I know I am writing this the week before GDC, but it’s still nice to take a look at some basic things you should add to your prepping checklist that can better assist your chances ahead.
So, The Game Developers Conference. Amongst the diabolical efforts we go to secure the closest hotel to the Moscone Center for the cheapest price, and sigh in sadness at the cost of our flight tickets, if we take full advantage of the all the glorious opportunities available during this one single week, it could just be one of the best career investments we could make.
The key thing is to NOT spend the 5 days walking around the conference browsing the exhibition hall and enjoying yourself mostly at the after parties. Sure, they are great, and it is easy to get caught up in the hype of it all, but you could probably leave your drinking and partying at home and focus on some very great networking opportunities (and if you are attending the sessions) learning opportunities. The right people aren’t going to just pop out of thin air just because you happened to be walking past their booth and want to start a lengthy conversation with you. You have to put some (professional) work into it.
Before I dig into my personal advice, I’ll tell you where I got my advice from when attending GDC last year. Darius Kazemi wrote his blog Effective Networking In The Games Industry, specially around networking at GDC, which I felt was immensely helpful especially concerning the not-so-obvious advice like ‘how to start a conversation with a developer’, ‘how to work a room’ and ‘how to make yourself memorable’. That blog covers what I’m writing here and a whole lot more. I honestly could never explain some of the personable and conversational skills that he does. It’s magnificent.
First things first, if you haven’t been to GDC before, get on the website and do a little bit of research. Locate the event map for the Moscone Center and gather a rough idea of where each section of the conference is held. It seems simple enough, but it’s seriously good time management. It will definitely cut into your time if you are trying to navigate around all the streets on the first day without much of a clue where you are going. Especially if you are attending the sessions – there isn’t much time at all for you to run from one talk to another, and you really don’t want to end up at the back of the huge line to the session you so desperately want to see, only to discover that the room can’t fit everyone in. It happens!!!
If you are planning on visiting the many bootcamps, roundtables, tutorials, Q&As etc., then decide full well which ones you want to go to and make sure you go there early to miss those lines. I would definitely recommend going to the GDC Session Scheduler and reading through each one thoroughly. Register a schedule account and tick the ones you want to go to, view your personal schedule and acknowledge your overlapping sessions. There will be many, so chose the one session carefully and decide if it will benefit you the most compared to the rest, knowing that in some cases other sessions will be filmed and put on the GDC Vault website later on (for those who are paying for the subscriptions). Print off your personal schedule or download the GDC app with your schedule on your device and carry it with you. It is time spent now to have one less thing to worry about later, and when you are up to your ears in business cards, notes, thoughts about after parties that night and so forth, you’ll be glad you did it 😉
Around the week before GDC it is also a good idea to reach out to any current contacts you have, asking if they are attending the conference. It’s a good conversation starter, and even better, could land you a lunch meet or an invitation to a party. If you have a mentor, consult with them about events you should be attending around the conference or anyone they could introduce you to. If they aren’t going, maybe they may know someone who is and who would be willing to reach out to you.
Make sure you have your business cards updated and ready. A common question is how many is needed – it really depends on how much networking you think you will be doing (which is dependent on any parties, lunches, etc. you will be attending that will expose you to contacts). I personally took a pack of 60 last year and didn’t use them all even after attending a party every night. This was because – as a person wanting to get into the industry – I was taking developers’ business cards rather than handing out mine. It will be me that will be doing all the follow up emails later. In some cases, developers had forgotten their business cards, and instead used my business card to write their email addresses on for me to keep. Make sure you also have a pen handy!
An extension of bringing your business card is also to bring your resume. This isn’t so you can hand it out to every developer like a flyer for a superstore, but so that you are ready in the event that someone does ask you if they could have one. This is especially the case for meeting recruiters or approaching the career booths on the expo floor. Make sure your resume is also updated. Oh and your website (if you have one).
When talking to others, be yourself. That’s is the best possible personality you could offer to anyone, and you should embrace it. On a professional level, your own self is the type of person you will be bringing to the workforce, so you will want to show off your individuality above all else. Your traits will stand out in a crowd far more than your ability to talk up yourself or put on a facade or other personality. Do not try to be someone your not because in most cases you will be caught out. As long as you are treating others with respect and are showing a great passion for your work and your industry, you will go a long way. You don’t want to be too fanboy in front of professionals, but a little enthusiasm also shows interest and shows your awareness. It’s all in how you hold yourself and converse.
If you are going with a group of people, make sure that you each support each other rather than distract. It’s easy to lean against your group of friends when you are shy or are nervous to approach a potential networking opportunity. Don’t be hesitant to split up if you want to attend different sessions or see a particular developer who you wish to talk to. Seriously, don’t be this group:
The best part about GDC is how chilled everyone can be and the general friendliness of it all. With beers in our hands, we all just want to have a good time and meet some genuinely cool people.
I attended GDC absolutely alone last year, in San Francisco for the first time, right during my 21st birthday. Damn, I was terrified, but it turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had. Being by myself was actually the best thing I could have done; it forced me to make friends with strangers (I don’t generally advocate this) and jump out of my comfort zone, just so that I didn’t feel like a lone person in a room full of everyone who knows everyone. The strangers that I talked to ended up becoming valuable contacts, some at major AAA studios, who I still talk to today. I wonder whether I would have received such luck if I had followed a group of friends around for the week, not really paying attention to my surroundings, and remaining in a bubble of conversation. Like I said at the start of this post – take full advantage of your current situations!
And please, expect this ‘plan’ to sometimes go awry. You can never plan for a random conversation to turn into a lunch (which is what happened to me with the Creative Director at Ubisoft) or a small chat waiting in line at Starbucks to turn into an invitation to a mixer. Or the opposite – an after party turning into a bust because someone got stuuuuuupid drunk (side note: keep your drinks minimal! You can drink at home all you like, but you can’t get your professional reputation back), or a lunch was cancelled, or a session you lined up half an hour for turned out to be boring as hell. Make the most of your day. There is always a window of opportunity.
So for all those attending GDC this year, whether it is for the first time or returning, I wish you the best of luck!