Making Connections in the Video Game Industry

Jenny (Course 6, '19) attended the Women in Gaming conference twice -- this time taking the stage

The clip-on speaker felt heavy at my side as I walked up to the podium. Not only was the clip making me mildly uncomfortable, but also there were four lights shining in my eyes and 399 people staring up at me from the audience.

It was only my third day at the annual Game Developers’ Conference (GDC 2017) in San Francisco and I was overwhelmed by the amount of talks and workshops that I had already attended, and the amazing and inspiring people I had already met. Who knew that I would be on the stage of the Microsoft XBox Women in Gaming Luncheon after only attending it last year?

Last year, I had just thrown in my application for the Microsoft Game Changers program, a program that gives undergraduate college women a chance to attend the Women in Gaming Luncheon. This luncheon usually sold out within the first couple of days or so of tickets being released so it was a great honor to be able to get tickets when I was at my first GDC last year. This year, I wanted to get involved again, so when I went on their website and saw that the luncheon was calling for speakers, I knew that I wanted to do it right away. I was excited not only for the ticket, but also for the opportunity. I distinctly remember recording my application video during a lazy winter break day and not expecting to hear back, then being extremely surprised when I learned that I was going to be one of the six speakers.

Looking back, one thing I’m grateful for is taking (almost) every opportunity presented to me leading up to GDC. I participated in MIT’s UPOP (Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program) earlier in February and learned how to start off a speech. I actually used a UPOP icebreaker almost word for word in my speech and the audience laughed! The Sunday before my talk, I also attended a speaking workshop and learned that I said the words “like,” “um,” and “so” an unhealthy amount of times. And after my talk, I was able to get to know dozens of women who said they were somehow inspired by what I said and wanted to stay in touch. 

It was extremely humbling and inspiring to be in front of women who were just as passionate about gaming as I was, and even more so to be able to share my experience and have it help someone down the line. Who knew that people would actually want to hear me talk about my life for five minutes? I was only two years out of high school and nineteen years old, but the people in the audience were industry professionals and people who clearly knew more than I would ever know. Moreover, the panel I was on for the speaker event was led by a Twitch community manager who probably had more YouTube subscribers and Twitter followers than I had downloads on my game. As intimidating as it was at first, the gaming industry, despite its size, is extremely friendly and supportive of others in the industry. This encouraging community was something that I found at both the luncheon and throughout the rest of the conference. Knowing that I had a support group behind me gave me the confidence to continue speaking up in the industry and making my voice heard.

The second year around, I was much less nervous and uptight about making all of the workshops and talks and much more focused on making individual connections. I tried to make conversation with everyone, including the janitors, people sitting outside the expo floor with their lunches, and companies that had names I had no idea how to pronounce. I attended events and networking parties for Massachusetts developers and met local game developers that I still keep in contact with and will see at future events. I was lucky enough to demo my game again at the International Game Developers Association Networking Event and watch friends I made the previous day and new ones play my new game in front of me.

Jenny sitting with a panel of women speakers

GDC was a whirlwind of talks, meeting people, finding common interests with random strangers, and building up my leaning tower of business cards. For anyone curious about the gaming industry and some of the tips I got over the seven days I was in San Francisco, here are some of my key takeaways:

  1. The gaming industry is small (it seems large, but you run into the same people over and over again) so make friends!
     
  2. Stay in touch with those friends because you don’t know when you’ll see them again or need their help! Get their business card (give them yours too).
     
  3. Ask for help! Everyone in the gaming industry has been extremely willing to introduce me to someone who could help me with what I needed.
     
  4. Along the same line: Apply to things! There are so many resources for women (and men) in games, especially undergraduates. I’ve personally done the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Scholars program, the IGDA Women in Games Ambassadors program, the Microsoft Game Changers Program, I Need Diverse Games, and the Amplifying New Voices program.
     
  5. Demo your game at events and attend meetups! This way you’ll be able to see how your game affects people and make connections with your players, future players, and potential funders!
     
  6. Study what works. Games like Candy Crush are popular for a reason, and there’s no reason that you have to try to avoid doing what is popular just because it has already been done.
     
  7. Fail fast and make lots of things: I’ve made 60+ games and only 6-7 of them have even been mildly successful!

Though I’ve been to GDC twice already, I feel like there’s still so much to learn and new experiences to have each year. I’m really grateful to the IGDA, Microsoft, I Need Diverse Games, and GDC for making the whole event possible and giving me a chance to share my own journey in games so far. Hopefully I’ll get to be up on that stage again next year at GDC 2018, and get to wear that uncomfortable but oddly empowering speaker clip one more time.