When I first started out working in the creative industries back in the late 1990s, I hardly knew anyone apart from a few local friends whom shared similar interests. The world seemed a vast open space of almost limitless opportunities - but where was I to find them?
I could barely contain my excitement (or nerves!) when for the first time I was sent by a company I worked for at that time to represent them at my first international industry event - the Cannes Film Festival 2001. Thrust in at the deep end, it took me a while to find out where I needed to go, whom I needed to see and what I needed to say. But it was precisely as a result of attending such events that I was able to start developing some understanding of what I needed to focus on in my career.
Now with over 60 media productions under my belt across the creative industries, I've certainly learned a fair amount. And still I regularly attend events to catch up with contacts, to keep up to speed with the latest developments and find out what is going on in the wider industries.
With that in mind, I asked my colleague Keith Andrew to give his view on why networking should be an important priority for us all...
Meanwhile, hopefully I'll get to see or meet a few of you at the UK Games Fund Portfolio Showcase Event next week on Tuesday 5th April at the Grange City Hotel, London [AB]
From Gamescom to GDC, EGX to E3, it's time for indies to get their faces out there
There's a batch of people in the games industry that, despite the fact they may only live a few miles down the road from me, I only ever see on foreign soil. The roll of events, expos and games conferences that take place around the globe month in, month out seems to attract the same band of industry luminaries wherever they happen to take place, from Brighton to Berlin, San Francisco to St. Petersburg.
The reason so many are so keen on hop on a train or board that flight is because, though you could never pin down just why, events are good for the industry and your place in it. It's always hard to sell the concept of attending events to developers when the cost is often so high and the benefit is hard to qualify, but there are scores and scores of people that I've met in conference centres around the world who later on, sometimes much later on, come to be of some use to me professionally.
And I'm not the only one, either. You know that developer you know who, despite having no budget at all, has some of the best artwork you've seen in an indie game for some time? Turns out he met his artist while a little tipsy in a bar in Birmingham after a day out at EGX.
And that coder you know who is constantly flashing the cash with her almost ceaseless work for hire? Well, she bumped intoa guy at the last studio she did some work for in the queue at the gate for her flight out to GDC last year.
Random run ins
The problem with working out which events you should spend cash on and which you should take a pass on is, if you've never been before, it's hard to know the wheat from the chaff.
A conference schedule, for instance, will tell you little more than who the organisers have good relationships with and have been able to rope into giving a keynote – it'll give you little idea as to who you might accidentally spill the top of your pint over at the after party, or whose friend of a friend you'll end up having a random conversation with about that obscure 3DO game you wasted the best part of a month's wages on back in 1994.
When money is tight, it's very easy to draw your resources in tight and think only about what you consider to be the essentials, but while it's utterly possible to make work connections through Twitter and other social media in the current age, nothing beats physical, face to face encounters with folk, whether they be the chiptune guy all the indies are after doing soundtrack work on their next title, the surprisingly friendly games journalist desperately looking for something interesting to write about to justify his train fare, or the YouTuber who does a live (and slightly inebriated) stream of your game on Periscope after you hit it off.
Are you chicken?
Of course, it's utterly possible that none of these things will happen. Even a seasoned event-attender will tell you there have been plenty of shebangs around the world that have delivered promptly nothing, either at the time or later on.
The coffee was bad, the talks were utterly generic, the after party was dead and the chicken at lunch was a little dry. Complaining about events, even while you're still at them, is commonplace, but as an industry we are distinctly bad at pressing the flesh.
The often solitary nature of games development means that it's very easy to find yourself chained to your PC, rarely seeing daylight let alone another human being. Yet the value of being a face people come to recognise from one event to another is beyond that of the price you'll pay for attending the majority of them.
Events are, of course, only one cog in the wheel. If your game sucks or you lack the talent, you can attend all the events you like in the world, you won't get very far. Likewise, when funds are tight you'll naturally have to be especially picky about which shows you rock up to – although, as others have indicated in the past (http://www.pocketgamer.biz/feature/49800/opinion-gdc-the-industry-event-you-can-attend-without-a-ticket/), there's nothing to stop you shirking a ticket altogether and simply stalking the venue and the after parties for some freebie encounters.
However you decide to approach it, connections are everything in this industry, whatever part you want to play, and if people don't get to know you and what you're about, you can't be surprised when you see prime opportunities being mopped up by your rivals.