The idea of networking used to terrify me. When I was starting my journey in game audio, I had heard from various people that networking was crucial to getting a job in games. So, determined, I forced myself out of my comfort zone and went to as many events as physically possible to see if networking was as powerful as everyone said it was. Unfortunately, it was! Frequently attending networking events is probably the reason I’m working in games today. However, the 19 year old imposter-syndrome riddled me would have never guessed that I actually learned to love networking events, to the point where I even started running my own! Networking events are a great way to learn from others, hear about various opportunities, get leads on potential jobs, and most importantly: make friends. If you’re as nervous as I was about stepping through the door, don’t be! Most of the time, networking is actually quite fun. Although, spoiler alert: imposter syndrome will never go away!
So, why am I raving about networking events so much? Without going into the boring details, my entire career seems to have stemmed from becoming friends with people I met in the pub at a meetup or after a game jam. In one case, I got offered a 2 month contract whilst in a burrito restaurant when I was getting dinner with someone before we headed to a game dev talk in the area. There wasn’t even a public job listing anywhere - they needed someone, they knew me from various events around town, and they offered it to me. They didn’t look at my CV, website, showreel, anything! This definitely isn’t the case for everyone, but I think a lot of people in the games industry, especially freelancers, have had similar experiences. Well, maybe not the burrito restaurant part! Jobs aside, I’ve learned so much from those around me at networking events and I’ve made some amazing friends through them as well, and that’s priceless!
What does a game development networking event typically look like, then? In the UK, the most common are simple meetups in pubs across the country. Usually around 10-30 people will hang around and chat, drink, eat, and occasionally show off some stuff they're working on, on a laptop or similar. Aside from pubs, you can also find similar meetups in cafes, picnics in public parks, or privately hired rooms. Game jams are also great fun, where a bunch of game developers gather either online or in person and try to make a game over a short period of time (usually a weekend). If you attend a game jam as an audio person you can use it as an opportunity to actually work on games with other developers, which is a great opportunity for learning and also simply having fun! Finally, you also get a range of bigger events, like awards ceremonies, talks, conferences, and game expos.
In my opinion, the most common events are the simple ‘meetups’ that typically happen in pubs or public spaces. There are two main types that should be on your radar: generic game development meetups, and game audio specific meetups. Obviously, meeting people with a wide range of disciplines in generic game development meetups is incredibly valuable as you’ll learn about all elements of game dev. It’s also a great way to meet indie developers working on their own games who could potentially need sound in the future. Game audio specific meetups are also worth attending - you might be thinking ‘well, that doesn’t sound very useful as no-one here is going to hire me as they’re all audio people themselves’ - but you’d be surprised at how beneficial they are! Some people you meet will be working in audio teams within games studios and when they’re looking to expand their team, it’s not uncommon for them to just hire some people they know as opposed to making a public job listing. Even if said studio does make a public job listing, being able to have someone on the inside to vouch for you being a nice person is a huge advantage! Game audio meetups are also just full of inspiring, passionate people at all stages of their career - it’s impossible to go and not learn something from someone. I personally find it’s a lot easier to talk to people at game audio events as everyone already has so much in common! Just remember not to say anything negative about Reaper out loud!
Here’s how to stay up to date with various networking events in Guildford:
Guildford Game Audio Meetups - check https://www.guildfordgameaudio.com/ and follow @lewisthompsound and @alyx_jones on Twitter
Guildford Game Developer Meetups - check https://guildford.games, the “Guildford.Games Developers” Facebook group, and the “Tuesday Drummond Gamedev Monthly” Facebook Page
Guildford Game Jams - check the ‘Guildford Game Jammers” Facebook Group
For those not in Guildford, have a look on Twitter, Facebook, Eventbrite, Meetups, etc for other events and communities near you!
You can also network online. In my opinion, the best place to do this is Twitter. For some reason, it seems to be the most active social platform amongst the game dev community, and it’s a nice way to stay in touch with people you meet at various in-person events. I’ve heard of people having success with LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok as well, but I have to say, at the moment, Twitter really seems to be where it’s all happening. I actually got my current sound design job through seeing a tweet on Twitter - and a lot of people I know have experienced the same thing.
There are also plenty of small online communities you can join! There are a few Slack channels, Discord servers, mailing lists, and forums where you can keep up with other game developers and game audio folks. Unfortunately, a lot of these are invite only, but you can find a list of communities at https://www.gameaudiolearning.com/communities which should get you started! I wouldn’t be able to talk about online communities without mentioning https://airwiggles.com, a social media platform built solely for audio. It’s a great place to meet other audio folks, find job listings, get feedback on your work, and it even has a sidebar full of upcoming events (both in person and online) so it’s a nice way to see what’s coming up in the game dev networking world!
