I learned a lot this weekend, and I want to share it with you.
1. The "game industry" should really be called a "game extended family". Everyone knows each other, addresses each other fairly casually, and for the most part, is happy to see one another. For the most part this industry communicates via social media and e-mail so the opportunity to sit in a room and talk face-to-face is a welcomed rarity.
For me, I love talking to people. I might not always do it well, and I might not always have the energy on bad days to do it, but on the whole, I do love a good conversation. (Corollary: it's best when the other people are warm and engaging)
Last year when I was here, I didn't have a spot in the "family", and as a result felt like it wasn't a family, more like a tight-knit corporate structure where I'd have to impress people in order to gain entry. And while that is still true (impressing people is always a good thing), you don't have to keep doing it. Once you're in, you're in. Until you get yourself out.
Now I have a spot in several parts of the family. And it's nice to know that I don't have to jump over some arbitrary bar constantly to grab for attention or praise or to be "good enough" for this family.
2. A lot of people are seeking permission from the wrong sources. I met a lot of people who are trying to make their dream projects come true, in all manner of healthy and unhealthy obsessive ways. I talked to a lot of people who sought a sort of approval from those who have already "made it" as if to validate that their hard work is not a waste.
Let me say this -- You are not wasting your time. Depending on your situation, you may not be using your time most effectively or efficiently, but your hard work is worth it. Keep going.
The permission slip you need signed? It needs YOUR signature on it in large indelible ink. This is your passion, this is your love and your hard work made manifest, so when the risks come (and yes, risks will come) the decision is not for others to make and for you to rationalize, it's for you to accept and take ownership/charge of.
As I said to a dear friend, "Who's the boss of you and your creation?"
3. Transparency, not social climbing, wins. If you're looking to "make it" then you can't be moving pieces on some chess board, setting up machinations for some master stroke later "when things line up". You have to make things line up, and you do that by being as clear and open about what you're doing.
I don't mean you can't keep a secret if you've got something in the works and you don't want it to spoil. I mean you can't and shouldn't target the "big wig" in the room and try to ingratiate yourself for purpose of currying favor for later. (It's really weird and uncomfortable to watch, let alone be a part of). What those "big wigs" are looking for is how you comport yourself because word travels quickly and depending upon behavior, you WILL get talked about, but possibly not in the way you wanted.
Honesty is key for this. This industry runs as much on word of mouth as it does relationships, and just think how you're going to be received if your rep is one of difficulty or machinations and weird scheming?
Someone said it best like this: "If you treat this like a game that you want to win, then you've lost already." It's not a game, it's people who just happen to all be in the same business all trying to do their best at their respective roles.
4. Don't be a jerk. I attended a panel about not being a jerk and was blown away by the different levels of social interaction that people consider: sexism, feminism, objectification, racism, discrimination, bias....and I'm sure loads more I just can't think of right now. Throughout the panel I would ask myself "Why aren't people just nice to each other?" followed by "How come I don't have these problems with people? Am I a stealth-jerk?" I'm not a stealth-jerk. I'm just a really nice guy who doesn't think of these things because in how I play games and live my life, I don't act in such a way as to make these things a problem. I'm also savvy enough to catch myself having a problem (not all the time, but there are people around me who can/could point it out if it were an issue).
I don't mean to diminish the experiences or problems with all the -isms and -ations, it's just that I don't engage in the behaviors that propagate them. So in my scope of experience, they're not a commonly discussed and occuring problem. Maybe they should be talked about more (admittedly, too much discussion about them makes me feel slightly queasy, only because I don't know how to remedy all the problems immediately and permanently).
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So yeah Metatopia taught me a lot and was a great experience. For game designers, people thinking about getting into the industry and people looking to do more in the industry, I recommend attending next year.
We'll talk soon. Happy writing.