Effective Networking (Talk Around the NDA)

by Darius Kazemi on August 2, 2007

in conversation,networking

This article is part of Effective Networking in the Game Industry, my series of articles on, well, I think you’ve got it by now.

A huge mistake that a lot of newbies make when talking to game developers is to press the developers about the project that they’re currently working on. Odds are that any given game developer is under NDA (non-disclosure agreement) concerning their current project. While it’s a good idea to ask questions of developers, the NDA means that there are some questions you should avoid.

Bad questions:

  • So, what game are you working on right now? (very bad, it will be awkward if this can’t be spoken of)
  • What platform are you developing for? (sorta bad, sometimes the actual target platform is under NDA)
  • What genre is your project?

Good questions:

  • Are you working on a PC or console title? (safer than asking specific platform)
  • Are you working on an announced project?
  • How big is your team? Do you like working on a (big/small/medium) team?
  • What’s your role on the project?
  • Maya or Max? (or any other tools question, really)

In the case of a developer who is working at a company where their major project has been announced, you can certainly ask, “Are you on Announced Project X?” That way, the developer can either say that she’s on that project or not.

Here’s a typical conversation. I almost always have a conversation just like this one with developers I’ve just met.

Me: Hey, my friend tells me that you’re working at Flabberjet Studios. How long have you been there? What do you do?
Dev: I’m a programmer. Been with the Flab’ for about six months now.
Me: Nice. Are you working on something announced?
Dev: No, it’s not announced yet.
Me: Oooh, exciting. So is it pretty early in the project, then? Are you out of pre-production?
Dev: We’re almost out of pre-pro right now.
Me: That’s cool. How big is the team?
Dev: We’re up to about 30.
Me: Wow, I can tell you’re close to the end of pre-pro. That’s a lot of people. Do you think your team is adjusting okay to the new size?
Dev: Yeah. It’s definitely different than it was three months ago. We’ve been hiring pretty aggressively. But I’d say we’re doing okay.

…a-a-and so on. Notice how I manage to carry on a relatively meaningful conversation about game development without actually talking about the game this person is working on. Also notice that I’m not just asking a barrage of questions. My follow-up about team size shows that I did some rudimentary listening, and I do contribute a little bit of my own experience with development as part of that follow-up, so we have a nice talker/listener thing going on.

The thing you want to remember is this: most developers do want to talk to you about their project. They’re just legally obligated not to do so. Which means that if you talk around their project, you’re not only satisfying your curiosity, but you’re letting them fulfill their own wishes, too.


Casey August 7, 2007 at 7:10 pm

Are you sure you aren’t on your way to being an anthropologist? ;) I should send some game industry researcher hopefuls your way too.

I think one of the keys that will help folks to network is practice. Talk to people more often. I hate to say how many awkward situations I’ve seen where an obviously smart developer-hopeful introduces themselves and then the awkward silence begins. It’s not fun to watch or be part of. Kind of like poking yourself repeatedly in the eye.

Of course that’s usually about the time I start trying to facilitate a conversation… but I digress, and I don’t know if that’s always a good thing.

Darius Kazemi August 7, 2007 at 7:18 pm

Yeah, I hear ya. As I wrote a few months ago, networking mistakes are an important part of learning.

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