E3 is this week, the ultimate business convention where people in the game industry from all corners of the globe converge. It's almost a sacred event.
I went to this event over the years specifically to meet people, from developers to vendors, averaging 10 meetings a day for 3 to 5 days straight. It’s an exhausting experience, but I end up meeting a lot of great people and get a lot of learning experience when it comes to conventions.
Networking is more important than ever. Whether you are an indie releasing your first product, a vendor (such as testing and graphic companies) offering your services, or looking to land the dream job right out of school, networking is key to maximizing your success.
The following are tips and advice based on my own experiences when it came to meeting people at E3 because networking is incredibly important for anyone in the game industry -- or in general, for that matter. I hope it can help others who may be new to this incredible event.
Booking meetings: Do it a month in advance.
Sometimes longer than a month is better if you are trying to meet large companies because within a few weeks before E3 starts, they will get swamped with meeting requests. Sometimes you won’t be able to meet the specific person you want because they are so busy, but you will probably talk to someone else who is taking on the extra load of meeting requests. I WAS THAT GUY.
Follow up on meeting requests, and be flexible.
Even if you request a meeting very early, some companies will hold off on a date and time knowing they will be receiving more meeting requests. So, if you don’t get a date, then ask again when a convention comes closer. And even if you do get a meeting, sometimes you will get asked to adjust the meeting time Truthfully, this is often because there may be another meeting the other party thinks is more important. And of course, always confirm your meetings within a few days prior.
Get those NDAs done promptly.
The nondisclosure agreement is a legal formality that protects both parties, and publishers won’t meet anyone without their own NDA signed. It’s prudent for anyone to look it over and make sure they are not being taken advantage of, but it’s best to take care of it as soon as possible.
I was supposed to meet one guy who said he had the greatest game idea, but he kept emailing me not understanding and requesting changes to the language of the NDA I sent him, which was a pretty standard one that everyone else signed. Two days before I had to leave for E3, the NDA still couldn't be resolved, so I had to cancel our meeting. Right after that, he submitted the NDA signed with no changes, but it was too late because I already booked another meeting over his. (I later found out he didn't even work for a game company.)
Find a quiet place.
I cannot stress this enough: Unless you or the other party has a closed room for the meeting, DO NOT HAVE YOUR MEETINGS ON THE SHOW FLOOR. The show floors at E3, particularly in the West and South Halls, are the noisiest places in the area. It’s like talking to someone at a rave due to all the people there, the blaring music, and hundreds of kiosks blasting video game sounds. Company booths will either have closed or open rooms. Closed rooms are the best because they block out most (but not all) of the noise. If you are meeting on chairs at a booth, there’s a 50/50 chance you will be able to communicate properly.
And if you can’t…
Here are some places that I found to be less noisy (but they're not guaranteed to be quiet):
- A hotel. If you’re nearby a hotel that the other person is staying at, then you can meet them at the lobby. It's harder to do during E3 hours because most hotels are beyond walking distance from the convention center. I found it most effective if you meet people at hotels before or after convention hours.
- The hallway. A hallway outside of the convention floor, but not right outside of the entrance where foot traffic is heavy, can be quiet enough. And they can have electrical outlets for your laptop. I've witnessed and been involved in many meetings this way.
- The eating area. There is a cafeteria outside of South Hall. As long as it's not lunch time, there are tables where people can meet.
- Any place that’s not at the convention. The only problem with this is that there aren't any good places to talk right outside of the Los Angeles Convention Center. In contrast, if you're going to GDC at downtown San Francisco, there are many places to meet there. Unfortunately, many people think the same way, so it gets pretty crazy within a couple of square blocks.
Give a clue to what you look like.
I was once asked to meet someone at my company booth the first day of E3 at 11 a.m., but unfortunately, I didn't know what he looked like, and there were well over a hundred guys at the booth standing around like they were waiting to meet someone. Fortunately, the guy I was supposed to meet wore a suit with a large company logo and his name in huge print sewn on his back. It might have looked unusual, but he was never late on any of his meetings.
The more time you try to find your next appointment, the more precious minutes you will waste because chances are, either you or the other person has another meeting right afterward. When confirming a meeting, give a description of yourself or even show your picture on LinkedIn. You can even ask what the other person will look like just for this very reason.
Time is limited, so make your point fast.
Your time is precious, and so is it for the people you're meeting. Chances are they have a meeting with the next 30 minutes by the time you meet. It’s best to make your point quick, whether it’s pitching a game or talking about your company. Make a point of what you're offering and why the other party should listen to you. Afterward, give them your business card, printed portfolio of a product or company, and maybe a demo of a product (because other colleagues will need to see it).
Try to meet people in person.
Every booth at E3 and other conventions has a front desk where I see countless people asking if they can meet someone involved in this or that, but the reception person always says that everyone’s busy and will accept a business card or scan their attendee card. I've been at the receiving end of these contacts, and I get at least a few hundred of them at the end. There was no way I could follow up on all of them, so I'd surmise that giving your contact info at the counter is a futile effort. Give your contact info anyway, but follow up on it by trying to contact someone some time after the convention. Not right after, though -- people will be swamped with following up in all the meetings they attended.
E3 parties are not for networking.
There are a ton of parties happening at E3 If you think you can get an opportunity to meet people for business reasons, you are most likely wrong. There may be a few exceptions, but most parties I've seen at E3 are about blowing off steam with all the hard work that has been done. If you give your business card to someone important, chances are, they will be too inebriated to remember your card, let alone you. Seriously, I've met many colleagues (important ones) at a number of parties where they do not recall the fact that I was there and talked with them. If you get into any parties, especially the big ones like Sony and Microsoft, consider yourself lucky and have some fun.
Lastly, deals are not done at E3, so don’t sweat it and just follow up afterward.
E3, as well as other game events, are about meeting people, mostly for the first time. I've met with a few developers where it took months to get a deal made, and sometimes it wasn't the game they showed at E3 but another one they were making. The same goes for vendors like a testing company that was offering its services but first did localization testing and then did functional and standard testing later.
Most of the time, depending on the situation, it can take weeks or even years for a deal or opportunity to come together, but it can start at E3.