Using Conventions to Break Into the Gaming Industry – Part 1

Conventions for the Aspiring Professional:A four-part article series on using conventions (and other public face-to-face situations) to your advantage as an aspiring member of the gaming industry.

Every year, tens of thousands of gamers descend upon Indianapolis, Indiana for what is arguably the biggest and most important gaming convention of the year. GenCon Indy offers 4 full days of gaming, almost 7,000 events, vendors, demonstrations, debuts and panels. But it also offers something else…


Conventions such as GenCon may be the biggest chance that aspiring writers and artists get for one-on-one face-to-face connections with potential employers and networking contacts. While there are definitely ways to get more in-depth quality time with various people of import in the industry, conventions like GenCon are quantity-heavy situations – target-rich environments, if you will.

However, such opportunities are a double-edged sword. Face-to-face contact can be a great career tool – if you’re prepared for it. It also offers the chance for the unprepared to totally flummox their chances of working in gaming as well. Since I’m frequently asked about how to get your proverbial foot in the door in the gaming industry, I’ve put together some advice on how to make the most of your convention attendance, if you’re interested in working as a professional in the gaming field.

Part One: The Basics

The Ultimate Basic

This is so basic that it shouldn’t even need to be said, but it does.

No one wants to hire, work with, game with or even stand next to someone who smells foul. Yes, cons often involve long hours and little in the way of amenities. Folks may be dealing with shared hotel space, long carpools or couch-surfing. That is no excuse to smell bad. Take a shower and put on clean clothes before you come to the con. Not just mostly clean – really clean.

If you’re day tripping, and it involves driving for any real length of time, or eating in the car, plan to make a quick stop when you get to the con and use the restroom to change into clean clothes if necessary. A small package of baby wipes can be a lifesaver for a fast anti-sweat wipe-down (preferably in the privacy of your own stall).

If you’re staying at a hotel, consider stopping to grab a quick shower and a change of clothing before you start schmoozing. Bring clean clothes for each day, and a spare outfit for that messy chili-dog accident you didn’t plan on happening.  If you’re sharing a hotel room or staying nearby, use the shower at least every morning, even if it means getting up a little early.

And last, but in no way least – use deodorant/antiperspirant. Put it on when getting dressed, and if the day wears on, there’s nothing wrong with a mid-day reapplication.. Trust me. It really, really does matter.


Even when using the con as a career opportunity, no one expects you to show up in a three-piece suit or formal business dress (unless you’re cosplaying, but that’s addressed later…) However, if you’re wearing very extreme, overly sexualized, blatantly offensive, or just plain ratty clothing, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Even standard con-fare (jeans and a t-shirt) can be an asset or a detractor to the impression you make – choose wisely!

First, by dressing inappropriately you are distracting from your own agenda.  When working a con as an aspiring professional, you’re selling yourself (but not in that kind of way.) You want potential contacts to remember your art, or your clever insight about their game mechanics or setting, not your cleavage or six-pack abs. While it’s become common in the convention circuit to see extremely revealing clothing, heavily fetishized outfits, or shirts with logos that range from subtly sexual to graphically blatant, you don’t really want that publisher or game company rep to remember you as “the one with the “F*CK YOU” shirt” or “Oh, yeah, the gal with the huge… tracts of land… falling out of her corset” when you’re trying to impress them with your employability.

Likewise, while your favorite T-shirt or jeans may give you a lot of confidence, if they’re falling apart or are covered in stains, they’re not going to make a very good impression on those around you. You want people to remember you, not the holes in your shirt.

As for cosplay and other costuming – you may want to wait until you’re done to start your hand-shaking and networking efforts. While your angel wings or blood-soaked lab coat may get you stopped in the hall for photo opportunities, it’s not necessarily the impression you want to leave on a potential business contact. You probably don’t want to have to start your follow-up email with “You may remember me as the drow with the super-sized broadsword…”

First Impressions

You never know where or when you’re going to bump into a potential contact or employer, especially at a major convention. They’re everywhere, and you may encounter them even when you’re not “on your best behavior”.

This means the guy in the elevator who you just told that Game X totally sucks might just turn out to be the publisher of said game, and someone you’d hoped to get an interview with. The “booth babe” you just leered at and made rude comments to your friend could very well be the HR director for her company (who just happens to look great in their promotional t-shirt). Likewise, the crowd at the bar you just spilled beer on because you were “totally wasted” has a decent chance of containing at least one member of the development team for your favorite game.

I’m not advocating being fake – no one likes a phony. But being aware of your surroundings and the impression you’re making can make a huge difference in how you come across to others. Express opinions politely, rather than using terms like “worst”, “sucks” or “hate”. Socialize without losing control. Treating others with respect and politeness won’t necessarily get you a job in the industry – but poor behavior can definitely shut doors.

And a final note about first impressions – You really never know who you’re talking to – or who they’re connected to. The gaming industry is a very small circle of people, and there’s a lot of overlap. The person you’re badmouthing at one booth might well be a friend, co-worker or associate of the person you’re talking to. The game you’re dissing might well be something the person you’re talking to worked on, helped design or even invented. Or you might have just called her best friends’ masterpiece an utter piece of crap. Keep it positive, and if you don’t have anything good to say – don’t say anything at all. An attempt to connect with one industry pro by insulting another one (or to praise one game by insulting another) may very well have the opposite effect.

That’s it for The Basics – Sounds simple, right? It really is, but anyone who’s attended a convention can tell you that even the simple things are often overlooked.

Be sure to check out “Preparation”, Part Two of “Using Conventions to Break Into the Gaming Industry”, where I’ll cover things you can do before the show to make the most of your time at the convention!

© Jess Hartley –

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