It is actually, at its core, a really fun, wonderful part of learning about the community you’re taking part in and how you can contribute to it. While a lot of this is applicable to a number of different career spaces, I’ll specifically be talking about the game development community, with a focus on online networking and transitioning this to in person events.
If you’re working in game development, the reality is — you’re probably not doing it for the money. It’s not exactly a get rich quick field and is founded much more on a strong connection and love for the work you do, and the feeling that you can provide to people with games. The great news about this is that half of the difficulty of networking has already been done for you — you already have so much in common with the people you’re trying to get to know.
Everyone in the game dev scene, indie through to AAA, has felt similar things at one point or another, and there’s always something to talk about. Not only this, but there are so many facets that are also incredibly special and have a huge breadth of discussion— maybe you’re particularly interested in accessibility — this in itself has a huge community dedicated to learning and sharing knowledge that you can get involved with. (Shoutout to the ever wonderful @IanHamilton_ on Twitter for curating such a great one!)
Curate Your Community
First things first — get to know what YOUR community looks like as a whole. I don’t mean your local community, or your games genres community — what does a community crafted by you talk about? Have a think about what really matters to you. You’ll never have valuable, interesting conversations online if you are cluttering your space with discussions that you’re not emotionally connected to.
Then, start to listen. Learn what sort of content people like to share, what they care about, and try and find people who are having conversations that you care about online. This is where you want to be. Slowly but surely, build a curated space of people you want to know and learn from. Your community is your garden, and it needs tending, maintenance and understanding. Prune away people whose content impacts you negatively. Get a feed together that is full of things that make you smile, think, and engage.
The Importance of Personal Branding
Make sure you know yourself before you start trying to introduce yourself to anyone else. Get to know what you have to add to conversations, and what your personal brand looks like. Liam Esler has a great medium article about building your personal brand online which you can read here. It is so important to know how you want to appear.
List out a bunch of things you like about yourself and if you’re unsure, ask your friends what they like about you. What made them connect with you? What’s their favourite part of your friendship? To put it in business terms, this is your value add to the community. It again, sounds really transactional to put it that way, but your personal brand, your personality, and your knowledge all have the potential to contribute to the greater community in a really positive way. Make sure you know how to curate it so that when people find you for the first time, they can get a good feeling for what you’re about and the value interacting with you can provide.
For myself, I know I always want to be genuine, as this is a big part of my personality in real life. This means I need to be as vulnerable as I am silly, sometimes, which for some people is probably super jarring. That’s okay! My content is probably never going to work for those people and that’s fine. It also means that I need to manage my tendency to over-share, because while some may find it endearing, it may also de-value the content and information I’m trying to signal boost. These are important things to consider.
Be Selective, Not Aggressive
Don’t feel the need to insert yourself into every conversation — all this does is make it feel like you’re coming on a little too strong, and can even make people uncomfortable. Stop trying to make connections happen for the sake of having connections. This goes for offline, as well as online. Shoving your business card at someone who is mid conversation with someone else only serves to make you seem rude, not confident. Yes, this actually happened to me, and yes, I saw them do it to several other people at an event. I already know without even trying that I don’t want to pick up that card and reach out to that person, because they’re probably not interested in me, my work, or collaboration — they’re interested in targets. Ironically, I remember them — but for all the wrong reasons.
Don’t Be Afraid To Admit You’re Unsure
Another great way to connect is to ask for help. There are so many people in this community who are willing to help you — whether it’s a programming question, art feedback, or more. I have always believed that being honest about what you don’t know is a good thing — not only will you almost always be pointed in the right direction, but you build a great support network for when you’re really stumped. However, remember to thank people — you are not entitled to anyone’s time and almost everyone in game development is incredibly busy. Don’t go overboard, but if they help you with a written piece of work, spend some time with you on the phone discussing a plan you have, or so on — make sure to not only thank them personally, but give them a shout out when you do go ahead with sharing what you’ve built.
Share What You Care About
Building off this, share content that you value and shout out those creating it. I make it a point to share any article, video, talk, or resource that really resonates with me and to try and find the persons Twitter handle to follow them and tag them. I want people to know that I appreciate the work they created and I use this to help me create that circle of information that I want to learn from online.
