Effective Networking (Focus on the New)

by Darius Kazemi on November 21, 2006

in know_your_history,networking

So let’s say you’re at a conference, and you’ve secured yourself two minutes to talk to Mr. Big Stuff, the Gamedev Goddess, or whoever your hero happens to be. Probably the worst thing you can do is gush about your favorite game that they worked on.

There’s a quote from some famous artist that goes something like this:

The absolute worst thing you can say to an artist is that you like the artist’s old stuff better than her new stuff.

I kind of modify this into a rule about networking with famous people: Be more enthusiastic about the new stuff they’re working on than the old stuff they’re well-known for.

This applies to famous game designers and their most famous games. At some point, they get tired of people constantly gushing about Game X they made five years ago that sold 100 million copies. If they’re real geniuses, they’re already over Game X. They’re busy thinking about new problems, problems that are far more interesting to them. It’s okay to walk up to a famous designer and say, “Game X is my favorite game of all time. But I read about your new game, Game Y, in PC Gamer and I’m totally psyched.” It’s less okay to say something like, “Game X is my favorite game of all time. How did you come up with the concept?”

In fact, often it’s best to avoid discussing their games. If you have a deep understanding of a designer’s sensibilities, they’d probably be far more responsive to an abstract question about design. If I ever had the chance to chat with Shigeru Miyamoto, I’d ask him a question about how he balances player intuition with guidance from the game. I wouldn’t talk about how much I loved Super Mario World.

It’s important to keep in mind that this only applies to famous developers and famous games.

  • It’s a really good idea to talk to a non-famous developer about a non-famous game they worked on. That just shows how much you know your history.
  • It’s pretty acceptable to talk to a famous developer about a non-famous game. For example, I used to write games in ZZT all the time. If I ever met Tim Sweeney, I would totally gush about how awesome ZZT was, and kind of forget to mention anything post-Unreal 1.

The general rule of thumb when talking to anyone in the industry is to be really interested in the new stuff they’re working on. (Unless of course, the project is unannounced, in which case you politely avoid talking about it. You don’t want to pressure anyone to break an NDA.)


Daniel Auchenpaugh April 7, 2011 at 5:31 pm

I know I’m 5 years behind the curve, but as I’m on the prowl for a new line of work, I’ve been reading your articles on networking. They’re fantastic. I noticed ZZT in here, and I had to comment. I loved ZZT back in the day, and I really adored the community that grew around that game. Some fond school days memories were when I was up all night for one of the 24 Hours of ZZT competitions.

Thanks for these articles, and thanks for stirring up some pleasant memories.

Darius Kazemi April 8, 2011 at 7:29 am

Thanks! I’m glad you’re enjoying them. ZZT 4EVA!

Daniel Auchenpaugh April 8, 2011 at 10:10 am

Indeed! Didn’t happen to hang out in IRC in the late 90s, did you?

Darius Kazemi April 15, 2011 at 6:39 am

No, no IRC for me.

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