So, that covers where to network, but what about how to network? The first bit of advice I have towards budding networkers is not to attend with the aim of finding a job. Yes - that’s right - NOT to ask around about jobs. I know that seems counterintuitive as a lot of people attend their first networking events in order to find work, but hear me out! Game audio, and game development in general, is very much a ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ business, and you’re much more likely to get success by genuinely becoming friends with those around you. When potential positions do come up, these people will hire/recommend you as they already know who you are. It can take a long time for this to pan out - potentially years - but in my opinion, this is the way!
Leading on from this: networking is a marathon, not a sprint. Networking becomes a lot easier and a lot more beneficial the more events you can attend. Personally, I’d attend as many events as physically possible (especially if you’re trying to get your foot in the door) with a focus on making friends with the people there. Also, walking into a meetup becomes a lot easier when you can go up to someone you recognise from last time and say “Hi X, how are you? Are you still working on Y?”.
You might be wondering if it’s worth getting some business cards! In my opinion, yes, but to be honest the only thing I use them for is for quickly showing people my email address or Twitter handle so I don’t have to awkwardly spell it out or type it into their phone. I wouldn’t just go around handing business cards out to anyone you speak to, as it makes it seem like you’re treating your interactions like transactions rather than genuinely getting to know them. I would also definitely avoid bringing CV’s and resumes with you for the same reason. In the case you speak to someone who is interested in following up on something with you after the event, be it for a job opportunity or something else, that’s when it’s useful to trade business cards! Ultimately, business cards are optional though - you definitely don’t need them!
An important note about safety: hopefully no-one reading will have to experience this, but if you ever find yourself talking to someone who is making you uncomfortable, then try to remove yourself from the conversation as quickly and safely as possible. It might help to join a bigger group of some people you can trust, but it’s also okay to just leave. You can report the offender to the event organizers either at the time or afterwards if you like, and hopefully they’ll be banned from attending in the future.
The networking tips I’ve given so far have been quite generic, so allow me to share some more ‘niche’ tips which work for me but might not work for others! Something I always try to do when attending an event is to be the first one there and the last one to leave. Obviously, this might not be possible for certain people or in certain situations, so don’t fret if you don’t think you can do this. The reason why I do this is because I find it a lot easier to start conversations with the 1 or 2 people there rather than walking into a group of 15 people already mid conversation. By getting there early, you can chat a bit more personally with the other early birds and then throughout the event if you ever find yourself with no-one around you to talk to you can always migrate back to the people you met at the beginning and start fresh. As for leaving late, it’s the same principle - there will likely be a group of 5 people or so who stay a bit longer than the majority. Staying behind and chatting with them can also result in getting to know these people a bit more personally and that’s always a good thing!
At some of the bigger events, such as Develop or EGX, then you’ll likely find yourself in a situation where a small group of people you’re talking to are splitting off and leaving the networking event to do something else (getting food, for example) - and they ask if you want to tag along. You might be a bit apprehensive and think “I probably shouldn’t leave the giant networking event that I traveled all this way to get to” - but personally I think it's usually a great idea! It’s more valuable to make 5 strong connections rather than 50 fleeting ones. Obviously it depends on the situation - are they your kind of people, if you would be missing something you wanted to attend, etc - but I typically always join the splitters to get to know them better.
This next tip is a bit out there! If you can: have something visually interesting about yourself. This is by no means essential, but you’d be surprised at how useful it can be! Personally, I’m very tall and have quite long blonde curly hair, which is a bit out of place amongst the short-brown-hair-with-beards crowd you get at these events. My Guildford Game Audio co-founder Alyx Jones has amazingly bright pink hair - which stands out even more! What I find happens at events, especially the big ones, is that people come up to us and say things like ‘I saw your hair from over there’ or ‘I think I recognise you from Twitter’ etc. This is great for me as people quickly recognise me from previous events (even if we never spoke) and it serves as a quick ice breaker - and it just makes starting conversations with people that little bit easier. Now, you definitely don’t need to go out and get yourself some crazy hairstyle: ultimately it’s important to be yourself. But if you do have any fun hairstyles, accessories, fashion items, quirks, hats, that would help you stand out of the crowd? Embrace them!
My final and most important tip: be friendly! I’ve said it many times before in this article, but successfully networking is all about making friends, and to do that you simply need to be a nice person to talk to! Be excited, enthusiastic, ask questions, don’t have an ego, and after a few months to years of regularly attending events you’ll likely have built up a wonderful network of peers who will share advice, industry insights, and job opportunities.
If you’re in Guildford and looking to start coming along to some events then come and join us at the next Guildford Game Audio Meetup! Check the https://www.guildfordgameaudio.com/ website and follow myself and Alyx Jones on Twitter (@lewisthompsound and @alyx_jones respectively) to stay updated - and if you do come along, just look out for the tall guy with the curly blonde hair!