From Business Contacts to Friends – GDC and PAX

Hi everyone!

As you may or may not know, I just came back from a week in San Francisco followed by 4 days in Boston, for GDC (Game Developer’s Conference) and PAX (Penny Arcade eXpo) respectively. These are a couple of the biggest events in the gaming industry and have been extremely important for myself and for our company.

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My first GDC was three years ago, and was useful for us to put ourselves on the map in the game developer world as well as making important contacts that would lead to our eventual success (success in this case is defined as continued existence). We hustled, somewhat aggressively, our way into meetings with Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, Google, and others. I spend most of the conference in meetings and walking around the business development section of the show meeting people and pitching our game and our studio. It was hugely successful, as we ended up getting fast-tracked through the portals which allowed us to ship our game on XboxOne, PS4 and now (eventually) on Switch. It was all business development, all the time, and it worked.

At this year’s GDC (and PAX), I noticed something different. Instead of hustling into meetings with people to do “business development”, we did a lot more of catching up with people we knew. This makes sense, since we already knew them… but the thing I noticed is the tone of conversation and what was talked about. From conversations with people like Microsoft to conversations with other game developers, we talked significantly more about life outside of game development. We talked of travel, of family, and of the struggles of running a game dev company on a more personal level, and it allows me to feel not only like this community is here for support for the company’s needs but that it’s also there for my needs. We didn’t have a new product to pitch so we weren’t looking for new contacts who might be able to help us get our game out, and this may have contributed to my realization, but I think it’s still quite valid; had we had a new project, that would have been additional to the relationship building that I’m talking about.

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I never thought that this kind of progression could exist when you only see people once or twice per year. In Montreal, I have some game dev friends that I see often enough that we’ve managed to build a relationship beyond what’s traditionally work, but now that I see it happening with developers from Seattle, Austin, and even on other continents, it just reinforces how amazing this industry truly is. People are genuinely out to help each other, and have seemingly no concern that their help might be detrimental to their own sales… I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t imagine this kind of thing exists in other industries.

Anyway just wanted to share this realization with you, and encourage people to see their “business contacts” also as friends, because it makes for much more enriching relationships and probably leads to better business down the line as well.

Say “Hi” With Confidence

This is a life lesson that I think should be fairly obvious, but wasn’t obvious to me. I’m not sure where I learned it, or what I experience that made me realize that it was a necessary thing, but it is. Confidence is something that I find extremely finicky; if you sound like you have it, people will treat you as if you have it, and if people treat you as if you have it, you start to have it. If you give off a lack of confidence, people treat you as such, you observe that in their response to you and it hits you hard, lowering your confidence further.

So what I wanted to say today was that when you say “hi”, do it with confidence. I’m not talking about with people who you’ve known for years, your family and friends, or your colleagues. These people you could probably nod at and get a favourable response. I’m referring to people that you don’t know, especially people you would like to know.

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Two great examples of this:

The business / art / music idol you’re meeting for the first time: Being in the games industry, this is something that happens to me fairly often. I meet people who I consider leagues above me in terms of where their studio is at, how much they’ve accomplished, etc. In the end, they’re just normal people. That might be a whole lesson on its own, but for now I want to address addressing them (see what I did there?). When walking up to a group of three people, one of whom is the person you really want to meet, saying “hi” in a strong, confident voice makes all the difference. It shows that you’re at their level, it shows that you feel that you deserve to talk to them (which you do!), and it places you in the conversation (even if the others still hang out).

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The cute girl / boy walking by at the hostel: Very different scenario, but also one I’ve been in quite a lot. I’ve done a fair bit of backpacking and hostel-travelling and I’ve found that the difference between a confident “hi” and a shy, mumbled “hi” can be the world. Well, not the world, but it can significantly affect your morale. A strong, confident “hi!” will get a strong response, or a confused look… which will then turn into the person thinking that they should have said hi back. The next time you see them, they’re likely to spark up a conversation. My example was, when travelling alone, saying hi to a couple of people in the hall, then going down to the lobby and finding them there, waving and immediately getting an invitation to go sit with them. This would not have happened had I been quiet and reserved.

I find that I catch myself sometimes not doing this, and it takes a toll. You might not have noticed your body language or the way in which you speak in these kinds of settings, but I urge you to do so the next time you’re there. It doesn’t even have to be an important setting; if you say hi to a random person on the street under your breath they’ll think you’re a creep, and if you say it confidently they’ll respond with equal enthusiasm, and probably with a smile.

How to Not Explode When Working From Home

If you’ve ever worked from home, or are considering working from home, you can or will relate to the things I’m going to talk about today. My work-from-home experience was fairly short, and it was that way because I simply feel that it’s important to be in the same place when working in a team. For those people who are independent workers or working remotely, this isn’t always feasible and can be much more cost effective to work from home

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The inspiration for this rant is that our company, Clever Endeavour Games, was working from home for a while. First we were working from our individual homes and our productivity was extremely low. Not only that, but as a person who was trying to manage the project, I found it impossible to know what anyone was working on. Then, we moved to start working at my place, at the kitchen table, which was also pretty lame. This was because we were constantly distracted by “home” things, eating, other people in the place, and it just didn’t work. So we moved to a shared workspace and it’s awesome and we’ll talk about that in another post.

