You hear a lot about the importance of networking in the games industry. How so and so got his job because he happened to be in the bathroom when the CEO of such-and-such corporation stumbled in and passed out on the floor and then so-and-so helped him clean up and they formed a life bond and now so-and-so runs such-and-such and... well ok maybe you don't hear THAT story, precisely, but you still get my meaning.
What you hear about less, though, is the other side of the coin: how you go about using that network for more than getting a job. Well, here's one thought. Especially as some of you consider going into business for yourselves, what you'll find is that there is a whole world of information out there that is both critical to your success and irrevocably locked to anyone still external to the market - such as yourself.
Licensing terms, typical publisher agreements and their negotiable (and non-negotiable) aspects, practical accessibility of distribution channels, the rough nature and usability of tech open only to licensees, etc, the list goes on and on. All locked up tight behind NDAs. So how can you possibly even hope to break into the market, when the deck is so clearly stacked against you?
Simple. You ask questions.
I'm not suggesting that your contacts will reveal NDA'ed information, mind. That would be illegal, and would get them blacklisted, fired, and/or whisked away to a north pole observatory for the rest of their natural born career. But they can certainly give general guiding advice informed by their knowledge of NDA'ed information.
A simple example comes from a recent discussion I had about someone's encounter at the IGDA Leadership Summit. Based on that, I was beginning to wonder if my assumption that you always wanted to pitch a vertical slice was in error, so, I chatted up a friend I know at a very large publisher.
His response? Absolutely untrue for most developers. That yes, it's certainly true if you're particularly well known, or if your company has already done a string of XBLA titles and this is just the next in line, but for any newly founded startup? Even if you've all got shipped titles with previous outfits? They still want to see that vertical slice. Save the video pitch for later on, when the kinds of people you're pulling into pitch meetings are the higher-ups happy to be sold on a trailer.
Now of course I then brought that point back to the original discussion, and it was explained that sure he agreed and that my understanding of what constitutes a startup with experience was just a bit off (and he also clarified prototype vs vertical slice for me), but that's the whole point here - that failure to ask questions, thinking you've got the whole story and leaving it at that, can lead to misunderstandings of the sort that destroy businesses.
Related to that is the earnest bit. You can't simply stop with one data point and assume you've got the whole story.
Enter the standard-among-indies statement that Unreal Engine 3 is out of their price range. Maybe toss around that oft-quoted 350k up-front "without even access to the source code" figure wrt. its cost on consoles, which UDK's indie-friendly licensing doesn't quite include. Accurate?
Well, let's think about it. When other studios are saying how "blown away" they are with "the fact that Epic goes out of its way to make its industry-leading technology affordable for developers of games like this", perhaps it bears a bit more research. Ask your contacts. You can't get precise terms, but you can certainly get an idea if you're barking up the wrong tree. Mind, it could in fact be out of your price range, and I am not a UE3 licensee, my point is just - ask.
I suppose this is where I could make a joke about the industry being mostly male, and tie that into a joke about asking for directions, but frankly the tendency extends to both sides of the gender divide.
You don't want to annoy your contacts (which is good, but an occasional question won't annoy them - it might even turn into a great conversation), you don't have the time to have that kind of dialog (make the time, it's worth it), you feel like you're in control and stable and already know everything you need to since your business is live (never fall into that trap), whatever - it is a very understandable position to be in. Just, move beyond it, and ask questions.
Networking is important far beyond that first job, and hopefully this demonstrates such... as well as the importance of being earnest. *ba-zing*
[see more from Megan Fox at her primary site, Glass Bottom Games]