I’ve had to hustle a lot to get into the games industry. Who I am kidding? I still am. I’ve been thinking a lot about this during these weeks of GDC-prep. Getting meetings has never been easy for me, I don’t just write to whoever I need a meeting with and say … “hey! let’s meet up at GDC” and get a positive answer. Nor has it been easy to get a hold of the right people to book meetings with. I’ve had to ask a lot of favors to get e-mails, telephone numbers and introductions. I have to work at it. I’ve built up a few relationships in the games industry and a lot of these are very dear to me. I believe that’s because I’ve made a very conscious decision to be as honest and true to myself and in my communication as I possibly can in all this hustling. True… I’ve lost myself several times along the way and I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve tapped in to the darker judgmental me a few times, too. My goal is to keep hustling but to treat people with respect, kindness and sincerity, because I believe they can work well together.
By hustling I think I mean walking into a room of people that you don’t know and selling … something … and not giving up at the first try. Approaching people via e-mail or in person and making them aware of what you are selling. This word gets a bad wrap sometimes, but if you’re attending conventions for your game, you need to learn how the hustle can work to your advantage.
Finding the hustler within myself hasn’t always been easy. I need to believe in who I am and have self respect when I’m selling because people react very differently to my pitches, approaches, conversation, appearance, age, gender and humor. I have met so many people who have been rude, been disgusted by me or refused to take me seriously, but it all becomes much more tolerable if you are fighting for something that you believe in and are comfortable in your own skin. It’s so much easier to shrug it off and move to the next “victim”. Asking for money is hard. And I fuck up all the time. I take it too far, or I say the wrong thing. And sometimes I laugh too loud and hard at something that was only mildly funny. Oh … I’ve totally sat in bars in San Francisco with my head buried in my hands having a martini and thinking (sometimes loudly) “why the HELL did I say that?”. Just last year I left a lunch event in tears because 2 people told me that what I do in the games industry is vile, 1 person I had just started doing some extra work for made it very clear that I was not welcome to talk to them, 2 people I was looking forward to seeing were definitely not pleased to meet me and another one insulted me in another way. To be fair, I think that after the first hour I was starting to feel pathetic and must have reeked of insecurity at one point. And right when I was about to leave, a person that I care about gave me a heartwarming hug that completely broke my defensive walls and I had to put on my sunglasses on my way to a pitch meeting, to hide my tears.
But here’s the thing. For every bad experience I’ve had hustling, I’ve had at least two good ones, I’m almost tempted to say three, but let’s not overdo it! I have met so many awesome role models who have treated me with respect and kindness no matter how lame I’ve been. There are some real champions in this industry and I feel incredibly privileged to have met several of them! And every now and then … I sparkle and hit all of the right notes. Consistency and determination works really well for me.
When hustling, it’s totally your number one priority to make sure that the receiver of this hustle knows what you’re selling. You may be hustling to get exposure for your game, funding or contacts. To make it all a little interesting I try to make who I’m talking to say the name of the game or studio that I’m working with three times before I end the conversation. This is particularly helpful when you’re hustling someone that you don’t get along with well.
By far, though, the best thing I do is shut up for a while. I let the receiver chew on all the adrenaline fueled information I’ve just poured all over them and let them set it in perspective out loud to me. I have learned so much from just reminding myself to shut up, to force myself to breathe in and out, pace myself and let them come back with a question or reflection. I find that people remember you better if they engage in what you’re saying and actually have a conversation with you.
I may be intertwining hustling and pitching here. But I think it applies for them both. Walking into a room and spewing a lot of information about what you know, who you are and what you are working on without pausing for others to react to that is not going to work to your advantage. I think we all do it, particularly if we are nervous, but I’ve learned to leave a pause for people to react. This has led to a lot of beautiful reactions and advice that it would’ve taken me years to figure out myself.
Straight-A students that never do their homework
One of my pet peeves particularly at GDC are all the cool game industry folk who casually say that they just go to GDC to hang out in the park and go to parties. They further go on to indicate that the people that they meet go on to provide business for the following year. I have never nor will I ever be THAT cool. And I’ve started to compare these people with the kids at school who got straight-As but refused to admit to doing any work to get them. They were just naturally smart as fuck.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t hang out in the park, because you definitely should! I just don’t recommend using it as a strategy. Perhaps you’re cool enough to just hang in the park and get all the business you need. But what if you’re not? Do you really want to put yourself through that existential and social angst? I, for one, could do without it. I schedule meetings, but not too much, because I too, see the value in accidental encounters and conversations. I’m picky about the meetings that I have and I don’t have meetings with service providers that offer something I will never ever need (but always have time for those that do). At least I don’t anymore. But I book meetings! And I hustle quite hard to get those meetings. I bug people that I’ve met along the way (perhaps in the park) on getting the right contacts and then I get to work the first week of January. Making sure that I have enough time to nudge them once a week (if they weren’t already bedazzled by my first contact), respectfully and softly until GDC, rather than frantically a couple of weeks before.
For me, it’s good to have meetings because the roles are clear. You asked for the meeting for a reason, the table is set, so to speak. I can’t rely on my coolness. There’s a 50% chance that I come across as an unlikeable person, uncool a.s.o., but I can deal with that as long as I’m in a setting where my message is made very clear. If I rely only on social settings the pressure of being likable becomes too much for me. It becomes too much about ME as in my personality and I’ll have to find a much cooler version of me than I think I have.
Be who you are
I happen to like the person that I am when I’m hustling. I still overdo it sometimes and every now and then I forget that my humor is pretty bad and I should never try to be funny. And I get nervous. It’s not that long ago that I head butted Tim Schafer when he was coming in for a friendly hug. Thankfully, he’s one of the kindest and generous people I’ve met in the industry so he laughed and made me calm down a bit.
Several of the people in the industry who have experienced my hustle first hand are now friendly acquaintances. People I might have a beer with at an event that know very well who I am, what I stand for and that my intentions are true. You can hustle without being obnoxious and I whole heartedly recommend it.
So to all my fellow hustlers out there – I bid you a good convention/conference season! I salute and applaud you!