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This is what most home offices look like right? Ha.

Assuming it’s more effective for you to work from home, how do you not explode?

Get Dressed in the Morning

Before you start your work day, change out of your pyjamas / boxers / nudity or whatever you slept in, and actually get dressed. You don’t have to put on a suit, but at least put on some pants and something that you could reasonably wear to leave the house.

Move Your Phone Away

Don’t keep your phone right on your desk, as it will distract you. Put the ringer on if need be, but leave the phone in another room or away from you so that you’re not tempted to scroll through Instagram or Facebook while “on the job”.

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Separate Work from Life

This is a general tip, but when you’re working from home, make sure you’re not working and, say, doing your laundry. Or getting up every 5 minutes to clean dishes, or eat something. Pretend you’re actually at work, and you’ll do life chores when you “get home”.

Give Yourself Downtime

Try not to answer emails after a certain time, unless they’re extremely urgent. Especially when working from home, there’s a tendency to check an email while on the couch or during time spent living (i.e. not working), and to run back into the office and “just do this one thing”. This is bad! It breaks the lines between work and home and it’s a slippery slope.

There’s a ton of stuff written about this, but I just felt like I should share my opinion on it. Feel free to let me know if there are things I should add 🙂

It’s A Tough Industry… Get Used To It!

It’s always a tough industry. I can’t think of an industry that isn’t tough, unless you’re super super specialized. It’s hard to get a job, and it’s even harder to get a good job.

When I started mechanical engineering in University, one of the reasons I was doing it (instead of architecture) was that Quebec needs engineers, and I was told that I could be pretty sure that I’d get a job easily coming out of school. When I graduated, I looked through long lists of job postings meant for recent grads, and found 1/50 was open to people with less than 5+ years of experience. Great. That one job that was open sounded super boring and depressing, and didn’t pay much. None of the people I knew that graduated with me from mech engineering got good jobs out of school. It often took over six months to find them, and they were still crap.

“You know, it’s a tough industry…”

You might think: “Well what about law, or accounting or medicine? They do all that schooling, there aren’t that many of them, must be easy to get a great job!” You would be wrong! Accountants need to pay their dues and put in ridiculous hours of mildly satisfying work, lawyers have issues finding decent jobs without experience, and doctors have trouble getting placed into the fields they want and in the locations they want.

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If you’re a specialized systems programmer, an underwater welder, or a prosthodontist, it’s going to be tough to get a good, well paid job. There’s a solution to this though, that I found in engineering and have continued to find now that I’m in the game development world. Contacts.

Contacts are how people get jobs. School is nice, good grades are cool, and work experience is even cooler. But at the end of the day, contacts are what will get you a (good) job. You have more contacts than you think! Whatever field you’re in, you’ve probably got a friend or a family member who knows someone. You’d be surprised how far your inner circle reaches. It could just be that your uncle has a friend who consults for a firm that does ____, and can get you in touch with that friend. I got my first engineering job through the mother of my girlfriend at the time, and I started a company by going to events and meeting people who eventually became our team.

Contacts, contacts, contacts.

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Not that kind.

The Art of Hustle

Hustle is something that is an absolute must in the field of game development, and is equally important in all other fields of work. Especially when we’re talking about creative (see: subjective) work, it’s imperative that you or someone on your team has the ability to hustle.

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I found this definition of hustle, and I want to make it clear that this isn’t exactly what I mean… “Hustle: to obtain by forceful action or persuasion”. What I mean is that someone on your team will get the word out about your product by being everywhere, all the time, talking about it whenever they can, and opening doors to new opportunities.

This is pretty obvious to me, and I think it’s probably obvious to you too. A great fine artist won’t ever sell art without showing at galleries, networking, and making a name for themselves. A great accountant won’t sell their services without the same.

But why repeat stuff you probably already know?

Today, my message is that “hustle” can be learned. You might see someone at a networking event or a party and think that they know everyone and have a super easy time going up to random groups of people and joining conversation. This is probably true. What you’re also thinking (consciously or unconsciously) is “I guess they’re just naturally like that”, and I want to tell you that this is almost certainly not true! Those same people were in the exact same situation as you might be now, knowing nobody and feeling like it takes a lot of guts to approach random people and strike up conversation. What they did, what they learned, was how to hustle.

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I’m going to keep it short since these posts are meant to act more as inspiration and food for thought than as actual lessons (cause what the heck do I know). My experience was going from someone who had trouble approaching people, starting conversation, pitching my product (game), and following up, to someone who is always out there, meeting people at these events with relative ease, and pitching my product without fear of judgment. I learned. I’m no master networker or super famous YouTube personality, but I can tell you that I’ve reached the point where I feel comfortable in these situations.

So what’s the trick? What’s the secret to success? JUST DO IT. Go up to people, be awkward, screw up your pitch. You’ll realize extremely quickly that

  1. Other people are also awkward.
  2. Other people also screw up their pitches.
  3. People are usually open to conversation, whether or not you’re “relevant” to their networking goals.

Just do it, go out there and you’ll see that after a few times, you simply don’t worry about what people will think, and your hustle will improve exponentially.

Side-note: if you really don’t want to do this, hire someone who can, because it’s damn necessary.