Be human with people. No one is all work all the time, so be transparent about your interests and your life. Maybe you love playing a specific sport. Maybe you love certain TV shows or making music. You are not expected to be a robot who is ALL WORK. People like to know what’s beyond the ~veil~ of what’s presented online. It makes them feel like there’s a true emotional connection to be made. Be honest when you’re not feeling great, talk about your feelings of being an imposter (I promise you, everyone feels the same way), chat about your great weekend away with your family. Again, like anything else, there’s a good balance, but don’t be afraid to divert from work.
Accept Your Own Discomfort
It will almost always feel awkward to walk into an event where you know one, or two, or ten, or zero people. No matter how comfortable you feel, there will be someone you look up to in the room that will terrify you to speak to. This is okay! All this means is that you care about making a good impression, and that’s fine. There is also always the chance you’ll come off as an over excited fan if it’s someone really special to you, but in all honesty, if it’s genuine I think that’s always preferable to acting too cool for school. Remember no matter how many conversations you’ve had online, make sure to introduce yourself (unless you’re 100% sure they remember you, obvs) and if your actual name is super different to your Twitter name, connect the dots for the person! No one has a Filofax memory (oh god am I old?) so be kind to people’s brains and make it a little easier.
If you see someone you know at an event that you’ve chatted to online a few times, then there are a few ways to approach it. You can wait until they’re alone and try and sidle on up, even if this can feel really awkward and odd to do. Try not to introduce yourself when their mouth is full of food/liquid because not only does it mean awkward pauses, but it also means potential choking as they attempt to scoff down, wipe their hand off, and shake yours. Health hazards, people.
My preference is to join a circle of conversation where they’re there with multiple people, and listen. Try and gauge whether it’s appropriate for you to join before you do. You might find you walk up to a conversation that suddenly is very clearly private, and that’s okay — just quietly excuse yourself or do the awkward someone-is-totally-waving-at-me-right-now-gotta-go walk away.
If you do join a conversation that’s open for all however, actively listen, don’t just twiddle your thumbs and wait for a pause to interject to introduce yourself. If you forget that you’re there to meet someone specific, you’ll find before long you’re so interested in the conversation that you’re talking to everyone anyway, and you might end up meeting new people you had no idea existed. Eventually, when the conversation winds up you have the perfect opportunity to say “It was so great meeting you finally, I’ve been following you on Twitter/Facebook/Etc for quite some time and really appreciate your work!” You’ll find usually they’ll ask you for a business card, meaning you did make a positive impression. If you’re unsure but they’re handing you theirs, definitely pass yours back in return. If you didn’t really have a strong chat, or missed out on talking one or one, don’t force it. Save the card for next time, when you can bounce off “We met at X and chatted about X briefly” into a great chat. If you do make a good connection or have a really valuable conversation, it can often be a good idea to reach out a week or so later to say thank you — this could be via email, twitter DM, however you prefer.
Watch The Influencers
No, I’m not talking about YouTubers. Be careful with alcohol. Yes, it’s a social lubricant, but there are a lot of things to consider when enjoying that open bar at after event drinks. No one is going to enjoy speaking to you if you’re the sloppy drunk. There is actually a very thick line between enjoying a few drinks and having a good giggle, and slinging your arm around everyone’s shoulders while you spit flecks of beer in the air. Don’t be the second. The other thing to consider is — not everyone drinks! Be considerate of this — if you offer to grab someone a drink, actively give them the option of water or soft drink. To assume makes an ass, etc etc. It’s small, but it can make a difference to some. If you work on making the space inclusive, people will appreciate it, and it’s not hard to do. Similarly, make sure you respect people’s pronoun preferences if you’re aware of them, and apologise if you make any mistakes. Don’t let people remember you for not caring about their feelings and try and be conscious of how your language can impact others.
Inclusion Is Key
Don’t exclude people. A student has just as much unique information, knowledge, and value as an executive of a AAA. Everyones experience is different and everyone has something to add. Don’t always go chasing down the people you think are some all-knowing game-development genius thinking they’re the only valuable people to meet because they made a best-seller, because often, they’re as unsure as you are! I firmly believe that we only go further by lifting up others. Include people in conversations, introduce them to others, ask their opinion, and make them feel welcome. Again, a little inclusivity goes a long way.
Make It Work For You
You don’t have to be the worlds best networker, or the worlds best programmer, or artist, or anyone but yourself. There is a community just waiting to be built by you full of people who love what you love, want to support each other, and see each other succeed. Find your community, curate your space, and watch as your connections grow and blossom into some incredibly special and fulfilling friendships. Networking is just friendship with business cards.