The most crucial tool for anyone trying to get a job in the games industry is their network. As a games student, networking is especially important, as you have little to no industry experience to pad your resume. More often than not, the only way to land that first games job is through someone you know in the games industry. Although there are many ways to make industry connections, there’s really nothing that builds your professional network faster than games conferences.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to show my current passion project at the Game Developers Expo (GDEX) in Columbus, Ohio. This is the second major games expo I’ve attended, after going to the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, California earlier this year. In this post, I’ll be comparing and contrasting the experiences of attending a games conference, and showing a project at an expo.
I’d like to first acknowledge some differences between GDEX and GDC. GDEX is a locally organized event that showcases regional game developers, and is open to the general public. Attendance at GDEX is generally in the thousands, making it a small to mid-sized event. GDC is an industry organized event aimed mainly at professional development and networking, and has attendance in the tens of thousands. Although the expo floor is open to the general public for part of the conference, tickets are fairly heavily sought after, and are also somewhat prohibitively expensive. As a result, the average attendee at GDC is generally more industry-oriented than the average attendee at GDEX.
GDC, being the largest conference in the games industry, and my first ever conference, was quite daunting. However, all the networking I managed to do on and off the expo floor was astonishing. I handed out and received many business cards, had lots of awesome lunches, and made many connections I was able to follow up on after the conference, keeping in touch throughout the rest of the year. Those connections have, and will, come in especially handy when it comes to moving my career forward. One big constant at GDC (as well as many other industry conferences) is the parties. These events, while fun, are also huge for networking opportunities, as they provide an opportunity to converse in a more casual setting. However, many of these events are also fairly exclusive, and being a first time GDCer, it felt like I was often out of the loop. Luckily, those connections I made at the last GDC will come in handy for keeping me in the know on further networking opportunities.
GDEX was a lot smaller than GDC, but that’s not to say the networking was any less impactful. I should include a disclaimer about GDEX: as I wrote in my last post, one of the most helpful things for me when it came to networking at GDC was the connections I already had established via my involvement in various online communities. I am lucky enough that GDEX is organized by the local game developers group in my home city of Columbus, so I was on a first name basis with not only the organizers, but many of the other developers exhibiting that weekend. Having this network coming into the expo opened many opportunities for me that I would not have otherwise had. This just highlights how incredibly important networking really is in our industry.
Showing a game at an expo is a lot different from attending an expo. For one, I found myself locked to my booth nearly the whole weekend. As much as I wanted to peruse the expo floor and talk with other developers, I just didn’t have the time to, with a near constant stream of attendees at my booth. But, that doesn’t mean I didn’t find a way to network. Although GDEX had a lower percentage of industry-oriented attendees when compared to GDC, there still were many professionals in attendance. As an exhibitor, these professionals found their way to me, and I was able to show them directly what I was working on. I was able to exchange cards with many people who were clearly interested in my work, and I even made a couple contacts that could aide in getting my game into other showcases. As a whole, I’d say that due to the smaller and more intimate nature of GDEX, although I made less new contacts overall, the connections I made were deeper and more meaningful than those made at GDC. Additionally, I was able to catch up with local developer friends, and show them what I’ve been working on. I even ran into a friend whom I had last seen at GDC!
The two experiences, although different, have many similarities, as well as many individual perks. GDC was great for blanket networking, and building my network very rapidly, which provides a great entry point for deeper networking outside the expo, and at the next conference. Showing my game at GDEX allowed me to make more intimate connections, as I was able to spend more time showing my work to–and talking one on one with–professionals in the industry, especially those who will be able to directly advance my career or at least my game. I believe that attending as many local conferences and expos as possible do nothing but good for your career, as they at least provide practice for GDC, and might even yield connections that will have great impact on your career moving forward.
Note: This is a lightly edited duplicate of a blog post I wrote for the RIT Interactive Games and Media student blog. If you’d like to read the original, you can find it here.