Ethan Levy is currently a student at The University of Southern California, and holds an intern position at a game development studio which shall be known only as Super Duper Fun and Happy Game Co. for security reasons. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the fourth of a six-part series on breaking into the games industry.
Part IV: Putting Out the Welcome Mat
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. That’s what everyone says at least. In my experience that adage is only partially true. The people you know can help to get your foot in the door, but once you have walked inside only your skills can carry you towards success. However, being the best programmer in the world or the king of 3D animation will do you no good if no one will give you the time of day. That’s why it is time to put out your welcome mat: the beautified part of you that will act as the public face you present to the world.
Networking is a tough skill, especially for those whose main form of interaction comes through a computer monitor or television screen. However, it’s not a skill you either are or are not born with. If you put the same amount of effort into networking as the rest of your career skills, you’ll be schmoozing and boozing with the best of them in no time. I cannot emphasize enough just how important this skill is, in this or any industry. For instance, how did I get this swank gig writing for one of my gaming heroes? I went to an event he was speaking at, squelched the butterflies of nervousness in my stomach, went up to him and started a conversation. By the end of the evening, I had his business card, and now I’m writing the words you’re reading. There was a time when I was too afraid to approach anyone at a social event, but that fear can be easily overcome with hard work and dedication.
Develop Your People Skills
Part III of The Holistic Approach was all about building confidence, and with good reason. Nothing will speak louder while networking than confidence. Confidence and composure, especially while talking to those who have the power to hire you, are skills that take time and dedication to develop. Fortunately, college is a landscape ripe with opportunities to get to know completely random strangers. Strike up conversations with people you don’t know everywhere you go. I would suggest starting at parties; being one of the best places to practice small talk. Once you get comfortable talking to people at parties, increase the difficulty by attempting to strike up conversation at locations that don’t easily lend themselves to meeting strangers. Try spots like checkout lines, libraries, grocery store isles, In-N-Out Burger, or wherever else you can think of. You may feel stupid and uncomfortable at first, but those feelings will come to pass as you begin to master the art of schmoozing.
Many schools also provide career services which will be a helpful resource for learning how to meet people you hope will give you a job. Sign up for resume workshops, practice interview sessions, and school sponsored networking events. The more you practice these skills while you’re still in school, the better prepared you’ll be when you start applying for your first position at a gaming company.
Get Yourself Out There
It’s time to put your networking skills to the test. There are plenty of videogame related networking opportunities if only you know where to look. Join your local IGDA chapter for starters. This will help you get to know the gaming community where you live. Check Gamasutra’s events calendar every month to see if there are any events happening near you. If you have some spare cash lying around, try to make a Mecca to events such as E3, GDC, Siggraph, and other important industry events. After chatting up confused strangers in the local Quicky Mart line, talking to someone with whom you have videogames in common shouldn’t be so tough. Just plant a big ol’ smile on your face, keep your composure, and don’t get discouraged if you’re not met with immediate success. Everything comes with time, so be patient and before you know it, you’ll have landed your first interview. All it really takes to get that foot in the door is a well picked welcome mat.