This post is part of My Career Series.
This is my first time attending GDC, and the trip really helped me broaden my horizons and greatly improved my social skills. I’ve decided to write down what I have learned and share some of my tips on meeting people at GDC (or just meeting game industry people in general). I only got an Expo Pass, so the only places I went to were the Expo Hall and The W Hotel lobby.
Bring Your Cards & Tablet
You never know when you’d exchange contact information with someone, so keeping a stack of business cards around you is very important. Put your cards in a hard card holder, instead of keeping them inside your jeans pocket, so that you appear more prepared and professional when you take out the cards. If you have a demo reel, upload it to a tablet or a phone and then carry them around with you; it can make a very positive and strong impression of yourself if you can just pull out your tablet and show other people your work. At first, I uploaded my demo reel to my phone just in case my tablet ran out of battery; it turned out that the video on the phone can come in handy in situations where you’re caught off-guard. For instance, when I met some game devs from PopCap and Bungie at the airport and on the way back to my apartment, my tablet was well packed in my stuffed backpack and was hard to take out. So I just showed my demo reel to them on my phone instead. The smaller screen might be less impressive, but the fact that you can show off your work anywhere at any time totally outweighs that.
The Expo Hall is where the Company Booths, Career Pavilion, and IGF Pavilion are located.
Company Booths are mainly for companies to show off and advertise their product, such as Crytek’s Cry Engine 3, Havok’s Anarchy Engine, and a whole bunch of middlewares. They might be looking to hire people, but from what I have observed (which might not be correct), they are mostly focused on demonstrating their products to people. However, the Unity booth did have a special sit-down space just for them to talk to people who are interested in working with them. Some game company booths have programmers and artists there, and you can talk to them to show off your work. Don’t forget to exchange contact information when the conversion is finished (this applies everywhere).
The Career Pavilion contains smaller company booths, and the people at the booths are mostly HR. They are the one to talk to if you want to find a job or internship. Something I don’t like is that some HR would just give you their website URL and tell you to apply online; I always wonder: what’s the point setting up a booth at GDC, then? If you are lucky enough, some engineers or artists might also be at the booth, and the HR might introduce you to them, depending to your area of focus.
There are booths for IGF finalists at the IGF Pavilion. People that made it into the finals are the best indie game developers out there, so you want to make friends with all of them. Go play their games, give feedback, and introduce yourself. They will be more than happy to exchange contact information with you.
The W Hotel Lobby
It is unspoken (and commonly known) knowledge that the most important people from the game industry that are not going to any party late at night would hang out at the lobby bar of The W Hotel. It is a rather small bar that plays loud music, but trust me, you cannot believe how many important people you are surrounded by at The W. Don’t go to the lobby too early, though, because you’ll be wasting your time. Most people start appearing at the bar after 11pm. You might have a hard time identifying big figures, so just don’t bother. Go talk to as many people as you can. Everyone there is from the industry (although they might not look like game devs or artists). The biggest mistake I made was thinking that no one there looked like game dev, so I felt like leaving early every night. Luckily, my classmates made me stay a little bit longer every night (slightly past 11:30pm), and we ended up meeting tons of different people from Blizzard, Naughty Dog, EA, Sony, and Remedy Entertainment, etc.
I admit that I had a hard time approaching people the first couple days, but I got better later. All you need to know is that the people from the industry don’t bite. They make games, just like you, and they would never say no to meeting new people who are also making games. Just look for someone that doesn’t seem busy, stick your hand out and introduce yourself. Even if a group is talking to each other, you can still join them (unless everyone seems too busy to talk to an extra person). When you introduce yourself, tell them what you do (“Hi, I am Allen. I am a student from DigiPen, and I am a graphics programmer.”), wait for them to say their names, and ask them what they do (“Hi, Josh. So, what do you do?”). Tell them what your life as a game dev/artist is like, or, if you’re still a student like me, tell them what studying at your school is like (“We are only allowed to build our own engines from scratch, so we cannot use any third-party game engine or physics library.”). If you’re passionate about what you’re telling them, then it shouldn’t be too hard for the conversation to last long. The conversation should be casual. People come to The W to relax and meet people, so don’t be too pushy about asking them if they are hiring. If they want your resume, they would ask. My longest conversation at the bar was a two-hour conversation with the Lead Programmer from Naughty Dog. We talked about all sorts of things: how I implemented a graphics engine for Photon Bunny in software, what we learned in the CS classes at DigiPen, and how it is like to develop console games. It was magical.
Of course, an equally important part of networking is the follow-ups. After the person that has given you his business card leaves, write down notes onto the card about the conversation and reminders for sending the person your work or resumes (if asked). Within 48 hours, write an email to introduce yourself, comment on the conversation, and thank the person for talking to you. This just shows that you care. Also, add the person to LinkedIn if you can find their page.
Notepads & Pens
I always keep a notepad and a pen with me. GDC is a very busy place, and people can easily run out of business cards (hopefully you don’t). When you give someone your business card and the person is out of cards, you can ask the person to write down contact information on your notepad with your pen.
These are the things I’ve learned from my first time at GDC. My social skills have indeed improved a lot. I’m really looking forward to the GDC next year.