversation is dependent on the two speakers and their level of introvertness … yeah, there was a lot of conversations that didn’t amount to much. Either because I was too introverted, or the speaker, or there wasn’t any interest, or whichever.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something that can be controlled, or maybe I’m not a great talker, or both.
Jumping into conversations without much thought
With so many people it may feel easy to just jump into conversation and get a new connection, but it’s no guarantee that it’s going to be a good fit. There are many different companies at GDC, game companies, indie companies, engine makers, publishers, VR companies, students and maybe some silicon valley opportunists. Sounds great right?
Well, this got me into conversations where I wasn’t familiar with or was uninformed about the subject. Sometimes this turns into a positive like “hey I never knew this thing existed,” but in my case it was more of “hmm, that exists, but not in my wheelhouse.” Maybe I’m being close minded.
Overall I enjoyed GDC, as a getting to know the ropes of the biggest Game Developer gathering on the planet. Who knows if I feel like doing it next year (probably will), but I don’t know how beneficial it would be for people looking to get their foot in the door (different subject). I do think it’s something every developer should attend at least once, if affordable obviously. Have good rest of your week.