I came back home from GDC 2015 just a couple weeks ago. As usual, it was an insane whirlwind of friends, games, and fantastic times. For those of you who are considering going, I highly recommend it.
Now, I'm going to make a bold statement and say that this was absolutely one of the best GDC experiences that I have ever had. Why is that? Did I walk away with a dozen projects? Did I win any awards? Did someone finally realize that my idea for a wrestling/Metal Gear/Dark Souls mashup would be the greatest video game of all time?
This was one of the best GDC experiences I have ever had for one reason: I focused 100% of my energy on adding value to other people.
What do I mean by "adding value?" Well, before we get into that, let's chat a little about the International Ambassador program that I was a part of.
This year, I had the great pleasure of gaining an International Ambassador (IA) scholarship at GDC. This was the inaugural year for the IA program. The greatest benefit of being an IA is that it made me a part of an amazing group of people that I could hang out with throughout the conference.
Having a support network like this is one of the greatest things you could ever ask for at GDC. I am incredibly grateful that I had a group of International Ambassadors and Conference Associates that I could spend time with throughout the week. The incredible friendships that were formed go way beyond the conference and will surely have a huge impact on me throughout my entire life.
My goal for this year's GDC was to introduce as many amazing people to as many other amazing people as possible. I'm lucky enough to have plenty of work to do, so instead of drumming up more for myself, I went in looking to help others in whatever way I could.
A funny thing happened. Even though I focused all of my energy on helping others without asking for a thing in return, I formed a ton of great connections, got hired for a new project that I'm very excited about, and left San Francisco feeling amazing!
So what do I mean when I say "add value?" Adding value can be anything from making someone smile, all the way to giving a project to someone more suitable than yourself. Without trying to sound too woo-woo about this, it seems when you're focused on helping other people, a lot of great opportunities seem to come your way, almost by accident.
I'm lucky enough to be in a position that I occasionally have to turn down projects due to a consistently full schedule. This doesn't mean you need to give away tons of work when you can barely afford rent. However, when you're shaking someone's hand, changing your mentality from "How can you help me?" to "How can I help you?" can make all the difference in the world.
THE BEST NETWORKING ADVICE I'VE EVER RECEIVED:
When I was first starting out in this industry, Danny Baranowsky gave me some truly amazing networking advice that I still carry to this day: instead of focusing all of your energy on getting a gig with someone who is way ahead of you in the industry, focus on the people that are at your level and bring one another up through hard work.
Although that advice took a while to click for me, I couldn't agree more. While it's absolutely imperative to speak to those who have tons more experience than you, there are countless people at your current level that you can and should create amazing work with.
COUNTER INTUITIVE NETWORKING:
I will be the first to admit that my old mentality when it came to networking events was to go out and talk to as many people as possible - all in an effort to hoard every gig for myself.
So many people I know who are starting off in the game industry have a similar mentality. And who can blame them? No one has told them that they need to do anything different. It definitely doesn't feel natural to add value to complete strangers when you're looking for your big break.
As soon as I made the shift to adding value, the results were insane. Gigs came to me without me needing to hunt for them, my network got stronger and stronger, and I was able to connect talented folks to one another with ease, which led to more gigs, an even stronger network, and more connecting.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
What are some ways that you can add value in this industry? Here are a few ideas, but this is by no means a complete list.
Introducing people to other people in your network.
Giving projects away if possible.
Mentoring others in the industry.
Playing other people's games and letting them know how much you liked them.
Being a good conversation partner.
Sharing cool resources with those around you.
Again, not a full list by any means! Now go out there and add value, friends!