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Networking at Your First Professional Conference

Jenny demoing her game with GDC attendees at the Children’s Creativity Museum

Surrounded by posters of newly released video games, indie game expo booths, and thousands of fellow developers, I was finally home. Never before have I been to an event where everyone present has shared the same passion as me: video game development.

Ever since starting to make my own video games when I was twelve, I was used to the rare but occasional discovery that my friend also had an interest in making games. But it was never on the scale of what I found at the Game Developers’ Conference (GDC 2016). Just walking down the hall, I’d pass by a twenty-year veteran audio engineer in the game industry, an AAA graphics developer, an indie game studio head, a game writer, and a VR enthusiast, all at once.

 

Jenny with Heather Decker, an organizing member of the IGDA Women in Games Ambassador program
Jenny with Heather Decker, an organizing member of the IGDA Women in Games Ambassador program

 

It was awe inspiring just to stand in the presence of so many people who loved what I love to do. GDC was the career fair and game developer heaven that I never could have imagined to exist but that I will always attend from now on, and it was thanks to the International Game Developers Association Women in Games Ambassador program and Microsoft Xbox Women in Game Changers Award.

As a first year student in college, I was honestly very scared going into GDC. My fears were dispelled when I realized that throughout the whole event, I had the support of my new friends through the programs that I applied for. This not only gave me a group of friends that I could go to events with, but a group of life long friends that I knew that I would see at future events. Of course, the free food was another great perk, but even greater were the people I was able to meet because of GDC. My days at GDC turned from trying to make as many talks as possible into meaningful conversations with people I met in the halls and on the expo floors.

I was able to learn about the existence of the Indie Corner at Google after hearing about it from their developers the day it launched. I was also able to ride a VR roller coaster right on the expo floor on the second day. Even crazier was that as a Women in Games Ambassador, I was able to demo my game at the Children’s Creativity Museum.

It was phenomenal to have the opportunity to have tens of people play my game willingly and give me feedback. I couldn’t hide the smile on my face when I saw players’ brows furrowing as they struggled to avoid the barrage of bullets in the bullet hell boss game I was demoing.

For anyone considering going to a conference or networking even in the future, definitely go. The hardest part for me was figuring out how exactly to “network” with people, but I soon realized that “networking” happened everywhere, from random encounters at the food court to long lines for the a new VR demo.

 

Jenny and Kate Edwards, Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association
Jenny and Kate Edwards, Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association

 

I made some of my first GDC friends (two game developers, one game writer, one college student, and one audio engineer) while waiting in a ten-minute line for a talk about trends in the gaming industry. It also astounded me that opportunities were everywhere, and many in unexpected places. I landed myself a deal with a game publishing company after spontaneously pitching my game idea to them while just touring the expo floor.

Additionally, I would recommend making a business card for professional events such as a conference so that you have something to hand out, and so that you have an excuse to get someone else’s business card in return (this way you can also easily add them on LinkedIn or connect over email)! Simple interactions such as handing out my first ever set of business cards and attending workshops slowly but surely built up my connections in the industry.

Ultimately, GDC was both a humbling and confidence-boosting event in which I gained a support network of life-long friends in an industry that I thought was cutthroat and uninviting. And on that last day, it felt as if GDC was home. The Moscone Center had been my home for five days, and it felt bittersweet to say goodbye to it and the people I had met within its comforting walls. Though I had said goodbye to my friends that day, I knew that it wasn’t the last time I’d see them. The network I had built would be forever.

And the countdown has already started. GDC 2017 isn’t too far now, and I can hardly stand the wait already.

By Erik Pavesic
Erik Pavesic Assistant Director, First Year Engagement Erik Pavesic