The People I Want to Stop Running Into at Videogame Industry Conferences
The Obnoxious Biz Dev Person
I start talking to someone who turns out to be a developer working on something cool. They tell me more and I *definitely* think their project is super, super cool. They offer / I demand a business card, more information, a playtest right there, whatever they can give me. And just when I’m starting to get really excited that I’ve found someone whose work I want to follow…in swoops their business development person. And that person is so grating, so oblivious to social cues, so loud, that I leave the encounter not wanting to pay attention to the company or game anymore, lest I be reminded of this person’s existence.
I get that for small studios and teams, especially for solo designers, it can be overwhelming to promote your game/company/brand/soforth. I know you didn’t make your game because you secretly wanted a product to sell; I know you love it and it’s your baby. Also, it’s really draining to solicit, set up, attend, and follow up on meetings with potential business partners/publishers/whatever. I can see how having someone on staff to handle all the business development stuff can be a godsend – especially because it is a whole separate job that requires a lot of skills (which you probably don’t have).
HOWEVER. A skill that I *would* suggest you cultivate is the ability to recruit and hire people who can work with you as a team. If your selection criteria for your biz dev person is, “willing to do all this crap I don’t like,” and nothing else, then you run the risk of ending up with someone who is just fucking terrible. They may know a lot about biz dev theory (or at least, know more than you do), but if you’re not going to be the mouthpiece and public promoter of your game, then the person you hire to do that for you should really have decent social skills. That means not cutting you off in public, not cutting off other people who are trying to ask you questions, not jumping in and answering questions that were aimed at you not them, etc. When I come away with the impression that any further access to your ideas and your game is going to have to come via your biz dev person, and I can’t fucking stand your biz dev person, then I’m walking away and looking for someone else who’s got a good idea and a working prototype.
If you are a biz dev person going, “oh my god, is she talking about ME?” – I would posit that the fact you’re even concerned about the impression you leave with others probably means you’re not the kind of person I’m referring to. Enthusiastic promoters of a game: awesome! People so obnoxious I manufacture an excuse within 30 seconds of meeting them: less awesome. If people refuse to stand and talk with you for more than two minutes, and/or you notice that you are always, *always* the first person to initiate a business card exchange…maybe it’s time to brush up on the ol’ interpersonal capabilities.
The Person Who’s Desperate for a Job in Games
I have been there, I know it sucks, but you have *got* to come up with some line about what you’re doing at the conference…and no, “I need a job,” is not an acceptable line. I’ve noticed that the people I like most in videogames seem to share an insatiable intellectual curiosity. Unless you are literally sitting on your couch and staring at a wall every day of your unemployed life, I assume you’ve got some personal projects going on. I also assume that you reached out to other people in your network who maybe needed your skill set on their projects, so you’re doing various levels of work on various independent experimental thingers and game-like jobbies, even if it’s unpaid or paid under the table or in “I totally owe you” friend-stock. I assume you got really involved in your local PTA or community garden or church vestry or some shit. You’re filling your days somehow, right? Because one thing I don’t see in a lot of people I meet in the industry: acceptance of boredom.
I know we are in the shittiest US economy in three generations. I can’t speak for hiring managers, but I personally don’t bat an eye at, “my day job is [whatever], but I’ve been spending a lot of time experimenting with [thing actually relevant to games].” Props for paying your rent, and now we can talk about your personal project. Ditto for unemployment, even long unemployment. I know it is terrible and our society is designed to make not having a job feel like a judgement against you. I can promise you that anyone smart enough to be worth talking to will be able to connect the dots between, “I was most recently at [company],” and “…that contract ended in 2009.” I’m not going to take it as a sign that you suddenly stopped being able to do good work. Open your conversations with the stuff you’ve been doing since then. You’re probably going to be more excited about it anyway, and I’d much rather talk to a Really Excited About Unity Person than a Worked Somewhere Three Years Ago Person.
The Student Who Complains That Content “Doesn’t Feel Like it’s Aimed at” Them
Programming designed to be informative and relevant for students of videogames exists already. It’s called “school”. You’re not actually at school right now, and you are not paying to be led by the hand into discussions, ideas, technical information, or anything else at the conference. If you’re just starting to learn something and you find yourself in an intensely technical deep-dive talk about that thing, I feel strongly that you’d be better served by jotting down any terms or concepts you don’t understand and then researching them later… not by trying to corner the speaker afterward and making them educate you on the spot or, even worse, by asking your 101-level question at the mic during the Q&A.
You most definitely don’t want to lament to anyone who will listen (ie: me) about how “not accessible” you’re finding the programming, or how “not relevant to where [you’re] at right now” you think various talks are. I interpret that as being uncomfortable around people who are smarter than you, or not knowing how to learn, or a variety of other unflattering qualities. Bitching about session content is a time-honored tradition at conferences (or at least it is to me), but I feel like there’s a difference between good-natured smack talk and advertising to people around you that your knowledge of the content is rudimentary at best.
The Overly-Familiar Twitter Stalker
If you follow someone on Twitter and then you see them in real life, I’ve found it’s good general practice to semi-forget everything you’ve read in their tweets, especially as it relates to their personal life. People I follow have gone through some heavy shit — dealing with substance abuse, relationship problems, deaths in the family, all kinds of things — and when I run into them at events, I don’t open with, “So, how is the divorce going?” Even if it’s someone I’ve talked to before. Even if it’s a friend. People like to manage their own information disclosure, so if you want to talk to someone, let them decide what (if anything) of their personal business they want to bring up.
If nothing else, please do not interrupt a conversation that someone you Twitter-stalk is having in order to bring up a painful subject. Doubly so if part of your interruption involves wrapping your arms around the person before they can back away and stop you from forcing them into a hug. Strangers don’t hug, they shake hands, and it’s a good idea to get consent before pushing your body up against another person’s. And yes, you are a stranger to that person, even if you’ve read every tweet they’ve ever written. Remind yourself that you are at a professional conference and then act professionally.
The Industry Outsider Who Thinks They Know More Than Everyone Else
In the past this has totally been me and I’m confident the only reason I’ve escaped ultra-massive public humiliation is because my husband was around to cut me off before I really got going down a conversational road to ruin. Lots of reading and listening have helped get me up to speed a bit (along with personal mantras like, “I don’t give a fuck about Call of Duty”), so I usually know what I’m talking about these days, or at least I know when I’m bullshitting. But while I still find it mildly entertaining when someone pompously makes a bunch of incorrect statements, after a while it does get tiresome to hear a really exciting, quickly-changing industry “summed up” by idiots who can’t realize that no one’s disagreeing with them because their ideas aren’t even relevant enough to qualify as *wrong*.
Somehow there is a default assumption that you, the individual, know more than everyone else around you until proven otherwise. This is probably not true. Probably, people have managed to build careers and create amazing games by being very, very smart. Probably, the thorny issue that people are trying to discuss in a hallway between sessions is not going to be solved by your sweeping generalization. Give professionals in their field some credit; don’t talk to them like they’re as new to this as you are.